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The RSS Revival

The platformization of the web has claimed many victims, RSS readers included. Google Reader's 2013 demise was a major blow; the company offed it in favor of "products to address each user's interest with the right information at the right time via the most appropriate means," as it Google executive Richard Gingras put it at the time. In other words, letting Google Now decide what you want. And the popular Digg Reader, which was born in response to that shuttering, closed its doors this week after a nearly four-year run.

Despite those setbacks, though, RSS has persisted. "I can't really explain it, I would have thought given all the abuse it's taken over the years that it would be stumbling a lot worse," says programmer Dave Winer, who helped create RSS.

I enjoyed this story on the state of RSS by Wired's Brian Barrett because it resonates with a trend I've also noticed in the past couple of years. Many of us have often praised social networks as "winners" in the battle against pure old RSS feeds, but the reality is that RSS is here to say. Perhaps, like rock and roll, RSS can never truly die.

What's even more interesting is that, beyond RSS as a protocol, RSS services and clients (web backends and apps) are improving and growing more powerful on a weekly basis now. Barrett mentioned Feedly, The Old Reader, and Inoreader (which I've been using since 2016 and offers terrific power user features); I would also add NewsBlur and Feedbin – two services that have relentlessly iterated on the RSS experience since Google Reader's demise. Just in the past few months, for instance, NewsBlur launched infrequent site stories to fix the very problem of subscribing to too many feeds, and Feedbin rolled out support for Twitter subscriptions. Both are genuine innovations that help people who want to get their news directly from the sources they choose. And if we look at the iOS side of this, apps like Fiery Feeds and lire are rethinking what advanced RSS readers for iPhone and iPad should be capable of. We wanted to do an RSS-focused episode of AppStories, and we ended up producing two of them (you can listen here and here) because there was just so much to talk about.

While millions of people may be happy getting their news from Facebook or an aggregator like Apple News (which I also use, occasionally, for more mainstream headlines), the resiliency of RSS makes me happy. There was a time when I thought all my news could come from social feeds and timelines; today, I'm more comfortable knowing that I – not a questionable and morally corrupt algorithm – fully control hundreds of sources I read each day.