RSS Jedis: May the Force be With You

Star Wars RSS
Image from T.78UopXx on Flickr.

By HootSuite CEO, Ryan Holmes

This post was originally published by HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes on the LinkedIn Influencer blog.

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Google officially took Google Reader offline on July 1st. Millions of users who’ve depended on the popular RSS service to firehose their online content, are scrambling to adapt.

But initial panic and sentiments aside, let’s be realistic. It makes sense that Google is killing off the under-performing eight-year-old Reader to focus on its other, more promising assets like Google+. After all, the web is a whole different entity from what it was (back in the late 90s and early 2000s), when RSS emerged to help users better navigate it. It’s bigger, faster and more collaborative than ever. And as such, while RSS will live on, social media has emerged as the superior alternative.

The Clone Wars

Back when RSS was born, big news sites and well-known blogs still dominated online content production. A tool like Google Reader presented an effective and convenient way for readers to surf the net, finding and subscribing to their favorite sources, then having articles and posts of interest delivered to them in one place, hot off the press.

But now, factor in hundreds of thousands of smaller news sites, content aggregation sites, and blogs on the web, continually pumping content out. With this never-ending explosion of incoming information, people can’t be bothered with something as tedious as an RSS service, for receiving and scrolling through hundreds of articles. In many ways we no longer care where our news comes from, we just want the latest updates immediately and more conveniently delivered to us. And we want them in easy-to-digest bites throughout the day that we can access anytime, from anywhere—on our laptops, iPads and mobile devices.

Think about major happenings around the world in recent years, like the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street for example. Waiting for a big news source like CNN to write an article about the latest update, then finding it later in an RSS Reader became pointless when the same info could be found immediately on Twitter or your Facebook newsfeed.

In this way, social media far overshadows RSS in satisfying our growing thirst for quick and easy news. The people we follow on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn are the new RSS feeds: actively sourcing and curating the most current and up-to-date information for us.

But don’t take it from me: the numbers prove it. Since social networks like Twitter emerged in the late 2000s, Google Reader has seen a steady decline in user numbers—the primary reason Google is putting it to rest.

“Luke, I am Your Father”

But I should give credit where credit is due. In many ways, Google Reader was one of the Internet’s first news aggregators. Many of the social features we know and love—the ability to follow other users, to broadcast to others’ feeds, to share content, to tag and comment —started out as advanced features on Google Reader. (Of course, many of these were also killed when Google launched Google+.)

But ultimately, RSS never really spawned the same level of collaboration and engagement around information that a technology like Facebook does. Social networks have made people in general more active in their media consumption. On networks like Facebook and Twitter, users can easily comment on news links, like or favorite them, re-tweet and share them over their own networks. Gone are the days we passively take in news from traditional outlets—as a whole, when it comes to content, we are more engaged and active than ever.

A New Hope?

So what next? Will RSS die off with Google’s Reader? Probably not. RSS itself still has a huge fanbase. It’s not hard to understand why. It provides a way to personalize and make sense of the raging torrent of content on the Internet. And this capacity to organize and aggregate is sometimes missing from social media—which can seem random, arbitrary and a bit schizophrenic.

Luckily, for RSS fans, there are many other alternatives out there—that likely won’t ever replace Google Reader—but could serve as worthy replacements.

FeedlyNewsblur and The Old Reader are currently getting the most buzz and pick-up as credible alternatives, and for being similar to Google Reader in functionality. Flipboard is also emerging as a popular, prettier alternative. (It might want to watch its back though, as Facebook is reportedly developing a very similar Reader-esque service.) And then there’s Twitter itself, which in essence is already a go-to news aggregator for millions.

And there are many other new and smaller-scale services that could also help fill the void, including one of Google’s oldest and simplest services, Google Alerts, which sends news stories and general web mention updates to users via email.

My company has also developed a tool called HootSuite Syndicator, that offers users a way to go and pick up any RSS feeds on the web and display them side by side alongside their Twitter, Facebook, and other content streams in real-time, on a single dashboard. From these streams, articles can be plucked out and shared with friends, colleagues and clients quickly through social media channels—without ever leaving the window. The Syndicator is our RSS solution that puts emphasis on efficiency and social sharing.

“May the Force Be With You”

Star Wars RSS Alternatives 2
Image from williamcromar.

Obi-Wan Kenobi

Google Reader may be dead, but the web is more alive than ever. It’s a bigger, faster, more interconnected and powerful source of information. And using tools like social media and other new and emerging technologies, dedicated content Jedis are finding new and effective ways to tap into it.

May the Force be with you.

For more social media insight and to learn more about my company, follow HootSuite on LinkedIn.

Install the HootSuite Syndicator to see your RSS feeds in the HootSuite dash today.