A few months Steve Gillmor posted an article called Rest In Peace, RSS. He has this notion that the real-time web will take over and supersede RSS. If there’s one thing that I can be sure of, it’s that RSS is never going to go away. The biggest problem is that websites like Twitter and FriendFeed are single companies, but RSS is a protocol. A protocol is a general set of rules and RSS isn’t controlled by a single entity. The big question is, what happens if Twitter or FriendFeed fails? They are seemingly becoming large companies, but they aren’t public companies and rely on private investment. Unless they start becoming cash cows within the next few years, they’ll be thrust out of existence and a thing of the past.
This isn’t to say the entire idea of the real-time web is completely defeated. There are new technologies like Google Wave that emerging, but they’re still in a testing phase. There is no telling whether it will catch on or not. Although the problem of a single point of failure arises again. Twitter has been down a lot, but it most likely doesn’t affect 99% of the people in the world with internet access. If people start piling onto a single service, it creates a problem. This probably has even reared it’s ugly head in the enterprise as companies increasingly move their applications to the “cloud”. The recent outage at Google shows that no matter how large a company is and how large it’s infrastructure is, there are still failures.
Of course failures will still happen on separate systems, but it’s a contained failure. If I get all my news through Twitter and then Twitter goes down, so does all my news. RSS allows for separation and if one feed goes down, it’s not an apocalypse. I have to admit that I’m now somewhat of a hypocrite though. I use NetNewsWire on the Mac for my news feeds. The new version syncs with Google Reader. I believe Google Reader has it’s own service that goes out and crawls the feeds and puts them in the reader. So instead of pulling directly from the site, there is an abstraction. I wish it pulled the feeds directly, but NetNewsWire is a great client and even if the feeds can’t update, I still have a nice list I can view on my computer of all the feeds I’m subscribed to and go there separately if need be.
Another problem Steve mentioned was information overload. He doesn’t want to parse through all the information. The problem is that the real-time web will eventually get like that. If you follow too many people on Twitter you’ll be getting updates faster than you can read them. I have about 50 feeds in my RSS reader and I currently follow 113 people on Twitter. I’m fortunate that many of them don’t post a lot otherwise I would probably have to stop following them. Newspapers have spoiled us in a way. They have editors that filter through a lot of news and gives us what they think is the best. Going onto the web, your friends and you are the only filter. The world is a large place and if you try to view all the raw news, your brain would explode.
Real-time and RSS both have their separate places. In my mind they serve different purposes and one will not be taking another over. I’ve always loved the fast pace of innovation in technology, but some technologies are so pervasive and deeply rooted in society that they’ll never leave. RSS is one of those technologies and it is not dying nor will it ever be dead.
PS: Just to note, there’s a button in your browser to subscribe to my RSS feed.