Could someone explain why there is so much hype around RSS?
January 1, 2006 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Could someone explain why there is so much hype around RSS?

I've been using the internet since 1994 and I am a software engineer. I've followed and generally accepted most of the hyped net and web technologies but I have a very hard time understanding why RSS is a big deal. Why are headlines and links in XML getting so much press? Why is microsoft "building RSS into the core OS of Vista?" What could that even mean? I enjoy going to various sites and reading their content, why would I want to bypass the site and read the headline or body as just text?

Now having mp3s/video/etc available through RSS makes a lot more sense to me, is that why people are excited? I feel like I am missing something.
posted by cmicali to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When you have an aggregator bringing together all the various sites you now check by hand, all in one convenient location i.e. My Yahoo!, your email client, Bloglines, whatever, doesn't that seem more efficient? This is mostly useful if you DO have that convenient location that you find easy to use and easy to check.

Microsoft is marketing it that way. They could have a DLL that has functions implementing the spec(s) and say that, which is no different than what they would do to support it in ANY application.
posted by kcm at 4:07 PM on January 1, 2006

RSS is about how people use the technology, not the technology itself. Basically what it boils down to is that it's a useful way to stay up to date on websites, tv shows, audio, etc. automatically. Focus on the apps that have been built with RSS, instead of the xml formated text files created.

People have been trying to build reliable notification systems for the last 7 or 8 years and nothing has stuck (email sucks for it, browsers are buggy about, etc) until the last couple years of RSS. Now there's an easy to deploy standard that is fairly easy to build basic applications around.
posted by mathowie at 4:09 PM on January 1, 2006

For a cool example via boingboing of a few days ago, the combination of RSS and AIM.
posted by kcm at 4:14 PM on January 1, 2006

The example that I use when I talk about RSS is this... Say you have three friends you want to keep up with, friends with blogs or something informal. One updates once a week, once updates once a month and one updates three times a day. Oh, and one of your friends is a piss-poor designer and his site is incredibly hard to read because it's grey on white with some frou-frou background image that makes your head hurt. If you want to keep up with your three friends, you have to somehow remember to check these sites at the intervals they likely are updating at, or find the greatest common factor and check them all monthly, at which point friend #3 has updated ninety times.

With RSS, you can use a separate program (I don't use web-based RSS readers but a lot of people love them) that will go check the sites, load the new content when it comes in, allow you to style it as you want, and then mark it as "read" once you're done with it. You go to the RSS reader to get content, and you do it when you want and you know the newest stuff wil be there, with links to the original sites right in it. This is like how nn used to work for news, if you ever used unixy newsreaders. This way you can keep up with content at your pace, and the way YOU like to look at it. If you have five sites you read regilarly, this is no big deal. If you have fifty, this is a total timesaver. It's also good for the "tell me when this has updated" feature which is great for tracking packages, sales, weather alerts, craigslist and traffic.

I use RSS mainly for work-related stuff where I need to churn through a lot of content pretty regularly. I still read the websites of a lot of my friends directly -- you don't miss sidebars, design changes and calendar stuff that way -- but where I'm just interested in the content, and getting to it quickly, RSS is the way to go.
posted by jessamyn at 4:19 PM on January 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Jessamyn that was really helpful. I only visit 5-10 sites regularly, so I had not really thought about economy of scale. The 'is new' idea also makes a lot of sense, especially when feeds are being read and processed automatically.

Now there's an easy to deploy standard that is fairly easy to build basic applications around.

from matthowie also makes a lot of sense. I suppose I'm underwhelmed by RSS partially because I've been using things like it for a long time. I had not thought that it is the fact this is a standard is what makes it compelling.
posted by cmicali at 4:28 PM on January 1, 2006

A real life example of the economy of scale: I use to check 125 or so sites every morning (and then again in the evening) to stay up-to-date on things I was interested in. It took me about 4 hours to do so.

Now with bloglines it takes me between 30-45 minutes.

Thanks to RSS I'm now bored and don't know what to do with my life, the new TV season can't start soon enough.
posted by Mick at 4:47 PM on January 1, 2006

Mirroring Mick's comment, I use FeedDemon to sift through 250+ blogs every day.

When writing for Gizmodo, I quickly needed to glance over all the day's news, see what was worthwhile and new and crazy.

My feed reader let me take an at-a-glance look at my feeds, see what I had and hadn't looked at yet, flag posts to a News Bin for later review, and browse the sites the RSS links pointed to, all at once. It'd update automatically, and alert me when certain sites updated.

250+ sites is a great deal of content to sift through when you're attempting to cover new gadget news or quirky, unique items that you think will be of interest. A feed reader and a really strong OPML (list of feeds, put simple) file let me do my job without going completely insane.

This is just about aggregating a great deal of data, disseminating it quickly and easily and allowing for people to ensure they see the customized content they want, and stay in the loop. It scales wonderfully, too.
posted by disillusioned at 5:05 PM on January 1, 2006

I've been using the internet since 1994

I've been using the Internet since 1987 and a well-orchestrated aggregation of RSS feeds and keyword triggers just about replicates much of what was useful in terms of information push (low noise, high signal, quick in and out, configurable info consumption) about Usenet in the 1980s before AOL and others arrivistes spammed it to death.

Brand new we're retro. It won't last.
posted by meehawl at 5:10 PM on January 1, 2006

I use findory. It checks out a bunch of websites and shows me articles it thinks I'd like to read based on previous reading patterns. I think it uses some kind of Bayesian Filtering to tell me what's good.

With respect to your question, it couldn't aggregate the content it needs without RSS. RSS is a simple and obvious tool, but it can be used to easily pull data in from other websites in a known and easy to work with format.
posted by seanyboy at 5:21 PM on January 1, 2006

It's all about scale. I read 160 feeds or so - about 140 weblogs and other news sources, and 20 custom searches for various things. I can keep up with all of that in an hour a day with ease.

Of course, it's mostly work-related - I'm generally not reading for pleasure - and "reading" is maybe not the best term, since I ignore 3/4 of everything and only click on and read the interesting things.

I also write for a bunch of weblogs, and Bloglines lets me file away links/descriptions for items I want to write about later.

You have a point - for those of us who have been online for a while, this just feels like a logical progression, and they hype doesn't make much sense to me either. But I couldn't live without RSS at this point...
posted by mmoncur at 6:24 PM on January 1, 2006

Time my friend. I use feeddemon and do quite well with it. I used to spend 2-3 hours reviewing web sites each day and now cover the same territory in 10 - 20 minutes.
posted by orlin at 6:24 PM on January 1, 2006

The times I've tried RSS, the feeds haven't provided enough information for me to know whether or not I am interested. A single sentence doesn't quite do it for me.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:11 PM on January 1, 2006

What everyone else has said, about time.

As for the hype, RSS is like democracy. It's the worst possible system, until you consider all the others.

Once you get past a certain number of websites, you can't keep up to date effectively by going to them. You certainly can't keep up to date with websites by waiting for an email to tell you they've been updated. And what else is there?

Then there's the snowball effect. I got an RSS feed for my blog because someone who read it wrote to me to say "I can't be bothered reading anything directly any more, it's either available via bloglines or I don't read it.".

Part of the appeal is also how RSS allows you to skim information. I read my friend's blog. My friend's interests are nearly the same as mine, except for cricket. I have no interest in cricket whatsoever. I skip those. So not only has RSS efficiently notified me when there's new content, it's also allowed me to see at a glance that it's new content which I don't actually want.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:11 PM on January 1, 2006

I'm with the skeptics: Since the entire point of Web surfing is to waste time reading interesting trivia, anything that makes doing it more efficient is kind of, you know, missing the point...
posted by kindall at 8:35 PM on January 1, 2006

kindall: That is such a narrow view... people surf the web for learning now, not just "wasting time."
posted by IndigoRain at 1:19 AM on January 2, 2006

also kindall, some of us do this for a living, where being more efficient is competitive advantage. either way, it means there's more time to do other stuff. i know very few people with too much time to kill, or that don't have better things to do with extra time than clicking slowly through web pages that may or may not have anything new.

meehawl: as far as RSS vs Usenet, a big difference I think we're just starting to see the potential (especially with OS integration) of RSS both as archive, pointer, and notifier. It also gains the benefits of the web (most notably URIs), and has many more (developer-level) tools for manipulation than Usenet ever did. I think we're just starting to see the most interesting things that can and will be done with feeds in the near future.
posted by lhl at 3:10 AM on January 2, 2006

Basically what everyone else said. I'm not a fan of bloglines, so I use netnewwire. I will say, however, that when I first started with rss I didn't quite get it either. I read so many sites with my new toy that I defeated the purpose. I'd always have over a hundred new stories every hour. After a while I realized that, for instance, all the mac sites basically covered the same stories. So I picked my favorite mac sites and unsubscribed to the others. Now my subscription list is more reasonable.

Another cool feature is being able to check netnewswire in the morning, ignoring 75 percent of the topics that don't interest me, and opening the rest in the actual application, not safari. Then if I'm travelling or going to a coffee shop without free wifi, I can still read those sites.

Honestly, it would be hard to get by without it now, and if shown how to use it efficiently I really think most of the naysayers would change their minds.
posted by justgary at 8:43 AM on January 2, 2006

we're just starting to see the potential ... of RSS both as archive, pointer, and notifier

I grant your point that there are a lot more developer tools available now for RSS than for Usenet in the late 1980s - but that's to be expected given the expansion and evolution of IT in the interim. Think about what you could do with classic Usenet feeds given current bandwidths and developer tools and no opportunity to develop for the web or other technologies. Hell, half the world's wares and pirated content seems to first circulate through Usenet still. Some of the sites like Usenext seem to be making commercial ventures out of this.

I feel that my point remains valid - currently RSS is still niche, and so under-exploited by those that would seek to "monetise" it. When it becomes ubiquitous, and expected, and integrated with people's daily typical IT consumption, then RSS will come to resemble the rest of the internet and the RSS spamming and advertising will really get going. It's a bit half-hearted at the moment. When it becomes standard, we will be forced into continually upgrading our RSS filters to screen out RSS spam keyword junk ala email and the cycle will have come full circle. This convergent evolution will result from RSS's initial characteristic as a push based and not a query based interaction.
posted by meehawl at 10:30 AM on January 2, 2006

As others said above: RSS speeds up the task of keeping up-to-date with several websites that you'd have to visit regularly manually. One additional point: With RSS I have brought down the number of e-mail newsletters to zero. Now I can sync my mobile with my e-mail and I only get e-mail which is really relevant to me.
posted by m.openmind at 10:42 AM on January 2, 2006

I don't understand how mere headlines == better informed.

Maybe it's because I operate Opera as an RSS-like tool: I mass-open a collection of daily websites, skim the headlines, read the summaries for only those headlines that interest me, and click links for further detail for only those summaries that most interested me.

This way I get it all: a quick overview of headlines, tons of good-enough summaries that keep me from having to read the entire article, and whole-on articles when I need them.

I don't see how RSS would improve upon this. I'd be clicking more headlines, because I wouldn't be able to skim to determine whether I should read in detail.

Maybe I just have to give it an honest workout for a month, see if it changes/improves things.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2006

I don't understand how mere headlines == better informed.

Most of the time headlines give enough info to make a choice if you're interested or not. This is especially true of good tech and personal sites. They know much of their audience is reading through an rss application and take that into consideration. Many personal sites actually put their entire post in the feed, not just the headlines.

I'm subscribed to almost 50 feeds, which isn't a lot. But it's much quicker to open up my rss application than 50 websites. Not to mention that my rss application shows if there's anything new to read.

It really takes coming home from a week vacation to 1000 unread headlines to see how quickly a good rss application will let you get through the junk to what you want. No way using a browser is as convenient.
posted by justgary at 12:12 AM on January 3, 2006

That is such a narrow view... people surf the web for learning now, not just "wasting time."

Well, sure, but not blogs.
posted by kindall at 10:51 AM on January 3, 2006

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