The spread of syndication

April 20, 2006

I read a lot of webcomics, and it's turned out that there's pretty much only three sorts of them these days: ones that update every day, ones that have an RSS feed, and ones that I don't read. This is just an anecdote, but it's an illustration of how far syndication has wormed its way into my life.

It's all the more startling because I haven't been using syndication for very long; less than a year so far. I can actually pinpoint more or less when I started, because it was this LiveJournal entry by Dave Jones (a Linux kernel person) that pushed me over the edge into trying out a feed reader myself. By June 5th I had built my own version of liferea and installed it and was getting hooked.

By now, syndication has spread far enough into my life that I'm usually grumpy if a website doesn't offer a syndication feed; it's pretty much become my preferred way of getting updates. (Only usually; I have not yet gotten to the point where I want an RSS feed of, say, the weather forecasts. Some websites are not good fits for syndication.)

I'm wary of sweeping proclamations, since I'm given to strong enthusiasms for new geegaws; my current infatuation may wane in a year or two, like some of my past ones. Still, doing my best to look at it objectively, there's a number of things for which syndication is a clear win; this suggests that syndication isn't just a passing fad, unless it gets replaced by something even better. (I'd rather not go back to the old way of polling websites to check for updates, for example, and having software keep track of what I've read and not read is awfully handy.)

This isn't to say that the syndication world is a very evolved place right now; it's not. There's a lot of rough edges, the software is usually pretty primitive, and I maintain that we don't know what really works and what the best ways to do a lot of things are. The basics are in place, but then the basics of Usenet were in place in 1984 or so; it still took another five to ten years before Usenet really got refined. (Hopefully syndication can evolve faster than that.)

But even in its current state, even in the relatively short time I've been using it, it's still managed to make a definite impact on my life. I'm a bit startled by how much of an impact; I certainly didn't expect this back in last June.

I do wonder if my experiences are atypical. Possibly I'm enough of an impatient information junky that syndication and feed readers are a natural fit for me, and other people will be finding them less compelling. (I care because I'm selfish; the more people hop on the bandwagon, the more websites are likely to make me happy by offering syndication feeds.)

Written on 20 April 2006.
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Last modified: Thu Apr 20 03:23:49 2006
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