This is such fascinating write up by Sinclair Target on history behind the challenges RSS has faced over the years. And also why it just never managed to succeed — even though it had the backing of all the major publishers, at least everyone adopted and served it.
Today, RSS is not dead. But neither is it anywhere near as popular as it once was. Lots of people have offered explanations for why RSS lost its broad appeal. Perhaps the most persuasive explanation is exactly the one offered by Gillmor in 2009. Social networks, just like RSS, provide a feed featuring all the latest news on the internet. Social networks took over from RSS because they were simply better feeds. They also provide more benefits to the companies that own them.
RSS isn’t dead, yet. It still serves all the podcasts feeds, and there are a large number of users, including me, for whom it is the only source of any timeline of sort. But the fact cannot be denied that it does not draw any attention from big technology companies. With Firefox too recently dropping the built-in feed support, it became clear everyone wants the standard to exists but no one wants to work on improving and maintaining it. Wish it did not stagnate.
RSS might have been able to overcome some of these limitations if it had been further developed. Maybe RSS could have been extended somehow so that friends subscribed to the same channel could syndicate their thoughts about an article to each other. Maybe browser support could have been improved. But whereas a company like Facebook was able to “move fast and break things,” the RSS developer community was stuck trying to achieve consensus. When they failed to agree on a single standard, effort that could have gone into improving RSS was instead squandered on duplicating work that had already been done.
I believe that is the story of how standards proliferate. But I just hope more people realize the importance of the RSS standard for the existence of open web and work on evangelizing and advance it.
If we stay dependent on technology companies to back it, we will always end-up with siloed timelines. For them, achieving consensus and coexisting with other players is costlier. It is cheaper to foster user engagement in a walled platforms controlled centrally by the owners. Companies will always go with the cheaper options.