The Golden Age of RSS

One of the things I expected least to see in 2013 was that this year would mark the greatest flourishing of RSS reader applications in the decade since it first came to prominence on the web. But, with the death of Google Reader as a catalyst, dozens of alternatives and replacements have sprung up.

In just a few hours, with the help of many contributors from across the web, we were able to catalog over a hundred web-based RSS readers that are up and running today, and this doesn’t include apps that run natively on your desktop, laptop, tablet, phone or gaming console.

So that’s great news, but it drives me to a few conclusions:

  • Stop making RSS readers. I’m sure you’ve got a great idea, but find a way to update one of the better open source apps with your feature rather than trying to outmarket a hundred competitors.
  • Rethink the reading side of the experience. What we’ve largely ended up with is old-fashioned two-pane readers that clone Google’s Reader (and Bloglines before it) or Pinterest clones that use a magazine layout which optimizes for skimming more than reading. Dave Winer, godfather of RSS, has long advocated a river of news (Stop Publishing Web Pages!) but oddly all these people have adopted his format without adopting his recommendations for reading.
  • What I need now is a blog reader, not an RSS reader. In my ideal blogging tool (see these notes from a few months ago), what you’d get when you visit is essentially a single-site RSS reader that could traverse my archives arbitrarily by tag or date or topic, and eventually it’d be able to transclude content from the sites I link to. This would also let us decouple our publishing CMSes from our templating systems.
  • RSS as a format hasn’t much progressed since being frozen in its 2.0 format, despite supporting namespaces. How could we add a form of Likes or Reblogs (or even just tags/hashtags?) to have it more closely resemble the current web?

At the very least we can enjoy today as a milestone of unlikely success for a venerable format. And take the time to mark the date of that success!