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.)

Comments on this page:

Just as a counter example: I found your blog just a couple days ago via hackernews, saw the RSS autodiscovery icon in my browser, and added you to my native RSS reader. No problems.

But yeah, I often find myself emailing various sci-tech domains about where their RSS feed is. It's usually there but no autodiscovery so I make sure to send an example of what to put in the header.

RSS may be fading still but the rate of the fade has decreased in the last year or two as people explicitly try to decouple from centralized social media and link sharing sites.

I hate to say it, but have to agree with you that RSS is fading. It's the only thing that keeps me sane with trying to keep up with all of the various news sources. Social networking is useless in this regard; my hope is that RSS adoption starts to become more popular again as people reach the same conclusion.

I've even tinkered with using an email-to-RSS service for a few sites, with very limited success unfortunately.

I had no idea my feed reader could auto-detect feeds from html sources. I've always manually hunted feed links -- no other non-browser program I've ever encountered happily parses HTML pages. Psychologically "HTML/CSS/js" is in one world and every other program in my OS is in another; crossover points between these two worlds (operating systems?) are rare and notable for users.

I have dozens of feeds in my reader that I've been trimming and adding to for years. An extra data point for how much users know about feeds :)

The concept of feeds will always have a place for users. All of the other options that I've seen are centralised, and as their supporting companies come and go I suspect more and more users will lean towards solutions that rely on less external parties. Just like how we're always going to browse the web with generic browsers as the proprietary options come and go.

This has been killing me with newer blog engines and sites; either a default of no feed, or no support for auto detect.

I'm hopeful that the steam building about getting off the major social networks will reinvigorate rss awareness. But I suspect that we'll have a few years of it getting less support and less awareness, until it's only the old sites and odd fringes that support it at all.

By JMac at 2019-04-06 04:11:34:

I've been using RSS forever and never realised there was such a thing as auto discovery. I usually look for the icon or hunt around the page source.

By Pete Zaitcev at 2019-04-09 18:38:28:

Another common example is site owners not caring about RSS at all. If it goes broken, it stays broken, because they do not use it themselves.

Here's a pefrect example:


If you click on one of the links, such as Insider, you're going to end with a Cloudflare error page.

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