Reports of the Death of RSS Readers May Be Greatly ExaggeratedPosted: September 13, 2010
The era of RSS readers is apparently behind us. If you read the numerous reports about the decision by Ask.com to shut off access to Bloglines, not only are we giving a funeral for a service that had been one of the most popular when purchased by the site in 2005 for $10m, but really for RSS Readers in general. The story spilled into PaidContent over the weekend, and this is pretty accurate sum of the conversation:
Hitwise, for instance, tells us that visits to Google Reader are down 27 percent year-over-year, while visits to Bloglines are down 71 percent year-over-year. comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) figures show that traffic to Bloglines has largely stagnated:
Likely to blame is that people are increasingly turning to services like Facebook and Twitter to manage what they read instead instead of RSS readers. As Hitwise’s Heather Hopkins wrote last February, Facebook accounted for about 3.52 percent of all visits to news and media sites. Google Reader’s (shrinking) total back then stood at 0.01 percent.
There are two baseline assumptions driving this geeky trend piece. One, it’s that RSS readers were used by the widespread audience in the first place. Even two years ago, as Steve Rubel noted, Forrester surveyed RSS adoption at 11 percent and potentially peaking. I’m sure there’s probably some more recent data, but I think it isn’t likely that it grew exceptionally in the last few years. Heavy RSS usage has really only been in a small sect of people who consume and produce a lot of content. Thanks to the trend tracking within my own Reader account, this is what I would lose if RSS readers didn’t exist:
The difference between RSS and Twitter isn’t just that headlines tell just a small part of the story (which is assumption number two), but it really has more to do with permanence. I used to categorize Twitter like a whiteboard: if you miss something, it gets erased, and if it’s important enough, it’ll stay around long enough until it gets noticed. An RSS reader works more like a lobster trap. It catches lots of things, and when it has something of value in it, aren’t you glad you checked it?
I don’t follow many blogs on Twitter directly. One, I know that the big tech ones are increasingly likely to be retweeted anyway, so I’ll see them regardless. Second, I have a big group of people I follow, and I don’t have the time to stalk the stream during the day to see anything of value that may come through. I rely on direct recommendations and my reader to make sure I do catch the things of value, which don’t get wiped away with time until I press that “Mark All Read” button. Twitter doesn’t replace that part of the RSS reader service at that point.
The adoption of RSS readers has likely come and gone, the “era” is over. But nobody ever used it to be a trend setter, either. As long as there are feeds, there will always be something there to catch them.