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Yesterday, ZDNet's Sam Diaz called RSS a "Web 1.0 tool" and voiced the opinion that "there are better ways now". He noted a Forrester Research study showing that only 9% of adults in the US use an RSS reader monthly -- a 2% drop from 2008.
Diaz's comments were in response to a Google blog post announcing the release of the second annual Google Reader Power Readers, a collection of the sites various influential individuals call their favorites.
To Diaz, Power Readers is an attempt by Google to reinvigorate interest in Google Reader, Google's online RSS reader. But he has moved on:
Once a big advocate for Google Reader, I have to admit that I haven’t logged in in weeks, maybe months. That’s not to say I’m not reading. Sometimes I feel like reading - and writing this blog - are the only things I do. But my sources of for reading material are scattered across the Web, not in one aggregated spot.
Diaz levels some valid criticisms at RSS. Aggregating all of the sites you read on a regular basis is easier said than done and keeping up with the vast amount of unread RSS items that quickly accumulate is all but impossible. Of course, many users never had to deal with the challenges RSS presents; it isn't exactly a mainstream phenomenon. Ask the average person on the street what RSS means and you'll probably get more than a few funny guesses and blank stares.
Social media, on the other hand, is a mainstream phenomenon. One that Diaz hints provides a better solution. So is it time to declare RSS dead?
In my opinion, the answer is no. RSS may not be as popular as Twitter or Facebook, but who says it has to be? Twitter and Facebook are great for content discovery; RSS is one of a number of tools that can be used for content aggregation. Comparing them is like comparing apples to oranges.
The real question is who is RSS hurting? Nobody. Even if only 9% of adult internet users in the US use an RSS reader monthly, that's still a pretty sizable part of the internet population. And given how easy it is for publishers to implement RSS feeds and make them available to users in a non-intrusive manner, there's really no reason for many publishers not to offer RSS.
Bottom line: this isn't an either/or proposition. Not every technology has to achieve 90%+ adoption to be useful. Social media is an excellent and popular medium for content discovery; RSS is a useful medium for content delivery. Let's leave it at that.