Now that Google has killed off Google Reader, are you ready to abandon RSS completely and rely on Facebook and Twitter to keep track of what’s happening in the world?
RSS offers a simple way to be notified when new content is published on ever-changing websites such as news sites. Simply click on the small orange RSS icon and you’re presented with a link which you can paste into your RSS reader.
You’ll find an RSS reader built into most web browsers and email clients, plus there are plenty of dedicated RSS reader desktop applications such as FeedReader, NetNewsWire, Reeder and Vienna. If you’re using a handheld gadget you might look to apps like Feedly or the magazine-style Pulse, which lets you flick through stories like magazine pages. There are also some great online RSS readers such as Feedly, as well as Google Reader until Google pulled the plug on it at the end of June.
Once you’ve subscribed to an RSS feed you’ll automatically receive updates when new stories are published, popping up in your RSS reader just like a new email. Sometimes you’ll see the entire post, other times it will just be a snippet to catch your interest followed by a link to the web page if you want to read the rest. The ability to skim through your RSS reader like an email inbox makes it a really handy way to keep track of lots of different websites and services.
The great thing about RSS is that you don’t need to sign up for anything or hand over your contact details in order to subscribe to an RSS feed. The website doesn’t actually send you anything, you just tell your RSS reader to regularly check for updates. This way you’re not bombarded by advertising deals and spam. If you want to unsubscribe you simply delete the RSS feed from your RSS reader.
RSS isn’t just useful for keeping up with breaking news. You can use it to monitor everything from blog posts and daily deals on shopping websites to weather forecasts and emergency warnings. The great thing about RSS is that no-one controls it, so it can’t be shutdown, banned, blocked or censored. It’s also completely free for websites to offer an RSS feed and free for you to subscribe to it.
For almost 15 years RSS has been a dependable constant in the ever-changing sea of online formats and standards, but these days people are turning to social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook to keep track of the world. Liking a business’ Facebook page or following it on Twitter might be an easier way for you to keep track of what it’s doing than subscribing to an RSS feed. Facebook and Twitter also offer a level of interactivity which RSS can’t match, but the trade-off is that it’s also easier for businesses to keep track of who you are and then target you with advertising.
Considering the tracking and marketing potential of social media, it’s little surprise that the giants of the web have been systematically wiping out RSS over the last few years.
Facebook and Twitter quietly removed RSS links from their webpages, killing off an easy way to interact with them without needing to actually sign in. Meanwhile Google+ never even offered RSS feeds and RSS features were never built into Google’s Chrome web browser. Last year Apple took the extraordinary step of actually stripping out RSS features from Safari and Apple Mail as part of the upgrade to Mountain Lion. At the same time these tech giants are all working hard to tightly integrate all their gadgets and online services with Facebook and Twitter.
These tech giants can marginalise RSS but they can’t kill it. The outcry over the death of Google Reader has seen rivals such as Feedly step up to the plate and even inspired the development of new online RSS readers from the likes of Digg. Google and others might be keen to kill off RSS, but it seems there’s plenty of life left in the old format yet.