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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Facebook Listens. RSS Added Back to Pages. Will Twitter be next?

In perhaps one of my most controversial articles (unintentionally), I wrote a week or two ago about how both Twitter and Facebook both quietly removed RSS from user accounts and Pages. Of course, with Facebook, on user accounts that made sense since they were intended to be private, but with Pages, 100% public versions of the site, it didn't make sense that they would remove the links and access to be able to subscribe to updates via RSS. It appears that Facebook listened though, as there is now a "Subscribe via RSS" link on Facebook Pages, and the source now links to an atom feed for clients that want to auto-discover the feeds. You can see it by looking down at the bottom left on any Page now.

David Recordon, Senior Open Programs Manager at Facebook, mentioned in the comments of my previous article"I actually think you're misinterpreting the reasoning here. Today JSON based APIs are quite a bit more powerful than RSS feeds and have become preferred by the vast majority of developers when building on the platforms you mentioned. This means that it's worth investing more time and energy into APIs over feeds. So I don't think it's that anyone is looking to actively remove feeds, rather they're just stagnating over time as more functionality is built into APIs." Of course, he had a point. It was also something I mentioned in my previous article, that sites are moving more and more towards proprietary JSON APIs vs openly available and reproducible RSS. The problem is API or not, Facebook's Graph API (not to be confused with Open Graph Protocol) is still closed - until they open that up as a standard, it will not be easily accessible across clients and content consumption programs.

It's really good, that on top of their existing (and really easy to use) Graph API, to see Facebook move towards something that not just developers can easily consume, but any user can also consume and do things with in a simple fashion. Until (and if) Facebook opens up its own API, this is the right approach to take, and they should be commended.

There is a glimmer of hope with this move by Facebook. Of course RSS isn't dead, but my worry is that as we see Twitter and others slowly removing remnants of the protocol one bit at a time, these open standards may be swallowed up in favor of more proprietary APIs and formats. I'm really proud of Facebook taking a lead here in open standards adoption as they have done in the past - let's hope they continue to do so in the future.

The question now is, in this regard, does this make Facebook more open than Twitter? (I argue Facebook has always been more open than Twitter in various capacities, but in this regard, I think it says something about Facebook's motivations vs. Twitter's) I'd really like to see Twitter follow suite and reconsider their stance on removing RSS moving forward.

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