Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rss Isn't Dead: Why Tech Journalists Have It Wrong

Over the past few months or so, there has been a flurry of news related to the demise of RSS. Steve Gillmore may have triggered the fire in his article that posited that the "The River of News has become the East River of news" because there is just too much data to keep up. This article clearly summarizes every argument I've herd since it's posting, so I'l like to attack each of the common arguments:

Myth: RSS is a Polling Technology and Therefore Slower To Update
The argument goes that RSS is a slowly updating medium and twitter posts show up faster than posts in a feed reader. Perhaps this was true in the past, but with the rapid adoption of Pub Sub Hubub, RSS can be pushed to our devices and applications as fast as Twitter (likely faster because Pub Sub Hubub is a distributed network and open source). Combined with Pub Sub Hubub, RSS can push any data at an arbritrary length the end users. Twitter can only push small messages that then require the user to visit a web site for full and complete information. That web site can suddenly become slow loading or be taken off line. RSS content is by it's very nature distributed and therefore scalable.

Myth: RSS Forces Me To Visit A Site And Take Me Out Of My Reader
The argument goes that even when the fully text of an article may be included in an RSS feed, the user ends up on a web site, outside of a reader. But, the same is true for Twitter. Any commentary longer than 140 characters must by definition be posted outside of Twitter, and most users find that, to get the real story, must leave Twitter or it's various readers to find out more about a particular piece of news. Furthermore, many news sites and blogs publish long-format RSS feeds that are more easily consumed by a machine, contain metadata that can help filter what's relevant for readers, and can contain rich information such as markup and images.

Myth: RSS Got Locked Out of Its Own Party
The argument goes that Facebook is the place to coordinate events with friends and Friendfeed is the place to comment on articles, and therefore RSS loses. But, that's not the point of RSS. RSS is a data definition that allows all of these different applications to share their information. A heavy user of Friendfeed or Facebook (to the extent that the walled garden allows) could easily bring relevant conversations and status updates back into RSS to be read with everything else. This allows the RSS user to stay in the RSS reader instead of jumping back and forth between Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed. See the argument about "taking me out of my reader" in Gillmore's article for why that jumping around is supposed to be a bad thing.

The Real Reason Tech Journalists Think RSS Is Dead
When RSS was a hot trend, it was ONLY being used by tech journalists. It was THEIR TOOL to find news before the rest of us comment folk. Today, more and more common folk have access to easy to use RSS-based tools, and technology journalists need some place new to get fresh stories that the rest of us haven't seen. There are too many tech journalists and they are being forced to stop being lazy. Gone are the days where the common man goes to a large publication for news that originally came from an RSS reader only used by a journalist.

Twitter was originally invented as a microblogging platform, but has become one giant chat room. This is evident in it's redesign from a content management system to a messaging system. Twitter is great for sharing information with your buddy, having an ad-hok conversation with a few people, or communicating small pieces of data from one person to a large audience who either sat silent or mostly ignored. Twitter is not a great platform for sharing large and complex thoughts and then talking about them in some comment area, nor is twitter particularly good at handling a large emergency due to its scalibility issues (although identi.ca would do a much better job with it's federation platform and open source codebase). Twitter is not the place to share your family photos, or express anything artistic outside of a very small twitter-specific medium.

I do want updates such as "joe ate a ham sandwich" to flow by me in a river of status updates that can be ignored, but unlike technology journalists, I want important news to stay in an in-box and wait for me to read it. Technology journalists don't seem to actually want to read the most relevant news and everything they find relevant, they just want to read some interesting news before the rest of us so that they can get paid to re-broadcast it to their readers. And this is exactly why they want to use Twitter instead of RSS and exactly why the rest of us should keep our important news in RSS and use Twitter only for what it's good for: a giant chat room.

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