Newsflash! RSS still not dead: Story at 11.

I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years various people have declared RSS to be dead, dying, moribund, comatose or laid low with a dose of swine flu. The latest is a piece by Read Write Web’s Richard MacManus who says, RSS Reader Market in Disarray, Continues to Decline.

RSS is a bit of a weird duck, really. It is infrastructure more than it is a service and there’s a distinct lack of clarity outside the tech community about what it is and what it does. That’s not helped by the fact that there are competing standards, not to mention competing terms: RSS (and all its version numbers), RDF, Atom, web feeds, news feeds, syndication, syndication feeds, even just plain ‘feeds’.

In short, RSS confuses people. It’s not until I explain how easily RSS can save time that people start to become interested. In a business context, RSS is invaluable. So many information publishers now produce RSS feeds of one stripe or another that it has become possible to draw together huge numbers of sources in one place very easily indeed. Anyone in market or competitive intelligence, marketing, PR, research, and any other department that relies on aggregating information should be all over RSS like a rash. But they aren’t. Why?

This is where RWW’s piece becomes relevant. At best there is stagnation in the RSS reader market, at worst there is a genuine decline. RWW reports:

[…] Feedburner no longer publishes any useful data about RSS Readers. The product has been infrequently updated since Google acquired it in June 2007 and it no longer even has a proper blog (a Google blog called Adsense For Feeds was the closest I could find).

Pheedo also has gone quiet from a blogging perspective – its last blog post was January 2009.

[…] There’s little sign of life on Bloglines’ blog either and its traffic numbers show a decline since June 2009.

Netvibes, FriendFeed, Newsgator and PostRank are the only other english language competitors showing in our Feedburner numbers. The others are either browser (Firefox) or operating system readers.

Also note that Newsgator shut down its online RSS Reader at the end of July this year.

We are not seeing the kind of innovation that we need in the RSS market. I suspect that part of this has been because businesses have been very slow to realise the usefulness of RSS and so hoped-for licensing income hasn’t been forthcoming for aggregation vendors. Partly this is down to the fact that getting new software assessed, accepted and rolled out through business is a long, tedious process in most companies – long enough to kill off relationships with cashflow sensitive start-ups.

A friend of mine once told me that it took his company 18 months to code-check new software. Doing that with social tools is IT suicide – most tools have iterated half a dozen times in that period. At least. It’s no wonder that most of the companies I talk to have not implemented any RSS readers internally. By the time they’ve got the software approved, it’s out of date.

This means that people are stuck using web-based applications. Whilst Netvibes and Google Reader are very good at what they do, they are also a little limited. Google Reader is a very introspective tool – you can share stuff with other people within Google Reader, but there are no tools for sharing on Twitter, Delicious, Instapaper etc. Netvibes does a bit more, in that you can share on Twitter or Facebook, but again it doesn’t embed itself in the wider content-reading ecosystem.

RSS still has huge potential, but the landscape it sits within is complicated, comprising of RSS sources, RSS readers, IT department policy makers, and those social media community members who are actually still communicating to business that this is a really useful tool.

That’s a lot of ducks to get in a row, but I am pretty sure (or rather, I hope!) that at some point, it’s going to happen. I wouldn’t call time of death on RSS just yet.