Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Why RSS will never “break through”

The meme today about how RSS may or may not “break through” is the perfect example of the new media vanguard not having a clue about real media. (Dave Winer opines on how RSS can break through, Scoble says it already has, Dion Hinchcliffe thinks it can but it has to be easier to use)
Reality Check: People who use RSS readers to any degree will always be “edge cases” simply because your average person doesn’t consume enough media or care enough about their media to go to the trouble of building their own reading lists or even consuming somebody else’s reading list. What they care about is finding a small number of sources, and usually it’s one or two ‘big picture’ sources plus a couple of specific-interest sources, who they can trust and who reflect their general outlook on life.

Think about almost anyone you know who is an average media consumer. They may have have a newspaper they read and a couple of magazines they buy about their special interests. That’s typical media consumption levels. (In fact, these days just being a newspaper reader almost makes you an edge case because so many people will simply rely on their favourite television news broadcast).
One of the first things you learn as a journalist, is that the last thing your typical reader notices is the byline. The assumption that your RSS crowd makes, is that people give a damn as to who you are and why your opinion matters. And that people actually want to be that much more informed.
Try this experiment. Set up the computer of your nearest and dearest who isn’t actually a geek with an ideal RSS environment. Find all the feeds they might be interested in and pull it altogether for them. See if it catches on. I bet it doesn’t. Your best hope is if you choose one or two RSS feeds and feed it into something they already use like like GMail. That push facility is quite useful to remind a user to consume media but it doesn’t mean everybody is suddenly going to want to aggregate dozens of sources.

Another reality check: How many non-techie do you know, who even consume media via email, which is the medium RSS is supposed to be replacing?

In media land, you’ve already had your rabid consumers and your average consumers. Your rabid consumers like to be informed. They like to think they know more than the bloke next door. They’ll probably use RSS in one form or another. However, your average consumer actually doesn’t need, or want to be, that informed. Television news flashes are enought to satiate their information requirements. And it’s not a technology issue. It’s a media consumption issue.
This is why reading lists will never catch on. If you’re a sophisticated enough media consumer, you’ll want to build your own. If you’re not, you won’t want a reading list at all.

Filed under: XML/RSS/Atom

20 Responses

  1. Agree, agree, agree!
    The problem with so much of this debate is that we assume Everyone is Like Us.
    But not everyone is.
    What’re the most popular media in Australia? Tabloids like The Daily Telegraph and the 6:30PM “current affairs” shows.
    That’s where the audiences are in truly significant numbers. There’s little evidence they are interested in trawling the blogosphere to find weight loss technqiues or tales of plucky kiddies beating the odds.
    Until online media meets their needs, most of Web 2.0 will remain avant garde.

  2. ABD says:

    true. what else needs being said?

  3. True, Phil. But that’s because most people are morons :-)

  4. [...] One example of the “everything else we like” is RSS. Many of us think that mainstream internet users will get it eventually and it will be wildly popular. However, Squash doesn’t agree . [...]

  5. kevin says:

    Phil, ,man what an arrogant statement, bro. Get out of the stoneage. RSS and other technologies the support the remixing of information to that users selection and relevance is exactly the whole meme behind what we are all doing. concepts like this is why newsprint is still doing what it is and becoming less and less relevant. man I urge you to read abandoning the news I have a ton of other research to share should you wish.

    yea the average consumer does care bro. thats why we are here.

  6. drx says:

    “Average consumer” or not, so what? The question is if the average *publisher* can benefit from RSS. As much as RSS looks misdesigned, it helps to get your message to people who might be interested, who might spread it further, who might be an editor of one of the aggregative places where news are collected that “average consumers” are reading.

    RSS has already broken through in this field, even people who don’t use a newsreader read information edited by people who do so.

  7. klas says:

    I admit the technology of handling and maintaining rss-feeds, aggregators and such requires knowlegdge. This knowledge can be quite a big step for many people which may defer them from entering the “rss-world”. I think your opinion is valid but it might just be a matter of making the whole concept more user-friendly, towards the “avarage consumer”.

  8. [...] According to Phil Sim RSS will never make it because the need of news is not that great for the common masses. Being a reader of just one news paper qualifies for being a “rabid user”. Reality Check: People who use RSS readers to any degree will always be “edge cases” simply because your average person doesn’t consume enough media or care enough about their media to go to the trouble of building their own reading lists or even consuming somebody else’s reading list. Why RSS will never “break through” [...]

  9. Jope says:

    I don’t know… I think a simple, basic, reader with Dave Winer’s ‘River of News’ approach would be a hit among casual users…

    A FeedDemon-type thing would probably be overkill, though…

  10. [...] Why RSS will never break through Too hard for mum and dad… and even if you set it up for them, they don’t really care anyway. Average Joes just don’t have the media consumption habit that … the media and bloggers have. [...]

  11. Kaioshin says:

    RSS is merely the first-step in the XMLisation of the Web. People will stop publishing pages and start publishing smart data.

    Whether or not people ‘get’ the technology is a moot point. The technology will be integrated behind the scenes and people won’t notice the difference.

    For instance it’s not a great cognitive leap to go from ‘bookmarks’ to ‘live bookmarks’

    I think your assertion that ordinary people don’t need media filtering is a bit short-sighted. You’re speaking in terms of the text/blog space. When downloading television programmes and movies becomes commonplace, people will want to tweak their feeds as part of the discovery of “what’s on tonight”

    The analogy shouldn’t be between blogs and newspapers, it should be between pod/vidcasts and TV guides.

  12. no says:

    …”How many non-techie do you know, who even consume media via email”…

    where do you live? north korea?

    even my 52 year old father interchanges lots of (stupid) media via email. and I didn’t make him do that.

  13. [...] Phill Simms has weighed in on the ‘RSS Break-through’ discussion that was topping the blogosphere the last couple of days. [...]

  14. swiecki says:

    i agree. the average non tech-saavy person will not go for RSS rival to mags or newpapers. However, i think that RSS on a blackberry or Treo would make things more accessible to non techies

  15. swiecki says:

    # swiecki Says:
    February 6th, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    i agree. the average non tech-saavy person will not go for RSS rival to mags or newpapers. However, i think that RSS on a blackberry or Treo would make things more accessible to non techies

  16. swiecki says:

    shit sorry for posting twice

  17. Scott says:

    Much as it saddens me, I have to agree with you. I hope it changes, but I doubt it. i just hope that everyone out there publishing RSS feeds doesn’t decide to stop due to “lack of audience interest”. I think they’re great.

    One of these days I’ll get around to converting the mountain of newsletters I get via email to RSS….

  18. David Flynn says:

    I totally love RSS. It’s changed the way I use the Web — instead of clicking through scores of sites each day, I just keep an eye on the RSS feeds as they scroll through in Desktop Sidebar (www.desktopsidebar.com). But of course, at heart I’m a geeky sort who can cope with this — and as Phil accurately says, I’m the sort of high-bandwidth consumer (mental bandwidth, not just how fat the physical pipe is) who is and probably always will be in the minority. For more casual Net users just won’t float their boat — they don’t spend enough time online in front of the PC, or desire to dig as deep into key interest areas, for RSS to really impact their lives.

    Phil’s point about the media consumption habits of real people is spot on — being social creatures, most seek affiliatory publications which as closely as possible match their lifestyle and encompass their interests (based on models that are far more advanced than the old A-B sociographic stereotype).

    Interestingly, I believe it’s journalists like Phil (and Simon and myself) who have enough experience in dealing with the ‘real’ world (rather than a more closed-circuit community of peers) that we can balance our own RSS rapture against the reality that for most people, rabid world-changing RSS consumpion just ain’t gonna happen. Most people will stick their TV/radio stations, newspapers (or their Web sites) and the odd magazine or two, as long as they feel they can get enough of their needs met that way.

    David

  19. kevin says:

    David You said:

    Most people will stick their TV/radio stations, newspapers (or their Web sites) and the odd magazine or two, as long as they feel they can get enough of their needs met that way.

    -look No THEY WON’T that is the point. The people who are blogging, and using RSS are the consumers who are abandoning these old mediums. Do you guys read? its already changed. you guys sit in a virtual room and keep patting each other on the back telling each other how the average consumer…then fill in the blanks for yourself. Stop, smell the coffee:

    http://www.sifry.com/alerts/archives/000419.html

  20. Bret says:

    rss is just an type of xml feed. there were lots of xml feed services even before rss ie moreover etc. rss just standardized the feed format thats about it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers

%d bloggers like this: