The Defection Of RSS Reader Readers

Everyone is stressing the wrong part of the dynamic about Bloglines being shut down. It’s not that RSS is dead, or that RSS readers are dead, it’s the defection of RSS Reader readers – we, the edglings – from those tools to other ones:

The Death Of The RSS Reader

[…] people no longer seem to be abandoning certain readers for others—or for other ways to access those same feeds. Instead, they appear to be abandoning RSS readers as a way to read the news altogether. 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.

Indeed, in its announcement, Bloglines similarly blames broader trends for its demise, saying, “As Steve Gillmor pointed out in TechCrunch last year, being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people as Twitter and Facebook dominate real-time information flow. Today RSS is the enabling technology – the infrastructure, the delivery system. RSS is a means to an end, not a consumer experience in and of itself. As a result, RSS aggregator usage has slowed significantly, and Bloglines isn’t the only service to feel the impact. The writing is on the wall.”

I don’t like the Pez dispenser feel, where all posts are like another, and you assume the role of a pigeon in a Skinner box, hitting the button to make the pellets roll out.

I have seen this coming for a long long time. In December 2005 I wrote a post, RSS Readering: Why RSS Readers Are No Good For Me (And You, Too, I Bet), where I spelled out reasons that RSS readers were the wrong way to handle streams of information, and where I coined the term ‘RSS Readering’. I wanted to break out of the inbox-based metaphor, and I was struggling to express my hopes for something stream-based:

I tried them for a time, and then dropped out. These annoy me for similar reasons: I don’t like the Pez dispenser feel, where all posts are like another, and you assume the role of a pigeon in a Skinner box, hitting the button to make the pellets roll out.

I have been lusting for something, a new solution, that actually parallels my most rewarding reading experiences. The way this generally works is like so:

  • I stumble across some link, or reference — perhaps in an email, or in the midst of reading a post in a browser — and I decide that I would like to invest some attention to this concept, or meme. Note: I am not just deciding to click a link and go to a specific page — which is all typical browsers do. I am deciding to investigate the theme, thread, meme, or whatever, and assimilate and collate information about it.
  • I might click on tags embedded in the post, that take me to Technorati, or I might simply decide to search at Technorati or for references to the piece or for tags to the topic or the names of individuals writing about it.
  • I might follow backlinks, from the post back to earlier sources: other posts, or articles.
  • I might ask specific contacts of mine what they know about the object of my interest.
  • I might write a post, summarizing what I have uncovered, and offering some thoughts on the subject.


What I would rather have is what I imagined Flock might be (and well might be, in later incarnations): a browser-based solution, perhaps a suite of plugins, that augment the browser-based “readering” experience. One part of that might be a buddylist-ish sort of minimal RSS tool that would simply remind me that people I like have posted something somewhere.


The rest of the browser modules might include these:

  • A tag browser: given a tag, or a boolean expression involving tags, present an ordered list of sources (both authors and blogs). This could be a Technorati plug-in, perhaps.
  • A backward link and forward link sniffer: give the current webpage, collate other pages pointing to that page, and a list of the pages referenced. This I envision as something like the radar widget found in video games, in a way. But instead of being displayed in a circle, two ordered lists would be fine.
  • A module: given the current page, who of my friends has bookmarked the page, and what have they said? And I would like to get away from the javascript contraption that I use for now, where bookmarking a page moves me to, and creates a problem with use of the back command.
  • A journaling module: I would like to drop an anchor in my clickstream when I decide to start some exploration and to drop a second one when I stop, and be able to retrace my steps at some later point, or to pick up the thread again, and add more stuff to it later on. I have written a bunch about “search as a shared space” vis-a-vis various services like Jeteye, but I would really rather have something embedded in the browser experience that I could also publish in some way, to allow it to be shared with others.
  • A IM presence module: I’d like to be able to share the location I am currently browsing as my iChat/AIM presence, and I would like to have my circle of friends do the same. Of course, people would like to turn this off when they are reading Fleshbot (not me, but others might), but in general it would be a simple source of new sources of clueful information.

There’s more modules that could be conceived, but I think I have waved my hands enough to get across what is profoundly off about RSS readers: they don’t work the way I read. I need support for active reading, or “readering” as I dubbed it, which is a very social activity, not a solitary one. I am no pigeon in no cage.

I was starting to anticipate the way that future dynamic social tools would supplant the inbox, static model, and it has happened. And now the old RSS tools are being left behind as we defect to better ways to share online.

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