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.)

Author: John Battelle

A founder of NewCo (current CEO), sovrn (Chair), Federated Media, Web 2 Summit, The Industry Standard, Wired. Author, investor, board member (Acxiom, Sovrn, NewCo), bike rider, yoga practitioner.

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

  1. Love RSS. Reading via greader and newsrob on android phone. offline reafing very handy for commute on the tube. Loved the last book, looking foward to next. Blog cool too 🙂

  2. I usually scan the titles and read/click if the first few lines interest me.  It doesn’t bother me to click and read the article on the respective site.

  3. I use RSS feeds every day and love it when a site putts the whole content in the RSS feed so that I don’t have to leave my Reader when reading.
    Without RSS-feeds it would be impossible to keep up with all those different publishers. Image visiting every site to read the latest headlines of articles.But… I do realize that I have MANY RSS-feeds in my Reader of which I only read a dozen regularly.Along the way in past years I’ve collected quite an impressive list of interestng RSS-feeds.

    But I don’t manage my collections of feeds. By now I guess that half the sites are down of not beeing updated anymore. 

  4. I’m a proud RSS reader.  But I have to admit, I don’t know anyone else who uses RSS out of all my friends/acquaintances.  And not knowing ANYONE ELSE who uses a web product I use is pretty much unheard of for me.

    I don’t know why it’s so hard to convince people of its value, but the conversation just never seems to go down well.  Maybe it’s just TOO direct.  With RSS, there’s literally NOTHING BUT CONTENT (and in-line ads, mostly from O’Reilly Media).  It’s a very intentional form of content consumption, and maybe there’s not quite enough hand-holding or “serendipity” for most people.

    I should add a plea to please never turn RSS off on your site. I would have no idea how else to follow the feeds I’m interested in as well as I do now without it. I consider myself just lucky that pretty much all the site-building software I’ve seen has RSS publishing as a very simple process (often turned on by default with site owners having no idea).

  5. I admit I use RSS less than I used to, but many of my techy friends use it still everyday. I just taught another person what it was, and there really is no replacement for it yet…if you plan to seek out subscribed sources yourself. If you’re a person subscriber, a la twitter/facebook, then you may not use it as much. But, it’s not dead. Pulse reader on Android, for example, is still the best news aggro around.

    I think the real problem is that people are reading less online in general. Being inundated with news feeds, people statuses, and blog posts is hard to keep up with, and even thinking about it is a turn off for many.

  6. read your rss headline through netvibes. at this point i have trained myself to focus on reading the full rss feeds more often, so i rarely look at the headlines of the partial rss feed sources any more.

  7. commenting just to add to your count—RSS is still ok, google reader works, g+ is tolerable, but full text in reader view is excellent!

  8. Echoing many commenters, I am a busy fellow and haven’t the time to go hunting through a multiplicity of sites every day.  I get ALL my news through a variety of RSS feeds.  And I rarely read comments, much less post my own.  So keep the RSS going.  Thanks!

  9. For those like me who’re in the news/media field, RSS remains a vital and critical tool. I have been reading your blog in my Google Reader for years and am glad you’re retaining the full-text feed – many thanks!

  10. I read you via reeder on my iPhone. Rss is critical and somehow our industry needs to get it back in the spotlight.

    Also the dsqus

  11. I hadn’t commented yet for just one reason….
    For some reason comments weren’t working on my FF installation…. 🙂

    I’m an avid reader of your RSS feed.
    And I won’t read all your posts without RSS

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