I Am So Annoyed About RSS

23 Apr 2014

I’ve just been browsing the remarkable Humans Of New York site, which is powered by Tumblr, and like every Tumblr site, it’ll slide up a little box on the bottom-right of the screen to let you follow that site in your Tumblr dashboard. It’s a great site, so I would indeed like to follow it. I’ll think about it.

Later on I’m browsing Chris, Simpsons Artist on Facebook. His drawings are fantastic, as is the broken prose which goes with each post. I like him on Facebook so I can see his new stuff as it comes up.

I remember that I saw the Apple WWDC registration was announced recently so I hit John Gruber’s Daring Fireball to see if there’s any rumours kicking around. Nothing yet, so I search for the follow button. There isn’t one. Is there a like button? Hmm, nope. There’s a RSS feed link though so I click through and Chrome gives me… a big page of XML.

We were so close. We had a standard that allowed end-users to click a button an follow/like/subscribe to a site or service and get updates in their viewer of choice. I was a Google Reader user back before it shut down, and I had a few hundred feeds I kept up with. Where are we now?

I don’t blog every day. I’m lucky to blog every year, to be honest. I’m not on Tumblr, my site doesn’t link to Facebook, and I don’t tweet my articles as a matter of course. Even if I did, the consumers of my articles would have to be signed up to one of those services and not everyone’s comfortable with that.

We were so close. RSS had this licked. You could run a program on your computer that aggregated all of your RSS feeds without depending on a single service. We could export and import our feeds from one reader to another and know we weren’t locked in. Now if I want to read Daring Fireball I just go to his page and see what I’ve missed. That’s fine but it’s just not scalable, flicking between Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and then all the extra individual sites you’re interested in.

Our content has been co-opted and locked into various walled gardens, and I’m sure there are now services which link all of these together, but to what end? Is it really better than what went before?

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