UPDATE: I recently visited Twitter’s support page linked to below and came upon this API Housekeeping post, which indicates that only Atom – not RSS – is being retired.
By now you’ve probably heard of Google’s decision to kill Reader, the leading* RSS feed reading app. While it’s easy – and quite justifiable, I think – to jump on the bandwagon of calling Google evil for doing this, they’re not the first to move against one of the open web’s most useful technologies. In fact, besides Google’s web properties (discussed later below), RSS’ enemies range from open source browser devs to social networks:
- In 2011, Firefox – one of the supposed champions of the open web – removed the RSS icon from its default UI. Firefox claimed to have removed because only 3% of users clicked it, which is hypocritical given that Firefox itself started from a 0% rate.
- Google Chrome has never had an RSS icon and displays RSS feeds as plain text exposed code.
- Twitter first made RSS feeds hidden from browsers by default, and plans to retire them entirely shortly.
Why all the animosity by influential, supposedly benevolent web entities against a protocol that allows users to easily view new content on websites without visiting them from any client they want? Because it’s a protocol that allows uses to easily view new content on websites without visiting them from any client they want. In order of the previous bullet points:
- It’s bad for Firefox because it reduces user reliance on the browser. Developing a capable RSS reader is no small undertaking, and not only does Firefox lack the resources to do so, proper RSS functionality would add size and complexity to the browser.
- It’s bad for Chrome for the same reason.
- Twitter doesn’t want profile RSS feeds for the same reason it restricts 3rd part clients: they want to maintain absolute control over user experience (read: make viewing ads and having user data collected unavoidable).
Google has incentive to kill off Reader too: the existence of Google+. The latter is only place Google wants you to get your latest updates and have all your conversations, not via RSS.
A common comment on RSS is that nearly no one knows about it. That’s true, but the reason is as stated above: RSS’ benefits accrue mostly to users, not content providers. The latter provide it in the hope that it increases the convenience of the former reading their content, and not necessarily as a revenue source. Ad placement in RSS feeds has always been awkward at best. Added to the fact that RSS isn’t owned or sponsored by any major tech company, there’s little commercial incentive to promote it even if a particular provider does support it.
Ironically, one major software vendor supports RSS and even syncs feeds between its desktop and web clients: Microsoft. Outlook has supported RSS feeds since Office 2007. Even Facebook, the largest social network that everyone loves to hate, supports subscribing to Pages via RSS.**
*Technically, I have no data to support this assertion, but anecdotally, just about every standalone RSS reader support Google Reader syncing, which at least makes Reader the most widely supported backend for RSS.
**Facebook is able to avoid duplicating Twitter’s draconian 3rd party app policies by innovating (read: changing/adding features and functionality) faster than any 3rd party vendors without an expensive army of developers (which would require them to think seriously about revenue or face financial ruin) can keep up with.