First it’s the economy in a tailspin. Then it’s web advertising heading for a decline and even people trying to figure out if lifestreaming is going to be the sperm that gives birth to the next generation of Web <insert version number here>. On top of this we now have Steve Rubel; one of the brightest people in the web industry, talking about some report that RSS adoption is reaching a stall point. The report by Forrester Group is called What’s Holding RSS Back but since it’s a downloadable report costing $279.00US (man I’m in the wrong business) I can only go by the executive summary and the interpretation by Steve Rubel to try and make sense of why this stalling of RSS adoption could be happening.
Well, I’d like to parse the executive summary. Instead all I got was a headache just trying to make sense of the single paragraph summary, so instead I head to Steve and see if anything he says can be made to make any sense of why people think RSS adoption is stalling. All I can say is that after reading his post a couple of times and looking over the fancy graphs it all seems to boil down to this one single paragraph
Lord knows, as someone who spends three hours a day in Google Reader, I am a giant evangelist for RSS. But I am also a realist. Feeds are way way too geeky for most and the benefit does not outweigh the learning curve. So I think RSS has peaked.
Jeezz I could have told you that for the cost of a beer and as nice as it might be to have a bunch of expensive highbrow big names tell you the obvious you’d think that maybe they’d take a minute or two and explain why. So I tell you what, I’ll do that and it won’t cost you a cent. To do that though we’re going to have to step back a bit in Internet and pre-Internet time to get some needed background.
By its very nature anything to do with computers and communicating via computers is intentionally meant to be a confusing mind numbing experience for the average person. It was done that way to keep the great unwashed masses out of the clean rooms where the early geeks played in relative isolation from the rest of the world. At first it was truly isolated until someone figured out how to let computers talk to each other over plain old telephone lines, which in turn let the geeks running herd on these computers talk to each other over great distances. Out of this came the first social community called The Well which was the meeting ground of some of the brightest minds in the computer and sciences universe.
Not long after that came something called USENET and for a decade or so it was the riegning means of conversing over vast distances via computers, but it was still out of the technical know how of the average person or even the pioneers of the personal computing revolution that was starting to take place. As the PC began to take root though, the USENET was supplanted in popularity by a more user friendly form of communications called newsgroups. Even these newsgroups though required some technical knowledge; or at least someone you knew who could set you up with both the software you needed and the access to those newsgroups.
During this time the Internet began to bloom like no one ever imagined it would, but means of communication were still confined to things like USENET and newsgroups and these rich communities were out of the grasp of the average Internet traveller. Then one day someone came up with a replacement for these archaic communities with their secret handshakes and special software and made it so that anyone with an Internet connection and a web browser could join as many communities as they wanted – the age of the web forums had come.
Now come forward to today with all these different social media communities that anyone can join with next to real time interaction and while web forums haven’t totally disappeared they are being replaced by things like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and FriendFeed. Sure things like USENET, newsgroups and web forums still exist but for the average person they have become a part of our archaic computer past.
Through all this though is a part of our communication tool chest that in many cases is the very foundation upon which these new social communities are built on. As well as being a foundation RSS (Real Simple Syndication) is a communication channel in its own right and for many people it is their primary way to keep up to date witth the news as it happens. The problem is that RSS is computer generation’s version of USENET and newsgroups in that it needs to be explained. As well as having to explain the whys and wherefores people need specific software in order to be able to access RSS feeds. Just as we use to need special newsreaders to be able to read USENET and newsgroup postings we need special software to read RSS feeds.
The reason that web forums supplanted USENET and newsgroups was because all you needed was a web browser. The only reason that Facebook, MySpace and other social media communities have taken over from web forums is because beside being new and cool they are even easier to use than web forums.
RSS is lacking all those things. Right from the start its very naming makes it hard to understand especially in contrast to ideas like web forums or Facebook. There is no easy interface to using RSS feeds like there is with web forums or MySpace. On top of this you have to understand the idea that RSS feeds are something that you constantly have to add to in order for it to keep being of value. This isn’t the case with with web forums or social communities like Facebook.
The fact is that RSS as a communication channel like web forums or Facebook will never reach main street or at least not until someone can figure out how using RSS is as easy as having a tailgating party.
Added: My buddy Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins over at Mashable has a different take on the whole discussion that is worth having a read through as well