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. I’m no John Battelle or anything but I have 1,629 hard won subscribers and a reach of 195, which puts me in at 11%. I imagine the more subscribers you have though, it’s normal to have lower number of reach. I’d also argue that the more you post (you do post quite a bit) the lower your per-post reach will be (assuming that’s what reach is measuring).  

    And as far as are you normal? I would think the Founder/Chairman of Federated Media could check against your publishers and come back to us with that answer 🙂  

    1. Yeah, I guess I do have that ability. I really shoulda thought of that. Truth is, though, FM gave up on RSS as a meaningful channel (for marketing) a long time ago.

  2. I’m no John Battelle or anything but I have 1,629 hard won subscribers and a reach of 195, which puts me in at 11%. I imagine the more subscribers you have though, it’s normal to have lower number of reach. I’d also argue that the more you post (you do post quite a bit) the lower your per-post reach will be (assuming that’s what reach is measuring).  

    And as far as are you normal? I would think the Founder/Chairman of Federated Media could check against your publishers and come back to us with that answer 🙂  

  3. Reading you on Google Reader, and sufficiently provoked by the premise (and the statistics) to reply.

    One reason your readership statistics might be low is that people using RSS feeds are seeking information in an EFFICIENT way. I suspect that means that many of them probably also use browser extensions such as AdBlock Plus, Ghostery, NoScript or CookieMonster to reduce the amount of garbage they have to download in order to read information. Any and all of those extensions could make it difficult or impossible for GoogleAnalytics and the like to track whether your posts are being read. Readership statistics do not equal readership!

    Your response levels might be low because people have to take several actions to respond: it’s not as simple as just clicking “reply” or comment, as the RSS feeder just shows the article, not the comments or commenting tools. To get this far, I’ve had to first click on the headline to open the post on your site in a new tab, then accept scripts from Battellemedia.com to get the Disqus “Add new comment” box to appear. By the time I get it to post, I may have had to accept cookies and scripts from half a dozen other places, which is not efficient….

  4. Reading you on Google Reader, and sufficiently provoked by the premise (and the statistics) to reply.

    One reason your readership statistics might be low is that people using
    RSS feeds are seeking information in an EFFICIENT way. I suspect that
    means that many of them probably also use browser extensions such as
    AdBlock Plus, Ghostery, NoScript or CookieMonster to reduce the amount
    of garbage they have to download in order to read information. Any and
    all of those extensions could make it difficult or impossible for
    GoogleAnalytics and the like to track whether your posts are being read. Readership statistics do not equal readership!

    Your response levels might be low because people have to take several
    actions to respond: it’s not as simple as just clicking “reply” or
    comment, as the RSS feeder just shows the article, not the comments or
    commenting tools. To get this far, I’ve had to first click on the
    headline to open the post on your site in a new tab, then accept scripts and cookies from Battellemedia.com to get the Disqus “Add new comment” box to
    appear. By the time I get it to post, I may have had to accept cookies
    and scripts from half a dozen other places, which is not efficient….

  5. Reading you on Google Reader, and sufficiently provoked by the premise (and the statistics) to reply.

    One reason your readership statistics might be low is that people using
    RSS feeds are seeking information in an EFFICIENT way. I suspect that
    means that many of them probably also use browser extensions such as
    AdBlock Plus, Ghostery, NoScript or CookieMonster to reduce the amount
    of garbage they have to download in order to read information. Any and
    all of those extensions could make it difficult or impossible for
    GoogleAnalytics and the like to track whether your posts are being read. Readership statistics do not equal readership!

    Your response levels might be low because people have to take several
    actions to respond: it’s not as simple as just clicking “reply” or
    comment, as the RSS feeder just shows the article, not the comments or
    commenting tools. To get this far, I’ve had to first click on the
    headline to open the post on your site in a new tab, then accept scripts
    and cookies from Battellemedia.com to get the Disqus “Add new comment”
    box to
    appear. By the time I get it to post, I may have had to accept cookies
    and scripts from half a dozen other places, which is not efficient….

  6. Reading you on Google Reader, and sufficiently provoked by the premise (and the statistics) to reply.

    One reason your readership statistics might be low is that people using
    RSS feeds are seeking information in an EFFICIENT way. I suspect that
    means that many of them probably also use browser extensions such as
    AdBlock Plus, Ghostery, NoScript or CookieMonster to reduce the amount
    of garbage they have to download in order to read information. Any and
    all of those extensions could make it difficult or impossible for
    GoogleAnalytics and the like to track whether your posts are being read. Readership statistics do not equal readership!

    Your response levels might be low because people have to take several
    actions to respond: it’s not as simple as just clicking “reply” or
    comment, as the RSS feeder just shows the article, not the comments or
    commenting tools. To get this far, I’ve had to first click on the
    headline to open the post on your site in a new tab, then accept scripts
    and cookies from Battellemedia.com and a bunch of other sites to get the “Add new comment”
    box to
    appear and accept my post. Needless to say, this will be my last comment on the site (until next year’s survey, perhaps).

  7. “Guest” posted three times the same comment because the comments system offered no feedback to show that my posting had been accepted until I had accepted scripts and cookies from a bunch of completely unrelated sites. So don’t forget to reduce your total number of readers by two. 😉

  8. RSS might be dead in the way you mean it to be, but I will argue that the people who use RSS are mavens that show their friends what it awesome on the internet.  We are the people who actively look for good content to share.  So those 664 in your reach are worth more than you might think.

  9. Hey John,
    Add me to the list of people who regularly read your blog via Google Reader, and I appreciate you posting the full feed via RSS.
    Thanks,
    jt

  10. Would be really sneaky if you could add a post to your feed that didn’t appear in any other place. Then you’d know that responders really were reading the feed and not clicking on the link in the tweet.

    Anyway, +1 for RSS – it’s web-friendly. Please don’t restrict your content to a walled garden, however big.

  11. I read this through Google Reader. Given that the full text is in the feed, I don’t click through to your blog, but given that Google Reader keeps track of what I read, it should be able to report this fact to you.

    Curious that you would need to make it more complicated for readers in order to drive up your “reach” – I, for one, would be less likely to read your posts is the full text were not available on RSS, since I then would have to make the decision to click through.

    Anyway – keep up the good work, your blog is highly readable and very informative.

  12. greader here, and I don’t trust the reach #s- seems like they are closer to banner ad clickthroughs than anything else.

  13. I never miss your stuff, John. It’s some of the most insightful thinking that keeps me thinking. It’s the first time I’ve commented, though, something I admit shamefully. 

  14. Oh no, please don’t cut RSS – I read you! Ever thought how many articles are read in a newspaper? I’d say I read maybe one out of 100. I guess the same is true for my RSS reeder.

  15. I read … and don’t trust Feedburner’s engagement statistics. I can’t prove it, but small scale tests we’ve done didn’t accurately record “reads” from desktop RSS viewers (e.g. NetNewsWire, Reeder)  and Google Reader was hit or miss.

  16. Yes, I’m reading. When we tested FeedBurner statistics, we convinced ourselves it doesn’t accurately capture reads. Especially from third party readers. Hit or miss from Google Reader.

  17. Um, disqus doesnt like my mobile phone (android, HTC incredible). Damn near impossible to get the keyboard to appear when I touch-in to the comment field — which makes digital head nodding very difficult.

    Ps. Read every day, via rss, via mobile.

  18. Yes, I’m reading. When we tested FeedBurner statistics, we convinced ourselves it doesn’t accurately capture reads. Especially from third party readers. Hit or miss from Google Reader.

  19. Um, disqus doesnt like my mobile phone (android, HTC incredible). Damn near impossible to get the keyboard to appear when I touch-in to the comment field — which makes digital head nodding very difficult.

    Ps. Read every day, via rss, via mobile.

    1. Pps.  Got “system errors” trying to comment via phone, three or four time.  Finally had to give up and find an actual computer to post.  Took 12 minutes total, and (sadly) very few of my thoughts are worthy of that kind of effort to share…

  20. Yes, I’m reading. When we tested FeedBurner statistics, we convinced ourselves it doesn’t accurately capture reads. Especially from third party readers. Hit or miss from Google Reader.

  21. I read it. I often share it (more email than tweets). I even share my RSS feed list with other addicted users. I love the speed RSS allows me, to plow through over 100 items quickly and stay on top of things. How humanly would someone do that without a feedreader (I mean, and have a job and a life)? Thank you for both the column and the RSS lifeline.

  22. I subscribe to your feed but don’t see every post (not that I don’t want to).

    This post I found because you commented on Pirillo’s post on G+. 

    RSS is important. Without it, I’d never found you, seen an interview, bought your book, or even know your name. It’s the infastructure, like the I-beams that hold up a skyscraper.. working everyday mostly unnoticed.

    RSS readers suck, but they are the best we’ve got so far 🙂

  23. I subscribe to your feed but don’t see every post (not that I don’t want to).

    This post I found because you commented on Pirillo’s post on G+. 

    RSS is important. Without it, I’d never found you, seen an interview, bought your book, or even know your name. It’s the infrastructure, like the I-beams that hold up a skyscraper.. working everyday mostly unnoticed.

    RSS readers suck, but they are the best we’ve got so far 🙂

  24. Another RSS reader here. To be completely honest I never noticed that your feed went full-article; it’s become a habit to click through on any article if I like the first few sentences or so.

  25. Another RSS reader here. To be completely honest I never noticed that your feed went full-article; it’s become a habit to click through on any article if I like the first few sentences or so.

  26. I read in a hybrid way using an RSS “reader” of my own construction to notify me of new posts, which I then read on your site directly.  I hate that I had to go set up a disposable email to post this, but I really wanted to answer your question.

  27. Definitely reading on RSS.

    Funny though, I wonder if the bunk FeedBurner statistics have anything to do with the fact that Google seems to not care much about its Reader product OR FeedBurner for that matter.

  28. RSS is well alive, it is my daily newspaper and principal source of news. 

    I regularly read Your posts in my reader. 

    Thanks for putting the complete articles into the feed, but I wouldn’t mind to have to click through to have it all – as long as Your site is fast. 

    You could include ads in Your feed, no ?I guess I prefer to have no ads in the feed with click through than the complete articles with ads.

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