A Return to RSS Feeds for Finding New Content

Posted by Michael Boyink on December 21, 2015

Each of us wear at least two hats. One as content publishers. And another as content consumers. This post is written from the perspective of the latter.

As content consumers the current volume of content published on the internet is overwhelming.

In response to that overload, we’ve recently changed how we consume content. All while, as publishers, we’re doing the very things that caused us to make that change.

It’s a conflict we live with.

Remember RSS Feeds?

Ten years ago, we were all talking about RSS.

  • Google had its Reader app that many of us used to subscribe to and read our favorite blogs in
  • Google added RSS feeds as an SEO ranking signal - because if you had one it meant that you were probably updating your content often
  • Browsers added RSS buttons or icons to alert users to the presence of an RSS feed

And we all struggled to explain RSS to our clients. I sent this link to more than one poor client who probably still didn’t get it.

Along Came Social

Then…Twitter happened. And Facebook. These newer social tools seemed like a better way to learn when new content appeared.

Articles like this one from TechCrunch sounded the death alarm for RSS:

It’s time to get completely off RSS and switch to Twitter. RSS just doesn’t cut it anymore.TechCrunch.com

They made a case for Twitter being a better way to learn about new content:

Twitter, not RSS, became the early warning system for new content.TechCrunch.com

People called it the “social search” - trusting that their social networks were effectively vetting new content for them:

I don’t want to read every single thing that WIRED writes, I want to read the things that people I know think are awesome.TechCruch.com

RSS is Dead

The excitement behind RSS faded. Browser buttons went away. Google killed its Reader app.

I agreed with the thinking. I assumed that if an article was important enough to cross my bow someone I followed would surely link to it.

I bailed on RSS. I cleaned out all my feeds and got very involved with Twitter.

Life was good. Twitter was my “digital watercooler”, a place to hang out and have conversations with fellow web developers and work-at-home folks.

I got work on Twitter. I hired contractors via Twitter. I feel like I really got to know people on Twitter - what they ate, what hobbies they had, what their kids were doing.

And now, 4 years later?

Twitter Kinda Sucks

Conversation is down.

I have over 2300 followers and I hardly ever get any kind of response to a Tweet - no matter if it’s a sappy thought about my wife or kids, something snarky about the industry, or a thoughtful link to a great blog post.

It’s all crickets.

Promotion is up.

Content publishers queue up multiple tweets (often with different copy) about one new blog post to promote it well.

Older “evergreen” blog posts get re-promoted - because it’s likely that many followers of that account didn’t see it before (the lifespan of a Tweet is about the same as a professional bull ride - 8 seconds).

It seems like every Tweet has a graphic, a hashtag, and a link to some other type of content.

I did a bit of research - check out the growth of Tweets containing links:

2013: 15% of tweets have links

2015: 70% of tweets have links

It’s no wonder Twitter feels so different.

Twitter Has Become Mostly Noise

It’s now impossible to use Twitter as a “new content warning system”.

There’s no way to tell what’s new. You find yourself back at a blog post you already read, lured there by a Tweet that made it sound like a new blog post.

People aren’t as personal or conversational.

I try to use Twitter the “old” way. When I want to learn more about a new discipline, I find thought-leaders in the space and follow them in hopes of getting to know them better.

I end up learning little about them, only getting promotional tweets back to their blog. Some accounts do this 8-10 times a day, each tweet having an image and a link.

Can’t Turn Down the Volume

Look - I like the groove you’re laying down. I just can’t hear myself think.

Your Tweets are linking me to good content. I want to read it. But the volume is too high. I can’t read 8 of your blog posts a day. Every time I see a Tweet to an article I can’t take the time to read I feel a little further behind, a little more of a failure.

Twitter has no way to set per-user volume. I can’t control how much I want to hear from you on a given day. 

Oh - I can (and always do) turn off Retweets. That helps cut the noise. But past that? My only options are Follow, Mute, and Unfollow. 

It’s all or nothing.

So I have to turn you off.

Stop Playing the Victim

And that whole social vetting thing?

Hogwash.

Relying on your social network to know what to read is great if you never really want to learn anything new. This isn’t the way to become a thought-leader. It’s not the way to grow or differentiate yourself.

It’s passive, if not playing the victim.

Really, you only want to read what other people think is cool?

Grow a backbone already.

Back to RSS

My solution to the new suckage of Twitter?

I’m going back to RSS feeds.

I’ll find and subscribe to blogs that interest me.

I see your new content when it’s new. Once. On my schedule.

Without having to trust you with my email address.

Without making a public “follow” or “like” connection.

I can read your content in an efficient reader that doesn’t have your busy blog sidebar or ads.

RSS Dead?

Nah - long live RSS!