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.