As Google Reader gets the chop, can Facebook and Twitter finally kill off RSS?
There are only a few hours left until Google's popular online RSS reader is sent to the gallows, the latest in a long line of moves by the major tech players to marginalise what was once a cornerstone of the web.
Your opinion of RSS probably depends on how old you are and when you started using the web. Back in the 1990s when the web began to go mainstream, RSS arose as the secret sauce to hold it all together. It was the perfect tool for keeping track of what was happening in the world, letting you subscribe to feeds from across the web and collate them using your RSS reader of choice -- perhaps built into your browser, email client or a standard alone desktop application.
The real beauty of RSS was that it was free -- both in the sense of free speech and free beer. No-one owns or controls RSS, so it can't be shut down, blocked or censored -- staying faithful to the founding principles of the web. Meanwhile subscribing to RSS feeds doesn't require handing over any person details, so it doesn't result in a torrent of spam and other unwanted messages.
The rise of blogging helped drive the popularity of RSS but RSS feeds weren't just for people, they were also for services -- everything from weather forecasts to daily shopping deals. On RSS, no-one knew if you were a dog. Or a vending machine. Or or a web service. RSS fit perfectly into the growing concept of the Internet of Things rather than simply the Internet of People. Amazing services like Yahoo! Pipes -- the ultimate mashup tool -- reveal the true power of RSS.
When social media services like Facebook and Twitter first came along they were initially seen as ways of staying in touch with other people, but it wasn't long before people started to use them as de facto RSS feeds to keep track of what was happening in the world. Go through your list of Facebook and Twitter "Friends" and "Likes" you'll probably find that many of them are entities rather than people. Tech giants and content providers have encouraged this, as social media services are easier to track, measure and monitise than RSS feeds.
If you only started using the web in the last five or ten years, growing up with Facebook and the like, then it's possible you've never even clicked on the tiny orange RSS icon still found on many websites. You might not mourn the passing of Google Reader tonight or even see what the fuss is about, as Facebook and Twitter can seemingly do the same job but with an extra layer of interaction.
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