RSS and Blogs: Is This The Beginning Of The End?

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So here's something I have started noticing: more and more blogs I come across (both personal and professional) include social buttons to encourage the reader to follow the author on a variety of social platforms, and post-specific share buttons to encourage sharing their content with the reader's own audiences, but the RSS buttons have disappeared. They will list their Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, etc, etc, etc. But no RSS option.

Where have the RSS buttons gone?

Don't these authors who spend hours each month authoring their blog posts want people to come back more than once? Isn't 'unique visits' one of the most important metrics for bloggers? Especially the ones who want to advertise or who want to make themselves attractive to brands? Or the ones that are business-related (especially small businesses or independent consultants)? Wouldn't they want to make it incredibly easy for readers to add the blog to their readers? So why isn't the option readily available (or more prominently displayed)?

Do people read feeds anymore?

I do. In fact, I've been curating my feed reader for over 5 years; it's my go-to when I want to do research for both work and my blog. I flip through Feedly on my bus commute, sending blog post ideas to Evernote, tweeting out articles, posting things to my blog's Facebook page. On any given day, there are hundreds of new items in my reader, which means that I am never lacking for new learning opportunities, blog fodder or even just some light entertainment. And when you consider that I follow almost 4,500 Twitter accounts, I would never be able to keep up to date on some of those sources, since their voices would be drowned in my overflowing Twitter stream. So seeing their feeds in my reader means I am either more likely to see them on a daily basis, or more likely to binge-read their content when I have some time. If they weren't in my reader, I would probably never remember to visit their sites.

Which makes me wonder: Am I an anomaly because I use a reader and still rely on web feeds rather than manually visit a variety of individual sites? (Seriously, who has time for that?) Have people given up on RSS ever since Google Reader died? I mean, although Google Reader stopped being supported mid-2013, all the feeds users had bookmarked didn't stop publishing. Those feeds were still readily available; users just needed a different tool to access them. And as my non-Android peeps like to keep reminding me, Apple users would have been on other tools anyhow and wouldn't have been affected by the demise of my beloved GReader.

Based on some quick research, it would appear that readers are still hugely popular: As of last Fall, Flipboard has over 85 million users. And there are millions of other people who rely on different but similar tools. So it would seem that feeds are alive and well.

So, what's going on? Have consumption patterns changed for RSS? That is, are people consuming different types of content via RSS and moving away from blogs?

What's in your reader?

Is your reader full of news sites instead of blogs, now? Do bloggers assume that no one uses RSS anymore and have modified their promotional efforts to focus on social platforms, instead? I'm not convinced. If that was the case, would Flipboard's "This Week's Picks" series still focus on promoting blogs over news sites?

With over 150 million blogs on the Internet (Source), authors might be overwhelmed by the potential competition. In fact, they might give up entirely on RSS and focus their efforts on building a community in other platforms and manually referring them to their blog and individual posts. Which is great if your community is close-knit enough that they can be reached in aggregate, or if you are connected enough to communicate with them one person at a time on a regular basis. But personally, this doesn't sound like a sustainable model for engagement if you expect your readership to grow over time. (And if you have other work to do to earn your income.)

But why would you want to limit your potential audience anyway? Isn't the whole point of blogging to get the message out? So unless you're blogging privately or behind some sort of paywall or pseudonym, why would you write off any channel that could increase your loyal reader base? For free? And with no effort on your own part?

Obvious oversight?

I would think that anyone who is investing time in generating content and looking to build a following would use every possible avenue available to them. Not including RSS in those options seems incredibly short-sighted. Even if you have such amazing SEO that search drives a TON of people to your site, shouldn't you have a call to action that will make it easy for them to continue reading your amazing content? Why would you make them add you to their overflowing social streams only to become one voice among hundreds or thousands vying for their attention?

Each time I redesign my website, there is a significant portion of my audience that has no idea of the change. In fact, I would bet that they are also completely oblivious that I changed my site's tag line in the Fall, since the update was only reflected in the the site header. Why? Because they never come to my site. They see every one of my posts, though (I know this because they tell are eager to tell me how wrong I am or back me up on my rant-du-jour). And they don't often come to the site itself to comment; instead, they ping me on Twitter or Facebook with their thoughts. Which means that they are consuming my content as they want to, in whatever format they choose. And that might not even mean actual traffic to my site. And I don't care. Because they're reading. And that's what counts for me.

Metrics > User Experience?

Hmmm... so is it a numbers game?

Maybe bloggers are trying to find ways to drive eyeballs to their sites instead of allowing eyeballs to remain in readers. Maybe they are valuing actual page views over reach, since only the former is harder to measure. Maybe "If you post and the reader never comes to your site, did you really reach anyone?" is the new "if a tree falls in a forest"... Maybe bloggers are worried: if they don't come, I don't know if they really read my post. If bloggers have trouble tracking the activity on their RSS feeds, they might choose to concentrate efforts on driving actual traffic to their sites. Essentially putting their own interests over their users'.

I'm just putting that out there as a theory. I have no proof. But I don't think it's that far-fetched to think that bloggers who validate their writing by the volume of engagement on their site would avoid making it easy for their readers to subscribe to their RSS feeds, in the hopes that they will come back to the site itself to read their posts.

Curiouser and curiouser

So many questions. Maybe it signals a change in how content consumers use RSS. Maybe it signals a short-sightedness among content creators who have chosen to abandon RSS in the wake of GReader's death. Maybe it represents a preference to track page views on one's own site than to trust the activity generated by syndication.

Regardless, I am completely fascinated by this trend. And I'll be paying attention to see where this goes.

(BTW, When it comes to spydergrrl on the web I'm just happy when someone reads, no matter where they choose to do so. So, if you don't already, why not take a moment to subscribe to my feed? :)

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