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. Read this via Google Reader.  According to my Reader stats & trends, I’ve read 83% of your posts in the past 30 days.
    (And I AM hooked on your addiction to parenthesis.  Does that make us co-dependent enablers?!) 

  2. I follow along pretty regularly through google reader.  RSS is amazing from a consumer perspective, since you get a consistant, centralized, and relatively low-ad way to consume everything.
    I started using reader about 6 years ago, when I realized I was wasting too much time browsing the web.  It remains a great way to cap my web time, because when there isn’t anything in my subscribed feeds I know I’m done.

  3. The point of something like Google Reader is that I can read the articles that are of interest and very quickly skip over the ones that aren’t. There are 3 levels of interest: 1) read the headline, boooringgg, skip to next article. 2) Read headline plus whatever is in the feed, 3) Read the headline and click through to see the article in all it’s glory.

    Almost everything I see in Reader will come under categories 1 or 2. An ‘is RSS really dead’ post is almost certainly #1, whereas your real posts are worth reading.

    Should you include the full text in your RSS feed? That’s up to you, but I rarely click through to articles from feeds that do title+snippet, so you are getting a lot more exposure to your readers by including that text than just including snippets.

    One way you might get more click-through is to value-add your posts. One blog I follow makes good use of fonts with the result that while the RSS has the text it loses readability, so in that case I always click through (but that’s still only assuming the topic looks interesting).

  4. “…my main goal is to get you hooked on my addiction to parentheses…” – I had to stop using Twitter b/c of your posts. They are literally too addicting. I was/am too unproductive in other endeavors (life) when I read this stuff. I think it’s safe to say you can check your main goal off the list. 

  5. clicked through from Opera feed reader, but the link to the article is very hard to see (faded grey on a white background). Ive been reading your feed for years, but probably only clicked through to the site a handful of times. I do click through more on feeds that do not provide the full article in the feed. 

  6. Google reader here in Paris. Leaving a comment despite Disqus’ inability to let me post as a guesst.
    Edit: or maybe the error message was … an error. Sorry for the triple post

  7. Netvibes user here, found this article there
    I normally don’t read any articles within Netvibes – I click on the headline if it grabs my attention.

  8. Another Google Reader user, from Brazil. Maybe we’re like most of the Linux desktop users: we just show up when people say we have less than 1% of market share.

  9. Google Reader…Been reading you via RSS from just about the start John. But, the reality is that normal people don’t use RSS, and even with your large numbers a lot of those are people who sign up for a feed reader and end up ditching it. I’m sure some services have you as a recommended or auto-subscribed feed to get people started.

  10. Google Reader…Been reading you via RSS from just about the start John. But, the reality is that normal people don’t use RSS, and even with your large numbers a lot of those are people who sign up for a feed reader and end up ditching it. I’m sure some services have you as a recommended or auto-subscribed feed to get people started.

  11. you write for the web; in Google Reader, there’s no link back to your article at the bottom; I have to scroll back up to the top… 

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