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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Twitter and Facebook Both Quietly Kill RSS, Completely

Last year I shared how Twitter was moving more and more towards a closed, less-standards oriented model of sharing content as they upgraded their design to bring more people to the Twitter.com website. At that time, they removed the prominent RSS icons and made it only possible to access an RSS feed for an individual by logging completely out of Twitter, and visiting that individual's profile page. After reading my post, Isaac Hepworth, a developer for Twitter, tried to comfort me in a response to my post on Buzz, saying:
"I've been talking to people internally to work out what happened here so that I could untangle it properly.
Here's the scoop: the RSS itself is still there (as Jesse's roundabout method for finding it shows). Two things were removed in #NewTwitter:
1. The hyperlink to the RSS on the profile page; and
2. The link to the RSS in the profile page metadata (ie. the <link> element in the <head>).
(2) was wholly accidental, and we'll fix that. In the meantime, Jesse's way of finding the RSS is as good as any, and you can still subscribe to user timelines in products like Google Reader by just adding a subscription to the profile URL, eg. http://twitter.com/isaach.
(1) on the other hand was deliberate, in line with the "keep Twitter simple" principle which we used to approach the product as a whole. Identifying RSS for a page and exposing it to users per their preferences is a job which most browsers now do well on their own based on <link>s.
Hope that helps!"
Unfortunately, it seems #2 was not accidental, as it was never fixed. Now #1 is also removed as far as I can see (and looking at the HTML source I see no evidence of any RSS feed). It seems Twitter has completely removed the ability to consume their feeds via the open standard of RSS in favor of their more proprietary API formats.

At the same time, Facebook seems to have done the same. Facebook has gone back and forth on this though so it is no surprise on their part. They started with an RSS link you could subscribe to on profiles (this for awhile was how you added your feed to FriendFeed), but didn't seem to have similar for Pages. Later, in a Profile redesign they completely removed the RSS link for profiles. Then, in a recent Page redesign, they added the ability to subscribe to Pages via RSS. I know because I had several Pages added to Google Reader, and I remember fishing through the HTML source and seeing the RSS link in the code. It would seem that Facebook has again removed the ability to subscribe via RSS on Pages, completely removing any ability to subscribe via RSS on the site (also in favor of their proprietary Graph API).

People have been speculating, "RSS is dead" for some time now. I've written that RSS isn't dead, but the concept of "subscribing" is. However, as more and more sites move away from RSS, quite literally, in favor of these proprietary APIs I fear RSS could in fact be dying, not only as a subscription interface, but as a protocol in general.

My hope is that both of these sites overlooked keeping RSS subscription in place as they upgraded their interfaces. But seeing as I'm the only one who noticed, I have a feeling they have little reason to re-add the open protocol back into their interface. Personally, I think it's a shame, as it makes it so only developers like myself can code anything to extract that data - the average user has no way of pulling that data out of Twitter or Facebook.

It seems in 2011 and the era of Facebook and Twitter we've completely lost any care for open standards. Maybe it's not just RSS that is dying - it's the entire premise of open standards that is dying, and I think that's really sad, and really bad for not just developers, but users in general.

Am I missing something here? Where can I subscribe, via RSS, to Facebook or Twitter?

UPDATE: Dave Stevens shared a hack around this in the comments that you can use with the Twitter API. It's not readily available to users, and based on Twitter's current trend, could go away, but it works for now:
"Can can access RSS through the twitter API, if you read the documentation you are able to choose rss/atom for the feed options in some of the cases; for example: https://api.twitter.com/1/statuses/user_timeline.rss?screen_name=daveisanidiot
is my home timeline in rss format. So although they may have removed links from the pages there is still a method to get at it. (http://dev.twitter.com/doc)"

UPDATE 2: In case you were wondering about Twitter's attitude towards RSS, read this Help article in their Help section titled, "How to Find Your RSS Feed":
"Twitter recently stopped supporting basic authentication over RSS in favor of OAuth, an authentication method that lets you use applications without giving them your password. You can read more about the change here: http://blog.twitter.com/2010/08/twitter-applications-and-oauth.html 
Because of this change, we no longer directly support RSS feeds on Twitter. 
  • If you would like to continue using RSS feeds from Twitter accounts, we recommend using a 3rd-party service.
  • Or, if you are comfortable with coding, use our developer resources to retrieve statuses.

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