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September 18, 2018 8:53 AM   Subscribe

 
Let's get these out of the way:

Yeah, but what about podcasts?!
Yeah, but what about WordPress?!
I read this post via RSS.
RIP Google Reader.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 8:54 AM on September 18, 2018 [33 favorites]




I'm going to choose to interpret the 'forking' in the title in the Good Place sense.
posted by signal at 9:04 AM on September 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


Oh God Not This Again
In a nutshell: judging RSS itself because RSS readers are not mainstream is to miss everything that RSS does. And judging RSS readers for not being mainstream is to judge them against expectations set by some hype artists more than a decade ago — but not by me or anybody else actually doing the work.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:05 AM on September 18, 2018 [14 favorites]


(Belatedly realize I posted something with the word “blockchain” in it, which understandably is going to be a huge turnoff for most. Would suggest reading it anyway as it’s good on services and standards and the way things tend to go in tech history.)
posted by Artw at 9:14 AM on September 18, 2018


"He pointed out that Twitter was basically a better RSS feed, since it could show you what people thought about an article in addition to the article itself. It allowed you to follow people and not just channels. Gillmor told his readers that it was time to let RSS recede into the background."

As someone who never got into using RSS in any capacity, I find this declaration laughable. As I understand it, RSS was a way to keep track of new stuff published from sites and blogs you liked. As I understand twitter it's for people to "poast" endlessly about anything but mostly nothing in a very limited format that makes conversations disjointed, chronologically challenged, hard to follow, and openly invite the worst people on Earth to chime in unasked. You're a goober Steve Gillmor.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:15 AM on September 18, 2018 [14 favorites]


YAOR (yet another obligatory reference) to "nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded". Last I looked all my rss feeds were functional. Well most, some bloggers stopped posting so no new rss from them.

Online readers seem to be in that WWW ambiguous zone of needing to support servers and a small staff but not having a natural funding source, which tends to too often push business towards poor marketing decisions (bad ads, allowing scammy stuff)
posted by sammyo at 9:16 AM on September 18, 2018 [9 favorites]


> 1970s Antihero:
"Oh God Not This Again"

Posted because I found the history interesting independent of the post's conclusions regarding RSS's demise. As intimated by Brent Simmons, we (including MetaFilter, as linked) have had that discussion already.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 9:17 AM on September 18, 2018


In addition to killing Reader, Google also changed the format of RSS results for News searches, and then announced last year that the feeds are going to be depreciated. So I'm trying to figure out how I can get news-by-keyword into my RSS inbox.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:22 AM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Standards die when they cease to produce profit, even if they remain robustly utile.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:27 AM on September 18, 2018 [13 favorites]


Hmmm - I was following this when it all went down... Makes me feel old... Article fails to mention the further forking of "RSS 2.0" with the introduction of Atom... (well - there is a footnote)

As well - this all might be less necessary now that HTML5 is ubiquitous, being "relatively easy" to parse and also having semantic elements.
posted by jkaczor at 9:48 AM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Last I looked all my rss feeds were functional. Well most, some bloggers stopped posting so no new rss from them.

At one point, my feed list was well in excess of 3000... These days, not a day goes by that I don't have to remove another dead link...
posted by jkaczor at 9:50 AM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


This line got a literal guffaw from me:

It’s not clear to me why a better effort was not made to involve Winer in the RSS-DEV Working Group.

Hmm, why wouldn't you make more effort to include the famously abrasive and argumentative guy who fundamentally disagrees with everything you're trying to do? (I mean, other than that he was right, and they were wrong. )

You're a goober Steve Gillmor.

"Twitter is a better RSS feed" wasn't laughable, it was ominous foreshadowing. While we were busy arguing about the precise nature of the blogosphere plumbing, the social networks were quietly replacing it.

I still wonder what the web would look like now if back in the day we had somehow focused on making the blog ecosystem easier for nontechnical people to take part in, instead of getting absorbed in pointless pissing matches about RSS vs RDF vs Atom, or a half dozen variants on Trackback, or the Semantic pipe dream, or etc. Social networks would still exist, sure, but maybe they wouldn't be quite so central to (most people's experience of) the web...
posted by ook at 10:04 AM on September 18, 2018 [13 favorites]


Judging RSS itself because RSS readers are not mainstream is to miss everything that RSS does.

Indeed - and though I worry it will lead to RSS' eventual death, the inside of my reader (I use Newsblur) is, like Metafilter, one of the last corners of the web that feels hospitable and comforting to me.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:24 AM on September 18, 2018 [14 favorites]


If someone can give me an alternative way to easily find out when literally hundreds of websites/blogs/webcomics that I follow update I'll look into it. As far as I know there is nothing else out there that will make sure I see all new posts from sites I care about and nothing else.
posted by PennD at 10:25 AM on September 18, 2018 [12 favorites]


I don't think the world would be even a little bit different if RSS came out the door perfect and everyone loved it and had no qualms. I don't think social networks succeeded because of anything to do with RSS, they succeeded because everyone has infinite crap to say and want to say in a place where the most people might hear it -- on top of the obvious allure of socializing for a famously social species. I think they were destined to be so central to the online experience for people -- they need to be centralized for it to be a thing "everybody's doing" so it's worth going where everyone is to participate. RSS has no means to make disparate sites and blogs into a centralized nexus where folks from all over can congregate communally about it.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:25 AM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure who said it first, but I've heard a few different people say that RSS solved too many problems to be allowed to live.

It's sure turning out to be hard to kill, though.
posted by mhoye at 10:26 AM on September 18, 2018 [14 favorites]


Twitter and Facebook aren't RSS feeds, but they are good syndication products. Both of them do a good job for ordinary people of showing them a stream of things from sources they are subscribed to. I hate the details of the tech, particularly the walled garden, but the Facebook front page is a better product for most people than Google Reader ever was.

I still use RSS daily and rely on it. It's particularly nice when some old friend's blog lights up with the first post in three years. Stuff still works OK.

(As to the politics; Dave Winer is a big part of why early RSS' history is a mess. He is the opposite of the person you want as the steward of a project like RSS. I was a part of the creation of Atom. It's a nice format, well defined technically, but further muddied the waters and also didn't really address the primary need, which was a better consumer product like Facebook or Twitter eventually created.)

tl;dr: pour one out for FriendFeed.
posted by Nelson at 10:26 AM on September 18, 2018 [9 favorites]


I mutter this entire rehash every time an acquaintance gripes about Facebook hiding posts from friends/pages on their wall. Social media a la Facebook et al wasn't revolutionary technology, it was just really well packaged for the technologically incurious user. I was very on the RDF side of things back in the day but even I realize that spending 2x the time to write a post dealing with metadata was going to be a non-starter for $AVERAGE_USER.

We could have had an awesome interwebs. We were just too lazy.
posted by Fezboy! at 10:57 AM on September 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


Is there some kind of adage or law about when a visionary drives a thing right up to the point of popularity where more people come on board and then it suddenly blows up? Because it often seems to happen whenever there's a single founder of a standard, technology, startup or nonprofit. I'm reminded of an engineer from IBM telling me about being in the room for a meeting where the HIPPI standard (200MB/s in the early nineties) died when everyone but the founder wanted to make it into the Gigabit Ethernet + SCSI of its day, but the founder was sulking because his ego wasn't stroked.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:59 AM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


RSS has no means to make disparate sites and blogs into a centralized nexus where folks from all over can congregate communally about it.

I mean, you're probably right that centralized networks were inevitable... but between RSS (for syndication), comment threads (for discussion in brief), and trackback (to connect discussion in depth), we kinda had all the necessary ingredients to make the walled gardens redundant, except for the really hard one: ease of use.
posted by ook at 11:05 AM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


Twitter and Facebook aren't RSS feeds, but they are good syndication products. Both of them do a good job for ordinary people of showing them a stream of things from sources they are subscribed to. I hate the details of the tech, particularly the walled garden, but the Facebook front page is a better product for most people than Google Reader ever was.

They are not good though. I have to fight with facebook to see what I actually want. I had to modify my bookmark so I got "Most Recent". I have to actually visit friends pages to see stuff that somehow doesn't get in my timeline. Twitter doesn't me show a chrono feed so I use tweetdeck and lists instead. When every serious user has to find workarounds the tool is broken and in these cases they are deliberately so. They are broken for me but not for twitter or facebook

Ditto for Youtube which buries your subscriptions in favor of pushing AI generated recommendations that focus primarily on attention capture, ad serving and ADD inculcation rather than whatever your goals as a user are (Google has never recommended a video longer than 15 minutes to me despite the majority of my youtube subscriptions being hour long programming conference talks).

I use RSS everyday and it is my primary interface with the internet. I use several different readers so I can divide my interests and lock myself out my distraction feeds during work time. When a site ditches RSS I tend to ditch the site.

I shouldn't have to fight with the internet every hour of every day I use it but here we are.
posted by srboisvert at 11:06 AM on September 18, 2018 [16 favorites]


Because I am one of The Olds, I hate Twitter and Facebook, and LOVE RSS.
I was sad the day Google Reader died, and currently use Feedly, albeit begrudgingly.
I'll always add that little orange square to my website(s), because fuck you, that's why.**

**That, and I want my content easy to acquire
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:08 AM on September 18, 2018 [11 favorites]


Yeah, Facebook is not a good syndication product. The vagaries of the FB algorithms mean that being someone's friend or "liking" a page for a business/organization/not-for-profit does not mean that you will see all, or even most, of the updates from that person or page. It fails the most basic test of reliability. Twitter is somewhat better, as long as you can keep your feed in chronological order with the aid of Tweetdeck or similar, but it's not a replacement for RSS.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 11:09 AM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Twitter and Facebook aren't RSS feeds, but they are good syndication products. Both of them do a good job for ordinary people of showing them a stream of things from sources they are subscribed to. I hate the details of the tech, particularly the walled garden, but the Facebook front page is a better product for most people than Google Reader ever was.

This opinion is absolutely baffling to me. They're absolute garbagefires in comparison. How. How can you even equate them? Just looking at Facebook and Twitter it's impossible to determine what "sources" I'm "subscribed" to in any meaningful sense, because "people" are included in that shitstorm of content. There's no way to know what's "unread" or old, the timeline is a complete mess of ads and bullshit. How Twitter and Facebook "serve" anyone is honestly beyond me. They seem completely insane compared to Reader.
posted by odinsdream at 11:11 AM on September 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


> Standards die when they cease to produce profit, even if they remain robustly utile.

R.I.P. MP3
posted by Bangaioh at 11:20 AM on September 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


RSS has no means to make disparate sites and blogs into a centralized nexus where folks from all over can congregate communally about it.

I think this was basically what FriendFeed was going to do (using RSS) and why Facebook felt it had to buy and kill it.
posted by enn at 11:21 AM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


RSS has no means to make disparate sites and blogs into a centralized nexus where folks from all over can congregate communally about it.

This is rather like confusing the spice rack (social media sites) for a type of nail (RSS). There are few technical reasons why you couldn't subscribe to an organization or person's RSS from twitter or facebook. Once that content has been pulled in, you can do all the facebooky or twittery things you like to it. But, the commercial reason is that both platforms want control of both creation and distribution of that content.

I generally think that the "folks from all over" ideal has proven to be wrong in practice. We're just not built for socializing at scales beyond a few hundred people.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:38 AM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


Still using RSS here, and will continue to. Its the best!
posted by Fence at 11:56 AM on September 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


I haven't stopped using RSS (Feedly just gets better and better) and rely on it both for news and for my job so this discussion of the death of RSS always seems to be taking place somewhere else. (Where there isn't an RSS feed?).

Neveretheless, fascinating round up of the spec's development (dang, I remember that one summer when I temped at Universal when every admin had those janky push notification thingers on their desktops).
posted by notyou at 12:03 PM on September 18, 2018


I generally think that the "folks from all over" ideal has proven to be wrong in practice. We're just not built for socializing at scales beyond a few hundred people.

I could not agree more.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:49 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Dave Winer is a big part of why early RSS' history is a mess. He is the opposite of the person you want as the steward of a project like RSS

Holy shit this right here. I tried to grok Radio UserLand once.... I really tried. My brain hurt for a week.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:41 PM on September 18, 2018


"Twitter is a better RSS feed"
One more reason Twitter Must Die (I think I'm over 500 reasons now)

When Google Reader died, I realized that Google Is Not On Your Side and sought out alternatives, including an 'on my own site' TinyTinyRSS, but ended up using the 'GoogleClone' Old Reader, paying $6/month for support for 1500 feeds (including a folder full of MetaFilter feeds, where I found this after previously finding the article on one of my "Blog" feeds). It's part of my nutritious breakfast, lunch and bedtime snack, and if that makes me a Neo-Luddite, I'll wear the title proudly.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:42 PM on September 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


I saw this post in TT-RSS, which I installed the week Google Reader's forthcoming death was announced. I would give up FB and Twitter in a heartbeat before I gave up my access to RSS feeds.
posted by COD at 2:05 PM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


Twitter and Facebook aren't RSS feeds, but they are good syndication products.
How can you even equate them?


They solve similar problems, they let you follow posts from many sources. And literally 2.2B people seem to be satisfied enough with how Facebook works to use it at least monthly. I understand you don't like it, and many others don't like it too, but Facebook is an enormously successful product.

Everyone here's complaining about the way Facebook reorders or doesn't show everything. I used to find that frustrating too! Twitter too (although they just changed the product to offer a simpler ordered timeline again.)

But Facebook isn't some stupid company deliberately muddling with your timeline. They do that because their testing shows them that's what users want. They've designed a product that handles the problem of having too many feeds to read everything. Instead of showing you everything in time order they show stuff in ranked order. Their ranking algorithm seems to favor diversity of source first, but secondarily what you've engaged with recently. I've made my peace with it and now appreciate how it lets me follow way more acquaintances than I have time to read everything from, I like the sampling. I think it also must work well for people who follow news sites on Facebook. And yes, it lets Facebook sell ads more easily since the ads inject into the ranked timeline better than they would a strict timeline.

Yes, you are going to complain it's not the same as good old Google Reader and how mad you are it doesn't work the exact way you want. You're right, it doesn't work that way. The biggest products in this area moved way from that. A happy side effect of Google Reader's death is now there are several viable RSS readers. (I pay for and use Feedly myself.)

If you want to be mad about something, be mad about the way Facebook and Twitter used to publish RSS feeds and now no longer do. That's the worst part of the walled garden. Not that the syndicated feed doesn't look the way you'd like it to, but that these companies chose to no longer syndicate their content.
posted by Nelson at 2:11 PM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


ActivityPub, basis of Mastodon seems like the Twitter/RSS people are looking for.
posted by Artw at 5:09 PM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


But Facebook isn't some stupid company deliberately muddling with your timeline. They do that because their testing shows them that's what users want.

Sorry, but that's bullshit. There's a huge difference between what people want and what they end up engaging with, particularly when you're dealing with an AI-driven platform that fine tunes what content will drive the biggest engagement (hence revenue) preferentially over any metric which might gauge user enjoyment.

For example, very few people want to get into flame wars in the comments of sites like Facebook or YT, but they do nonetheless. Why do so many sites have comment sections even though they're a cesspool which offers no value? Because infuriating people causes them to engage with the site.
posted by Ickster at 5:38 PM on September 18, 2018 [8 favorites]


@srbisvert has it, the Google / YouTube / Facebook algorithms are not good for you.

Facebook curation warps your sense of what other people are doing by only showing "top" content and Ytube's recommendation engine is literally a machine for increasing political polarazation and reducing attention.

RSS is harder not just technically, but also in terms of all the ongoing curation you have to do to keep your feeds interesting. I don't think it would have been as popular as Facebook or Ytube even if the interface was beginner-friendly (Twitter, maybe). But it's better for you, like eating vegetables.
posted by subdee at 5:50 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think the fact that a reasonable news source will cover a lot of stories that are not "interesting" to you is one of the benefits. It helps to provide prospective that the trending story that everyone is jumping on isn't the only one, and possibly isn't the most important. Life goes on, in spite of the top-trending scandal.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 6:33 PM on September 18, 2018


On the local level, I might not find the articles on road closures and high school sports interesting but they are a weekly reminder that there is a life and stuff that happens outside of the maelstrom of outrage of the day.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 6:56 PM on September 18, 2018


Fuck you Google. Google Reader was The Bomb.
posted by mikelieman at 7:49 PM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


RSS is harder not just technically, but also in terms of all the ongoing curation you have to do to keep your feeds interesting. I don't think it would have been as popular as Facebook or Ytube even if the interface was beginner-friendly

People already do this with magazines, but there would have to be interface improvements and a critical mass of people who share information and improve their feeds for people to have the same facility with RSS. If subscribing was as easy as, I don't know, clicking an X on a email signup popup, people could easily flip sites on and off in their lives the way people do with those they follow on Twitter. Long story short, if people used it more people would use it more, but it's been hamstrung by pushback from several directions and benign neglect via ad-driven sites.

Remember when everybody started getting Windows 98 computers? People totally taught each other how to get around there. Or the tech people in your family would get 800 questions at Christmas. "Where do I set the modem?" That first wave of mainstream acceptance got us to just about iPad levels of computing, but that could be improved. My dream media landscape includes stuff like "subscribe to an RSS feed with a QR code on a bus bench ad, while driving," so anything that streamlines getting what I want from the Internet is a net plus.
posted by rhizome at 8:56 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


My dream media landscape includes stuff like "subscribe to an RSS feed with a QR code on a bus bench ad, while driving," so anything that streamlines getting what I want from the Internet is a net plus.

Yes, this! If the only problem with RSS is that it's not easy enough for the average user to use, surely that's a fixable problem? There are experts in designing for ease-of-use, I'd love to see what they would suggest for RSS.

They do that because their testing shows them that's what users want.

I generally agree with a lot of your comment Nelson, but this is the bit that sets off an alert for me. I don't believe that "what users want" is how Facebook decides how their algorithm works, and have never seen any evidence that it is. More like "what users will tolerate" or "what maximises time spent on Facebook". Part of my love for RSS is that it lets me follow more sources while taking less time to do so. I can skim headlines for some folders, and read the entirety of others. Low-value sources get pruned out. It's efficient and gives me control, which is the exact opposite of what corporate CEO types want.
posted by harriet vane at 1:08 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


Long story short, if people used it more people would use it more, but it's been hamstrung by pushback from several directions and benign neglect via ad-driven sites.

One of the nice things about the internet in 2018 is that it's already been invented, and I still think, despite myself and everyone else telling me I'm crazy, that one day Facebook/Twitter/YouTube and all their Chinese imitators and pretty much the whole creepy lemme-get-all-that-sexy-data-so-I-can-advertise-to-it-and-monitor-it-for-dissent internet is gonna crash and burn one day. It's just too creepy, but the internet is too good to let go, so one of these damn days we're going back to the 90's and starting over, except with better knowledge of how to keep our business private and our public face easy to update. Myspace died, Renren died, so shall go Facebook and Weibo. Rising in their places are Mastadon and Telegram. The number of people who don't know How Internet Works is falling by the day, and the number of people who realize How Internet Works Now is creepier than it was is rising by the day.

Grandma and grandpa won't touch Facebook, even though they have accounts. They don't post anything, but they know it's messed up. They've asked how to just plain old set up a webpage. The whole damn thing is built and predicated on something that anyone can participate in. Oh, and now we have VPN's as a viable product with apps that feature a simple on/off switch. We also have Wordpress and Amazon's cloud and Google Docs and I mean...if you want to just be private on the internet but publish something non-identifying and not monetize it and not pay for it, it's easier than ever. There are countless guides detailing exactly how be private. Password manager apps are also a thing. Computers are also ubiquitous and just...I mean, there are so many iterations of the internet that it's possible to participate as much or as little as you want, and there's also Patreon and stuff if you want to be a content producer, and all the RSS readers are available for reasonable subscription fees...

We're there. We're in the utopia already. Yes it takes some technical acumen, but so does getting a driver's license and health insurance. People handle those alright. The day is gonna come when every network connection is through some Tor'd up Widi P2P thing, and search engines will require a bitcoin farthing for every search (tax deductible of course), and Wikipedia will be hosted on some amalgam of BitTorrent and your local telco's servers, and the likes of Facebook will be a distant, sad memory of a time when everything was convenient. RSS will still be standing. It will all be super high-bandwidth, and I trust there will still be VPN's.

I believe this like agnostics believe in not knowing whether God exists. I hope I'm right.
posted by saysthis at 3:14 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


Most aggregator software offers both feed discovery from page metadata and one-click bookmarks. I suspect that mobile devices also have subscription via send-to dialogues.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 4:14 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'd be lost without my Newsblur RSS feed, its at least 50% of how I interact with the internet.
posted by octothorpe at 4:22 AM on September 19, 2018


But Facebook isn't some stupid company deliberately muddling with your timeline. They do that because their testing shows them that's what users want.

Sorry but no. It is what their users will put up with. The people who want the muddling is facebook and their advertisers. This is just like how Netflix, Hulu and other services are pushing recommendations, obscuring discovery and generally making their products harder to use any way other than mindlessly.

Their 'machine learning' is not being optimized for user preferences it is being optimized for user engagement. They're pushing info-opoid addiction and producing ADD-induced intellectual constipation.
posted by srboisvert at 2:35 PM on September 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


Facebook was initially designed for elite college students to find each other and know where to party, and twitter was was designed to broadcast SMS to small groups. The web-page marketing and syndication stuff came later.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 3:32 PM on September 19, 2018


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