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. I check my RSS feeds once every few weeks.  That can’t be done with Social Networks.  I would love to see Google support Google Reader like how they pimp Google Plus.

  2. nice site, kind of an RSS troll but figured i would throw a comment out there, love the feed, i have all the sites i visit regularly in my reader, full feed IS nice BTW.

  3. I’m still RSS reading in my mail client. Don’t want to follow various bloggers on Twitter just to be informed when they have a new blog post.

  4. John I use Feedly to read feeds and your blog popped up as a recommended subscription. I checked the RSS subscriber base and reach. sciencebase.com has about 5000 RSS subscribers and its reach is currently 514. So, I reckon something is awry with your subscriber base. I suspect a huge number of those might simply be splogs or other bot systems scraping your content rather than readers.

  5. I almost never comment on anything but I am an avid reader of many feeds, yours included. Commenting now just because of your request/test and because I think RSS is one of the most useful things on the internet (such a shame it’s getting a ‘dead’ rep).

    Regards from SI-EU!

  6. Commenting after coming in via RSS… I’d have to cynically say, this post almost feels like “Sweep” month for your blog. Boost up the numbers once a year to get better advertising revenue for the balance of the year…

    I am curious to know if Martin Luther’s friends ever said, “Tracts are dead, it’s all about books now!” 

  7. No!  Don’t fake kill your RSS feed!  (Clapping hands) I believe in fairies!  I believe in fairies!  (Or 1990’s era Julia Roberts in Tinkerbell getup, one of the two.)

  8. I started using reader again, after it came to limelight owing to G+ integration… It has made my life really easy and now I am able to follow lot more websites… Will surely put battellemedia on my subscriber list….

    As of now I do not see what can replace the efficiency of a rss… 

  9. Subscribe to your feed in Google Reader and still read most of your posts. Though once every now and then I’m a few posts behind being current, but thats just one of the nice things with RSS – I can be; I can catch up whenever it suits me…Actually read the post last night using Google Reader on my Android device. Added it to my follow-up queue as commenting frome the phone were to much of a hassle (didn’t even remember if I had a Disqus account – I had…). Account/Login required to comment is a high barrier for engagement…

    1. I agree. I will go back and look at this. I thought anyone could just comment as anonymous might have changed the settings inadvertently.

  10. RSS is dead. You are right. The web is littered with RSS based services gone bellyup (pageFlakes anyone).  RSS was and remains too hard for non-techs. Most RSS readers sucked (Google’s was perhaps the only exception and it’s clear they don’t care for it much of late)  Twitter is RSS for the masses – just headlines only. Facebook’s wall is really just a RSS reaer that resonated with the users (and was limited to feeds from within the walls of Facebook).

    RSS is not dead. Search engines love RSS feeds, RSS is symantic web 101, All good web services are really just RSS on steroids. RSS stands for Really Simple SYNDICATION (emphasis on Syndication for good reason). Never drop your RSS feeds – just don’t for one minute think it is a means of directly connecting with, say, 394,770 readers, cause it’s near useless as a means of building audience.

    (I’m not on a RSS reader and I stopped using one years ago)

    1.  I should add that I got here via another of your articles – arrived at via some other website (ZD Net or Paid Content I think) that no doubt uses a syndication service like Onespot to filter, manage and edit the ginormous mashup of RSS feeds that drives tens of thousands of such publications.

  11. I read all your posts…eventually. Sometimes, it’s quite a while later, when I get behind, but I do try to get there eventually.

  12. Just to confound the data. I wasn’t one of your RSS readers ’til I wandered across this post, but I am now. Keep the good work coming.

    As for the monetization question…so does it follow that RSS is a great choice for non-commercial sites (government, NGO, ….) that want to put out some news streams?

    1. Great choice for all information flows. We just need content to carry with it the potential of value back to author in some fashion other than pure attention

  13. Well, i have read this and i am sure that if it were not fir rss then.i wouldn’t have read this. there is too much of content fighting for contention

  14. RSS is a big help…I tried using the ‘Command-D’ to bookmark sites, then I forget most of the sites ‘keywords’…(I’m old…yada yada). Since discovering RSS, I use NetNewsWire as my reader…organizing the most important sites the way I want. I reckon there are many more readers than you or the Goog may think. Good on ya for the full feed!

  15. I’m about a month late, but that’s sort’ve the point of RSS, no? You can have all your news aggregated in one place but, more importantly, it is waiting for you when you get around to reading it. In a cascading world where what isn’t immediately read is all but lost, this is the main advantage of RSS.

  16. Well, i’ve go through this and i’m confident that if it have been not fir rss then.i wouldn’t have go through this. there is an excessive amount of of articles fighting for contention

  17. i was looking on google if rss feeds are dead. Truly – according to your insights it seems they are for consumers. Great thing to share data between websites, but it seems that consumers ignore them ….

  18. Without examing other data, I think I can make a guess based on my own RSS experience. My reader is loaded up with probably 40-50 sources, all catagorized. Each non-blogger source (which is the majority of my feed)probably feeds 5-10 articles a day at least. So the low estimate is that I am exposed to 200 articles on a daily basis just on my RSS alone. So if I were subscribed to you, you would probably make up just 0,005% of my feed if you updated one article each day.

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