Is RSS Dead?

RSS (RDF Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) is an XML based web feed standard that is commonly used by blog and news sites to supply their most recent posts to third parties. It was initially released on March 15, 1999, a little over 23 years ago at time of writing. Since then, it has had a few revisions & alternatives notabley RSS 2.0 (September 7, 2002) and Atom (December 2005). Most sites that still use RSS, will use Atom.

Back in the mid 2000s it wasn't uncommon to see RSS badges proudly displayed on Blogspot blogs (later renamed Blogger) and the like. You could click this button to subscribe your personal reader to the feed and get the lastest posts neatly together from all your favourite sources. As time has gone on, these badges have slowly but surely faded away.

RSS_Badge
RSS_Badge

In 2022 when most people access news content through social media posts, it may seem strange to be talking about such an old technology. Hell, only the next year after the release of Atom, Twitter was launched in July 2006. A service that would go on to be used by 229 million active users in 2022 acording to Wikipedia. I'm talking about RSS because despite it's supposed lack of usage, many prominant sites still offer RSS or Atom feeds. A few notable examples include: Reddit, Hacker News, New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post.

Accessing these feeds in most browsers results in ugly, unformatted XML that is difficult if not impossible, to read easily. A few browsers still show it as neatened XML but this is a far cry from the built in RSS readers of the Internet Explorer days (You won't hear me reminiscing about IE often...)

Built in **RSS** Reader of IE7
Built in **RSS** Reader of IE7

Google killed it's own RSS reader (Google Reader) back in 2013. On desktop, without a browser extension or web app, there is no longer a native RSS reader. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find any consumers who actively say they use an "RSS Reader" in 2022.

This of course leads me to the point of this article, is RSS dead in 2022? Kind of...

RSS Readers do still exist. There are even some quite large ones. Feedly a cross platform reader has over 5 million downloads on Android alone. Flipboard on the other hand, is doing even better with over 500 million downloads at time of writing. If you asked most customers of these apps however, I would hazard a guess that most wouldn't be able to tell you what RSS was and would almost certainly tell you that they don't use RSS. That's because despite these apps both apearing when you look up the "top RSS readers of 2022", neither one explicitly says on their app page that they use RSS. They Market themselves simply as News Readers.

Meta (Facebook) also has some support for RSS. They will dynamically publish instant articles from your site's RSS feed with a little configuration but once again, the end user doesn't know that RSS is involved. Facebook Instant Articles is advertised as its own news product that draws news from various sources without any mention of RSS.

Chrome on Android is one of the few places I found that still has a native RSS experience, not that you'd ever hear anything about it. Click the 3 dots in the corner of the browser to bring up options and you may see a follow button at the bottom of the list. Clicking this follow button will add the site's RSS feed to your new tab screen.

Subscription to an **RSS** feed on android
Subscription to an **RSS** feed on android

I do have wonder how frequently any of us see the new tab screen on a day to day basis though, as google search is natively embeded on the home screen of most mobile devices via the use of widgets. These widgets allowing us to search without ever having to manually create a tab.

To be completely honest, I don't think RSS is dead. RSS has simply migrated from a key part of internet usage to a behind the scenes system that consumers don't need to understand. That's not exactly a bad thing, consumers need systems to be simple and "subscribing to a news site" makes a lot more sense to them than "subscribing to a news site's RSS feed".

RSS has simply become one of many methods that applications and sites can draw content from one another. It's much simpler to implement than a full REST API and also has the benefit of being standardised. It doesn't need securing or designing as it doesn't offer any interaction and despite XML being less commonly used as an interchange format than somthing like JSON in recent years it's still very easy to read programatically.

I don't think we're going to loose RSS or Atom any time soon either. It's just a question of how we are going to see RSS feeds going forward. With all that said, for those that do care about Atom/RSS Feeds. You can find the Atom feed for this site at https://mikevdv.dev/blog/rss.xml.

Michael Walter Van Der Velden
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