A sign of people's fading belief in RSS syndication

April 3, 2019

Every so often these days, someone asks me if my blog supports RSS (or if I can add RSS support to it). These perfectly well meaning and innocent requests tell me two things, one of them obvious and one of them somewhat less so.

(To be completely clear about this: these people are pointing out a shortfall of my site design and are not to blame in any way. It is my fault that although Wandering Thoughts has a syndication feed, they can't spot it.)

The obvious thing is that Wandering Thoughts' current tiny little label and link at the bottom of some pages, the one that says 'Atom Syndication: Recent Pages', is no longer anywhere near enough to tell people that there is RSS here (much less draw their clear attention to it). Not only is it in a quite small font but it has all sorts of wording problems. Today, probably not very many people know that Atom is a syndication feed format, and even if they do, labelling it 'recent pages' is not very meaningful to someone who is looking for my blog's syndication feed.

(The 'recent pages' label is due to DWiki's existence as a general wiki engine that can layer a blog style chronological view on top of a portion of the URL hierarchy. From DWiki's perspective, all of my entries are wiki pages; they just get presented with some trimmings. I'm going to have to think about how best to fix this, which means that changes may take a while.)

The less obvious thing is that people often no longer believe that even obvious places have RSS feeds, especially well set up ones. You see, DWiki has syndication feed autodiscovery, where if you tell your feed reader the URL of Wandering Thoughts, it will automatically find the actual feed from there. In the days when RSS was pervasive and routine, you didn't look around for an RSS feed link or ask people; you just threw the place's main URL into your feed reader and it all worked, because of course everyone had an RSS feed and feed autodiscovery. One way or another, people evidently don't believe that any more, and I can't blame them; even among places with syndication feeds, an increasing number of them don't have working feed autodiscovery (cf, for one example I recently encountered).

(People could also just not know about feed autodiscovery, but if feed autodiscovery worked reliably, I'm pretty sure that people would know about it as 'that's just how you add a place to your feed reader'.)

In other words, we've reached a point where people's belief in RSS has faded sufficiently that it makes perfect sense to them that a technical blog might not even have an RSS feed. They know what RSS is and they want it, but they don't believe it's automatically going to be there and they sort of assume it's not going to be. Syndication feeds have changed from a routine thing everyone had to a special flavour that you hope for but aren't too surprised when it's not present.

(The existence of syndication feed discovery in general is part of why the in-page labels for DWiki's syndication feeds are so subdued. When I put them together many years ago, I'm pretty sure that I expected feed autodiscovery would be the primary means of using DWiki's feeds and the in-page labels would only be a fallback.)

Written on 03 April 2019.
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Last modified: Wed Apr 3 22:21:51 2019
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