You would be forgiven if you had forgotten that RSS ever existed. The small orange button that became so familiar to website visitors in the early 2000's was as dominant as a Twitter button on any of today's websites. RSS is the abbreviation for Rich Site Summary, and was later often referred to as Really Simple Syndication. RSS was responsible for bringing digital content to the user automatically, literally changing how daily news was digested.
Instead of the user searching for news, the news went directly to the user. It was constantly being updated and accessible from any device capable of using RSS reading software. Back then, RSS was everywhere, every website masthead had an RSS feed icon and every blog category and news topic had its own independent feed that a user could subscribe to. There was no way of avoiding RSS, so how come we now have to hunt around to find an RSS button?
- What went wrong for RSS?
- Web 2.0 walks into a bar
- What's that you say?
- Social media isn't for everybody
- HOW can we use RSS feeds today?
What went wrong for RSS?
Websites from the late 1990's and early 2000's look horrific in comparison to today's web design trends. The pages of an early RSS feed were no different. Typically a pile of XML code greeted any user that dared to click on a feed button – a daunting experience to anyone not technically minded, resulting in the user closing the window never to click on one of those little orange buttons again.
Design did improve over time slightly as the RSS specification became more advanced with improved features, delivering limited images with news items, but was still largely uninspiring and had no outside-connections to speak of. It was just you and the news you had chosen to subscribe to. This is now referred to as Web 1.0.
Web 2.0 walks into a bar
All technologies advance at staggering speeds, and the web is no different to any other technology. Services such as MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were quickly becoming widespread, offering customizable spaces for users to make their own. People could create, upload and share content with each other in a fast easy way. Social media channels were giving them a platform to connect with each other using various new methods such as (re)tweeting, liking or tagging.
What's that you say?
Integrated commenting also played a major role in bringing together communities. Comments have strenghtened social media outlets' grip around the throat of RSS even tighter as commenting systems became more advanced and could be integrated with each other via new authentication API's – it was revolutionary.
To leave a comment on a website back in the day, you had to take several steps. You would open up your feed reader, click on a news item and register an account going through the process of confirming by email. Then you would log in with a generated password that you'll never remember.
Finally you would be leaving your comment if you could remember what you had to say in the first place, probably never to return to see if other people had a comment of their own or if they had a direct response to your comment.
And nowadays you are able to login to multiple websites using existing login information from your preferred social media outlet at the click of a button. This gives you the ability to leave your comment on the website you're visiting. You can share it directly to your chosen social media outlet(s) and provide other people with the opportunity to view, share and comment too.
This snowball wasn't for stopping, standing RSS up against this was never going to end well for the one-time dominant force of sharing information.
Social Media isn't for everybody
Not everybody took social media to heart however, change is not always welcome in people's daily routines, much like people still using CDs to listen to music or DVDs as being their primary source of visual entertainment, a lot of people stuck with the simplicity of RSS without intention of changing.
The closure of Google Reader in 2013 brought about an insurgence of new advanced Feed Readers and online services, all competing for a slice of the readership Google had just ditched. With its polished designs and improved feed reading capabilities, RSS was enjoying a revival of sorts.
So HOW can we use RSS today?
RSS certainly isn't dead and buried just yet. There are many daily uses for RSS feeds that you probably have forgotten about or weren't even aware of in the first place due to its falling popularity. Here we shall walk through some of the best available RSS readers and services. These tools can help you enjoy using RSS feeds in an efficient way:
Feedly was one of the main benefactors after the demise of Google Reader, increasing its share of the RSS market dramatically in a short period of time. It provides users with an attractive, customizable area with which they can view, search for and share all of their favourite RSS feeds in one place.
Using the free version of Feedly, you can subscribe up to 100 feeds. For the pro version you pay around $6 per month which allows unlimited feed sources amongst other features such as advanced search and filtering capabilities, keyword alerts and backups to Dropbox.
NewsBlur opened in 2009 and was founded on a shoestring budget by one entrepreneur who struggled to make any impact in the world of news aggregation. With a user base of around 1,500 users, again it was Google Reader's closure that turned things around, multiplying its user base many times over in a short period of time.
News Blur offers advanced search capabilities, predictive news feed filtering, advanced feed organization, social media sharing capabilities and the ability to display the feed source website within the reader. It has thus become a highly reputable news aggregator.
For $36 per year you can get a Premium Account in exchange for unlimited news sources (as opposed to the slightly restrictive 64 sites you are afforded with a free account), faster news aggregation, feed and news story saving functionality and improved organisation.
Feed Wrangler is a back-to-basics type of news aggregator for you to wake up to on a morning, with its simplistic layout and easy-to-understand user interface. It's basically the aggregator for the no-nonsense type of person that's for sure.
Feed Wrangler offers advanced search facilities and the usual array of organisational filters. However, this doesn't make it stand out from the crowd, especially with its lack of social media sharing options, but it's certainly a viable option. Feed Wrangler is especially a suitable tool if you’re looking for a simple RSS feed reader without bells and whistles. For users there is an iOS app available.
Blogtrottr is an RSS news aggregator with a difference. It delivers updates from your subscribed feeds directly to your inbox. This allows you to easily stay up to date on any device without the need for additional software. You can receive new posts right away or wrapped up in a variety of digests.
Real-time updates are readily available for free and there are no subscription limits to worry about either. However, paid plans are also available from €15.99 per year, which mainly offer advertisement-free emails and multiple customization options.
Inoreader is a very popular, and highly advanced feed reader that offers a bunch of options that will suit the beginner as well as experienced users alike. Inoreader is highly regarded as being one of the market leaders, as it supports many other leading web-apps such as Pocket, Readability or Evernote.
Besides that, Inoreader also provides great social media sharing capabilities you can take advantage of. Free users can enjoy unlimited subscriptions, although it is an ad-supported service with an emphasis on its premium plans which range from $14.99 to $49.99 per year.
Next to those services and RSS readers we've talked about so far, there are a few others which are worth mentioning. G2Reader for example, which is a simple but featured-packed reader. 100 site limit for free accounts. The Old Reader is not as lame as the name would suggest. This reader is a modern, clean reader with social media sharing capabilities. 100 site limit for free accounts.
And finally FeedBin – a popular and attractive feed reader that offers comprehensive organizational options. No free accounts available but free trial periods are available. There are of course more RSS readers / services that haven't been mentioned here, but these probably are the most popular and commom ones you should have heard of. If you like, give us some feedback by leaving a comment.