Once Again, RSS Is Dead. But ONLY YOU Can Save It!

About 14 months ago, I responded to myriad “RSS is Dead” stories by asking you, my RSS readers, if you were really reading. At that point, Google’s Feedburner service was telling me I had more than 200,000 subscribers, but it didn’t feel like the lights were on – I mean, that’s a lot of people, but my pageviews were low, and with RSS, it’s really hard to know if folks are reading you, because the engagement happens on the reader, not here on the site. (That’s always been the problem publishers have had with RSS – it’s impossible to monetize. I mean, think about it. Dick Costolo went to Twitter after he sold Feedburner to Google. Twitter! And this was *before* it had a business model. Apparently that was far easier to monetize than RSS).

Now, I made the decision long ago to let my “full feed” go into RSS, and hence, I don’t get to sell high-value ads to those of you who are RSS readers. (I figure the tradeoff is worth it – my main goal is to get you hooked on my addiction to parentheses, among other things.)

Anyway, to test my theory that my RSS feed was Potemkin in nature, I wrote a December, 2010 post asking RSS readers to click through and post a comment if they were, in fact, reading me via RSS. Overwhelmingly they responded “YES!” That post still ranks in the top ten of any post, ever, in terms of number of comments plus tweets – nearly 200.

Now, put another way this result was kind of pathetic – less than one in 1000 of my subscribers answered the call. Perhaps I should have concluded that you guys are either really lazy, secretly hate me, or in fact, really aren’t reading. Instead, I decided to conclude that for every one of you that took the time to comment or Tweet, hundreds of you were nodding along in agreement. See how writers convince themselves of their value?

Which is a long way to say, it’s time for our nearly-yearly checkup. And this time, I’m going to give you more data to work with, and a fresh challenge. (Or a pathetic entreaty, depending on your point of view.)

Ok, so here’s what has happened in 14 months: My RSS feed has almost doubled – it now sports nearly 400,000 subscribers, which is g*dd*am impressive, no? I mean, who has FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND people who’ve raised their hands and asked to join your club? I’ve WON, no? Time for gold-plated teeth or somesh*t, right?

Well, no.

While it’s true that nearly 400,000 of you have elected to follow my RSS feed, the grim truth is more aptly told by what Google’s Feedburner service calls my “Reach.” By their definition, reach means “the total number of people who have taken action — viewed or clicked — on the content in your feed.”

And that number, as you can see, is pathetic. I mean, “click,” I can understand. Why click when you can read the full article in your reader? But “view”?! Wait, lemme do some math here….OK, one in 594 of you RSS readers are even reading my stuff. That’s better than the one in 1000 who answered the call last time, but wow, it’s way worse than I thought. Just *reading* doesn’t require you click through, or tweet something, or leave a comment.

Either RSS is pretty moribund, or, I must say, I am deeply offended.

What I really want to know is this: Am I normal? Is it normal for sites like mine to have .0017 percent of its RSS readers actually, well, be readers?

Or is the latest in a very long series of posts (a decade now, trust me) really right this time  – RSS is well and truly dead?

Here’s my test for you. If I get more comments and tweets on this post than I have “reach” by Google Feedburner status, well, that’s enough for me to pronounce RSS Alive and Well (by my own metric of nodding along, of course). If it’s less than 664, I’m sorry, RSS is Well And Truly Dead. And it’s all your fault.

(PS, that doesn’t mean I’ll stop using it. Ever. Insert Old Man Joke Here.)

573 thoughts on “Once Again, RSS Is Dead. But ONLY YOU Can Save It!”

    1. Honored. And by the way, yes, I’m pumping up the number of comments by responding to comments. Because this is all done in good humor.

  1. I’ll chime in on behalf of all those who do most of their feed reading offline. I’m personally very grateful to any author gracious enough to offer full-feed posts that I can take with me when I’m on the move with limited bandwidth.

    If there was a way to monetise that without introducing frustrating micropayments, I’d be all for it.

  2. I’ll chime in on behalf of all those who do most of their feed reading offline. I’m personally very grateful to any author gracious enough to offer full-feed posts that I can take with me when I’m on the move with limited bandwidth.

    If there was a way to monetise that without introducing frustrating micropayments, I’d be all for it.

  3. There is now way I could follow all the sites I want to follow, without the help of RSS… 

    I generally avoid non-full feeds. However, IF the writer is worth it, and IF the non-full feed is both engaging AND more than a couple of sentences, then I’ll gladly click…Also, a good discussion in the comments sections is what makes me usually click through to the article..

  4. You keep RSS alive! I fear change! (NetNewsWire on the desktop, I’m old skool) [and apparently unable to comment as guest – curse you federated logins!]

  5. RSS certainly isn’t dead John, at least not for me. While I can follow links from G+ or Twitter being in the UK and suffering the curse of a different time zone I miss a lot of the good stuff. RSS is vital in keeping up with it.

  6. I subscribed because this blog was part of Google bundle (bundle’s name is Chris Anderson). Rarely read it but I read RSS feeds quite a lot… Also, instead of declaring RSS in general dead you can try to make it more interesting 🙂

    1. Huh I a bundle? Never heard of it….and with the current editor of Wired? Or curator of TED?
      Sent from my crippled apple device

  7. I subscribed because this blog was part of Google bundle (bundle’s name is Chris Anderson). Rarely read it but I read RSS feeds quite a lot… Also, instead of declaring RSS in general dead you can try to make it more interesting 🙂

  8. Actually I never got it, why I should follow for example a news site on a social network to flood my stream and scatter the discussions to different places when I can have them as a structured, filterable RSS feed

    But I’m a little bit concerned about Google Reader, when you need an extension to Google Chrome just to be able to subscribe to RSS feeds, wtf?

  9. Actually I never got it, why I should follow for example a news site on a social network to flood my stream and scatter the discussions to different places when I can have them as a structured, filterable RSS feed

    But I’m a little bit concerned about Google Reader, when you need an extension to Google Chrome just to be able to subscribe to RSS feeds, wtf?

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