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Sunday, April 17, 2011

RSS is Not Dead. The Concept of "Subscribing" Is.

Show me your numbers. There are a lot of blogs out there claiming, "RSS is dead." "RSS isn't dead." The problem is very few of these articles have any substance to prove that fact. The fact is, based on my numbers, the number of new people actually subscribing to this blog is tapering off, and you can see the graph here to prove that:

Notice how both the higher, and lower numbers are starting to plateau?

The green line represents subscribers (which, actually, is most of you reading this right now). The higher points are what this blog looks like when FriendFeed subscribers come into play (FriendFeed submits to Feedburner that all your followers there count as subscribers on your blog(s)). The bottom dips in the line represent what the actual number of subscribers for this blog are (the lower ones towards the end are when this blog was down as I switched from Wordpress to Blogger - another post on that later). No matter which trend you look at, though, you can see it's not an exponential growth. It's not even an "up and to the right" trend. It's starting to plateau. There simply aren't as many new subscribers as there used to.

In an informal poll where I brought up this same issue on Facebook, it seems many of you are seeing the same thing. Joshua Simmons said, "Personally I've abandoned my Google Reader (which I never could keep up with) -- now I just use Facebook Newsfeed and wait for relevant articles to percolate through my social network." Glen Campbell said, "I gave up on blogs about 18-24 months ago. Just couldn't keep up with them all." Kathy Fitch said, "I never sub to blogs. Since blog search is so easy, and they are returned in standard search results, anyway, I'd rather happily discover new ones that way. Others, I discover through FB and Twitter posts. A very few, I just drop in on from time to time." David Terry said, "I still use RSS, but not nearly as much as in the past. There is only so much time in the day that you can spend on things... today my attention is split across more outlets and RSS is only one of them and probably the least effective of any of them at finding stuff that interests me (because not every post on any given blog is worth reading). So I use it, but I'd imagine my own usage will only continue to decline." The list goes on.

Maybe my blog just isn't as popular as it was before. That could likely be the case. However, when you look at my pageviews and visitor counts, those are still up and to the right, and consistently growing. Because of that, I don't think it's a matter of you don't like my content (although I won't blame you if you think that's the case).

Even when you look at Google, it seems even they are putting less emphasis on the concept of "subscribing." In the new Google Profiles, you see a tab that links to Google Buzz, but very little emphasis on where they could be linking to your Google Reader shares and posts.

The fact is, people are getting more and more used to the concept of "following", and less and less used to the concept of "subscribing." Even I, perhaps one of the most active Google Reader users out there, find myself actually subscribing to individual blogs less and less, and just following the shares of others more and more. It takes a whole lot for me to decide I want to actually subscribe to an individual blog vs. just follow another individual who has a lot of good shares. Even Google Reader is moving more and more to the "follow" model.

Is RSS dead? Of course not, and I would debate anyone who suggests it is. The fact is RSS is just a protocol that powers many things on the web, even the items that are being shared by the people you are following. However, what I think a lot of these blogs actually mean is that the concept of "subscribing" to individual blogs via RSS is going down, and that I can stand behind. I think many of the blogs arguing this fact are seeing their subscriber numbers, something they used to pride themselves on in the past, and calling RSS dead is how they're trying to explain that fact.

If, indeed, subscriber numbers are slowing, I'd like to see more bloggers show that fact. Don't just say "RSS is dead". Put your money where your mouth is.

Am I killing the RSS feed for this blog any time soon? Of course not, and I probably will never do that, because that kills the opportunity for you to get shares in an automated fashion and share those with the people that follow you. I did, however, decide to kill the widget with the number of subscribers this blog had in the upper-right of You'll now find the emphasis placed on following me on Twitter, Liking me on Facebook, and knowing where you can follow the real me to get my updates. That seems to be where the trend is going.

With the sheer amount of data we have to process as humans in this day and age, the "News Stream" is where people are now going to get news, and it's from their friends, not blogs. They now skim and sift - they don't just read.

"Subscribing" is in the process of extinction. The "follow" is the future. It's now about people more than content.


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