On July 1 of last year, Google announced that it would be shutting down Google Reader. This lit up the Internet with a cavalcade of discussion and debate around the RSS feed and its importance (or lack thereof) for bloggers and Internet marketers.
As Google Reader subscription data (e.g. lists of followers, favorited items, notes, etc.) were ruthlessly deleted from Google servers, we were left with the question whether it was still worth keeping a feed burning? If Google had lost faith in it, why should we continue to use this tool that has valiantly served news, culture, and marketing bloggers for so many years?
What Is an RSS Feed?
For the uninitiated out there, here’s a quick explanation of RSS and what it is used for:
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a delivery system for your blog and web content. RSS feeds allow a user to subscribe to their favorite news, blogs, and websites, and receive the latest content from all these sites in one place, without having to repeatedly visit each individual site.
It gives the user the ability to concentrate all social, news, and other favored content sources in one place. For the discerning surfer, it cuts out all the Internet and social junk and condenses the information into only the subscribed stuff that they want to view.
It was created way back in 1999 to offer websites the ability to push information out to their subscribers, as opposed to a subscriber having to check back to the site each day for new content. It increased the ability of marketers, bloggers, and other site owners to turn visitors into loyal subscribers – helping to increase web ranking and site awareness.
The Decline of the Feed
It is well documented that in the current web environment, the nature of surfing has become less focused and more transient. People aren’t staying as loyal as they once were to certain sites, or if they are, the more rapid rate of site and content updating has meant that information junkies fully expect sites like Huffington Post to be updated daily, hourly, or even by the minute!
The growth and development of social media as information sharing tools has also had an effect on the RSS feed. I mean, who needs to subscribe to a feed when you can get instant news and site updates from Twitter and Reddit?
It also hasn’t helped the regrowth of RSS that feed outlets have been unable to properly adapt to an ever-changing web and smart technology landscape. As popular blogger Dieter Bohn puts it:
“It never helped that almost every single RSS app kind of sucks.”
The dumping of Google Reader was not good news for RSS users. It was a beloved application because it simplified and centralized all its features and made the organization of folders and content an easy process. It would also recognize what you had and hadn’t read and enable you to easily share and save articles. It also provided a platform for syncing everything; if you read something on Press on your Android phone, you wouldn’t have to see it again on Reeder on the iPad.
The Next Generation of RSS Feeds (A New Hope)
Although it’s true that some of the RSS app development has not been as successful as we had hoped and many of the apps were not as user-friendly or intuitive as Google Reader, there are a new crop of RSS feed apps that are evolving to meet a smart environment – in particular with iPad, tablet, and smartphone technologies. For example, Newsify, Circa, and Flipboard are quickly proving to be functional and even somewhat “smarter” alternatives to their Google predecessor.
Many of these apps represent a more streamlined approach to feeding information in which instead of simply regurgitating articles from the web, they edit the information and create new nuggets of stories and info that contain only the essential info or images. For a generation of content junkies with tiny attention spans, this represents a great alternative to the clumsy RSS platforms of yesteryear.
As we can see from the image above of the Circa app for Android and iOS, the newest generation of RSS feeds look so much cooler than the ancient “Feedburner” style formats that never really updated the way they presented information. This is great news anyone who has content to share and wants to make it look super attractive and compelling for the reader. It also makes the user experience a lot more fun and attractive.
Pulse (above) is another exciting, versatile, and cross-network news feed app that combines content from all social, site, and news platforms in one easy-to-navigate place. As you would expect, it’s available for the Android and iOS, but it also works with Windows, Nook, Kindle, Xbox and the web. Extremely popular, the company has just announced that its users have now read more than 4 billion stories since it launched in 2010!
It seems like the death of Google Reader is starting to give birth to a lot of innovation as far as sharing content in feed-style apps. The new smart RSS feeds look cool and modern, but more importantly they are becoming relevant to the latest technologies. What we’ll likely start seeing are more RSS apps that more intuitively segment and deliver information that is tailored to highly specific needs and interests. In this sense, you would not be wise to dump your feed, whether you’re a marketer, blogger, site owner or simply a news junkie.
As an internal optimist and someone who is currently enjoying experimenting with the new generation of feed technology, I am pretty hopeful for the future of RSS. I also think that Google made a “bad call” when dumping Google Reader. As Pulse and other new apps prove, the RSS feed may be down but it’s not yet out!
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