Sam Diaz over at ZDNet wrote the following in a blog entry titled RSS: A good idea at the time but there are better ways now in response to an announcement of a new feature in Google Reader

Once a big advocate for Google Reader, I have to admit that I haven’t logged in in weeks, maybe months. That’s not to say I’m not reading. Sometimes I feel like reading - and writing this blog - are the only things I do. But my sources of for reading material are scattered across the Web, not in one aggregated spot.

I catch headlines on Yahoo News and Google News. I have a pretty extensive lineup of browser bookmarks to take me to sites that I scan throughout the day. Techmeme is always in one of my browser tabs so I can keep a pulse on what others in my industry are talking about. And then there are Twitter and Facebook. I actually pick up a lot of interesting reading material from people I’m following on Twitter and some friends on Facebook, with some of it becoming fodder for blog posts here.


The truth of the matter is that RSS readers are a Web 1.0 tool, an aggregator of news headlines that never really caught on with the mainstream the way Twitter and Facebook have.

I take issue with the title of Sam’s post since his complaint is really about the current generation of consumer tools for reading RSS feeds not the underlying technology itself. In general, I agree with Sam that the current generation of RSS readers have failed users and I now use pretty much the same tools that he does to catch up on blog (i.e. Twitter & Techmeme). I’ve listed some of my gripes with RSS readers including the one I wrote (RSS Bandit) in the past and will reiterate some of these points below

  1. Dave Winer was right about River of News style aggregators. A user interface where I see a stream of news and can click on the bits that interest me without doing a lot of management is superior to the using the current dominant RSS reader paradigm where I need to click on multiple folders, manage read/unread state and wade through massive walls of text I don’t want to read to get to the gems.

  2. Today’s RSS readers are a one way tool instead of a two-way tool. One of the things I like about shared links in Twitter & Facebook is that I can start or read a conversation about the story and otherwise give feedback (i.e. “like” or retweet) to the publisher of the news as part of the experience. This is where I think Sam’s comment that these are “Web 1.0” tools rings the truest. Google Reader recently added a “like” feature but it is broken in that the information about who liked one of my posts never gets back to me whereas it does when I share this post on Twitter or Facebook.

  3. As Dave McClure once ranted, it's all about the faces. The user interface of RSS readers is sterile and impersonal compared to social sites like Twitter and Facebook because of the lack of pictures/faces of the people whose words you are reading. It always makes a difference to me when I read a blog and there is a picture of the author and the same goes for just browsing a Twitter account.

  4. No good ways to separate the wheat from the chaff. As if it isn’t bad enough that you are nagged about having thousands of unread blog posts when you don’t visit your RSS reader for a few days, there isn’t a good way to get an overview of what is most interesting/pressing and then move on by marking everything as read. On the other hand, when I go to Techmeme I can always see what the current top stories are and can even go back to see what was popular on the days I didn’t visit the site. 

  5. The process of adding feeds still takes too many steps. If I see your Twitter profile and think you’re worth following, I click the “follow” button and I’m done. On the other hand, if I visit your blog there’s a multi-step process involved to adding you to my subscriptions even if I use a web-based RSS aggregator like Google Reader.

These are the five biggest bugs in the traditional RSS reading experience today that I hope eventually get fixed since it is holding back the benefits people can get from reading blogs and/other activity streams using the open & standard infrastructure of the Web.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009 5:30:01 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I'd turn your fourth into: focusing on the feed and not the post. There are so many more ways to organize articles for consumption, organizing only by the feed is in my opinion one of the major contributors to unread count anxiety.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 6:06:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think your points are right on, particularly #1 and 2. If Dave Winer has ever had a genius idea, River of News is it. And RSS readers generally act in isolation and tend to collect data that nobody ever sees or uses.

Sam's line "I have a pretty extensive lineup of browser bookmarks" turned my head. Isn't that what the RSS reader was supposed to replace? It reminds me of how I read news in 2001.

Shawn- how's the focus on feeds any different from twitter's "following" or Facebook "friends"? The focus is always on news sources. I think the whole content discovery thing has ultimately been a big pipe dream. Relevance is, well, relative. Facebook is a lot more fun, though not necessarily informative.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 6:39:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Gordon, it's no different on twitter but facebook let's you view your stream by types of content as well as by source. I'm not going down the lines of content discovery, just reorganization of what's existing in the reader. Categories is such an underused element in rss. Instead of reading a river of news by source wouldn't it be nice to see a river of those same sources organized by the categories or author. I built a reader like that for myself you can see it at, or a more recent screenshot at
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 11:13:49 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
RSS is fine and there are a number of good readers, esp. RSSOwl, which actually uses categories and has filtering, and also multiple bookmark sets so you can read your most important feeds first, then later move on the rest as time permits. I have little interest in a river of news, and don't care what's popular. Over the years I have chosen my feeds carefully, editing them gradually and always saving the result to OMPL.
Omea Reader, despite its age, also serves my needs well.
The biggest problems with most readers are (1) they lack the option to go to the original link automatically for particular feeds (as when the summary is too short), and (2) don't have filtering.
Wataru Tenga
Thursday, August 27, 2009 3:23:38 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
1. RoN is nice, but it doesn't scale to a large number of feeds. That's why Bloglines has folders and GReader has tags. RoN within tags is just fine.
2. GReader has sharing, commenting and autoposting to Facebook, Twitter and everything else.
3. My GReader friends have faces. One of them shared this post with me, which is why I'm commenting.
4. You're looking for two firefox extensions: PostRank and gReactions. It would be nice if this were integrated into applications.
5. The process of adding feeds does take too many steps. GReader has a js bookmarklet that works okay. Firefox has support for adding feeds quickly to Bloglines & GReader.
Thursday, August 27, 2009 7:49:38 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Any chance we'll see a more prominent role for faces in Windows Live? Seems like the What's New feed could do with some photos (well the whole site could use some redesigning/cleanup IMHO, but that's beside the point). If they could get over the whole tile branding thing and let the photo speak rather than the glass border that'd be nice too. Anyhow.
Brad Dodson
Thursday, August 27, 2009 9:17:57 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
RSS will be footnote in Internet history once somebody gets a "Techmeme for Me" right, e.g. an aggregate of links with snippets presented clearly and simply that's based on Techmeme-like algorithms + my social graph + my surfing habits + my explicit "follow" choices. Look for Google Chrome (OS) to go in this direction in the next five years ...
Thursday, August 27, 2009 2:14:12 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wataru Tenga mentions one thing that feed readers have got right... the ability to back up and export your data using OPML. Most web services are a long way from being that open so this is worth celebrating.

I love using web feeds still. I'm a technology evangelist in my organisation, but can't get other people using them. They like the idea, but it's the details that you mention here that remove their motivation.
Thursday, August 27, 2009 4:46:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
This article made me LOL, partly because I discovered it by seeing that Steve Gilmour shared it in Google Reader, and doubly so because there are nearly 30 RSS feeds listed in the sidebar of this very article.

90% of my web browsing is done in Google Reader, where I have over 500 subscriptions neatly tagged (frequently multi-tagged), including the microblogging status of friends (e.g. Facebook). If the content in the RSS reader inspires me to comment, or if there's rich media that I want to see, then I head to the website. If a site doesn't have an RSS feed, it's dead to me.

Shawn writes "Instead of reading a river of news by source wouldn't it be nice to see a river of those same sources organized by the categories or author." That's exactly what Tags are for in Google Reader (though that only helps with categories, not author).

And I love Dave Winer's idea about the River of News, but don't see how RSS in and of itself prevents it. I'm not clicking through the titles of feeds, ever: I click on a tag and watch the boats go by on that river. If I miss one, no big deal, and if I want the river to go backwards I just scroll back up, just like he says. And when I want a Raging River Of News, I click "All Items (1000+) at the top of Google Reader.
Saturday, August 29, 2009 10:09:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It's also worth pointing out that without RSS (and ATOM), sites like Techmeme wouldn't be possible. RSS feeds were a critical / foundational component in the evolution of the web not because they were "end-user friendly" but that they freed structured content to be aggregated and shared in other places and other ways.
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