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. Long-time Google Reader reader, and I watch more closely (i.e., Mark As Read less often) now that I’m working directly in the digital marketing industry.
    Also, posting comments doesn’t seem to work in Chrome. That may have something to do with it. (Clicking post does nothing at all.) That means I had to open FireFox, log into my Google account (including 2-step verification, since I wasn’t signed in at all), and then post the comment. That should count as at least two votes 😉

  2. Here are my Google Reader ‘Trends’ stats for today –

    From your 119 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 10,377 items,clicked 74 items, starred 0 items, andemailed 0 items.Since December 31, 2010 you have read a total of 125,336 items.
    Certainly not dead for me!

  3. Here are my Google Reader ‘Trends’ stats for today –
    From your 119 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 10,377 items,clicked 74 items, starred 0 items, andemailed 0 items.Since December 31, 2010 you have read a total of 125,336 items.
    Certainly not dead for me!I also have the same problem with posting in chrome

  4. Our “full-text” media company customers are seeing a 34%
    read rate and a 8% click-through rate on content items in their RSS Feeds. We
    know because our company, SimpleFeed, manages RSS Feeds for a good chunk of the
    Fortune 500.


    While traditional RSS reading has coalesced around Google Reader,
    RSS is thriving in iPad apps and content syndication. For example, according to
    MajesticSEO your RSS Feed is syndicated onto 87 web pages. The growth story for
    RSS in 2012 is in iPad information aggregators (Flipboard, Pulse, Zite, Currents,
    etc.). As these aggregators are getting RSS content via Twitter signals and/or
    Google Reader integration, FeedBurner is less successful in reporting these


    I am not surprised your subscribership have doubled. RSS
    continues to grow despite being “dead.” For most publishers and marketers, RSS produces
    more content consumption and click-throughs than Twitter or Facebook (where we
    also publish).

  5. I use Snackr – giving me a scrolling news ticker at the bottom of my screen of all my Google Reader RSS headlines. If a headline intrigues me I click through to read it.  I used to only remember to logon to Reader once every few weeks, now it’s always right there ready for me to dip into it when I need a distraction.

    The fact that I am reading (and even commenting) on this post proves your RSS feed is worth it – I have been to some sites that don’t have an RSS feed, which frustrates me, because it basically means I’ll never serendipitously read content from that site again because it’s not being pushed to me (the only way I might read it is if it happens to come up in a web search for something I am researching at the time).

    It also highlights the importance of writing good (ie. intrguing) titles for blog posts (another commenter here also noted how they just scan headlines).

  6. I read some of your posts, not all of them.  Also depends on what type of day I am having so it varies day by day.  However, I definitely use my RSS reader every single day.

  7. I use Netvibes to collect my RSS feeds – easy to scan headlines and I have a public page so I can share with my students. I click through to your site to read the full article quite often.

  8. Use google reader as a sync service. Do all the reading in either netnewswire or byline. Not sure what that does to the numbers.

  9. Hello, I came here from Google Reader. Then I had to change to a different browser because Disqus doesn’t work with one of my Firefox plugins. (Which one? Who knows…) Then I had to sign in with Twitter, which meant looking up my Twitter password.

    I suspect that some people who came to comment just gave up.

  10. Keep RSS alive!! I’m not a commenter person. Not only in your blog but in all my inspiration sources. I’ve left no more than 100 comments since September 2006, while my reader stats say I’ve read about 30K articles.

  11. bloody hell John you put the request not in the last sentence but the penultimate one!  That probably reduces things even more, whack it in bold in the first line (I always read at least your first para, but normally the whole post…but I will tend to tail off; I think I follow the known patterns of reading newspapers, etc. probably).

    1. Simon if you’r not from the UK I’ll be dismayed. But your point is taken, I may have to factor up the count just for burying the lead .

  12. Still on google reader here. Twitter/Facebook/Google+ is still no good for finding things outside of the echo chamber.

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