RSS dead for newspapers? Not at The Guardian it isn't

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 5 January 2011

Lots of chatter about whether RSS is dying after this (subsequently updated and calmed down) post from Kroc Camen. Malcolm Coles has weighed in by showing that the subscription numbers to newspaper RSS feeds are way down in Google Reader with, it must be said, lots of caveats around the figures.

So is RSS dead for newspaper websites, and The Guardian in particular? Not at all.

To be honest, consuming the web via RSS has had a decade to catch on, and it hasn't. I've been involved in trying to make it more popular for years - I was the person who insisted on putting big ugly orange RSS icons on the bbc.co.uk homepage to get them in front of a mainstream web audience, and I occasionally resorted to underhand tactics to get the BBC to publish content in RSS format.

RSS didn't catch on as a consumer proposition for a very simple reason. It doesn't solve a problem that most people have. Sure, the beauty of RSS is that it allows you to quickly browse updates to hundreds of different websites, and I'm a Google Reader addict myself, but that is a niche behaviour that is useful for a certain type of web consumer - journalists, PRs, techies and the like.

Think about it - when was the last time your mum/gran/favourite aunt desperately needed to go online and see at a glance which of 153 websites she follows have been updated?

But just because Firefox is planning to remove a little orange button from the browser doesn't mean the end for RSS as a transport mechanism, and it is one that The Guardian will continue to publish. We make the full text of our articles available via RSS, which is rare for a news site, and via the Open Platform API you can also get our content in XML and JSON formats.

We have literally thousands of RSS feeds available - every one of our 8,500-ish keyword pages has its own RSS feed, and in fact, far from dying, we've just made them easier to find.

Previously we didn't automatically link to an RSS feed from an individual article page. This was because articles could 'belong' to various different areas of the site, and so it wasn't always obvious which RSS feed should be chosen as the parent. This blog post of mine, for example, 'appeared' on the Open Platform blog, the Datablog, and in the Technology and Politics sections.

We've just changed that in release 103 of our CMS, in response to a request on our new Developer Blog. Now in the <HEAD> of our articles you'll get an auto-discovery link to all of the related keyword feeds.

For example, on an article like "Ed Miliband accuses George Osborne of misleading public over VAT", you get automatic links to the Politics RSS feed, Tax and spending RSS feed, George Osborne RSS feed, Ed Miliband RSS feed, Economic policy RSS feed, Business RSS feed, Budget deficit RSS feed, Economics RSS feed, Money RSS feed, Tax RSS feed, and the UK news RSS feed.

RSS is most definitely not dead on guardian.co.uk.

1 Comment

Yes, I agree that RSS is not dead. I think many people will still continue to use RSS unless something revolutionary comes along to replace it.

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