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26 Comments

Why you still need RSS

Back in the early days of blogging, the tech press bashed RSS out of existence as it was supposedly too complex for ordinary users. To the point new bloggers don't even know what RSS is, some recent blogging platforms don't support RSS, and sometimes the blogs of new startups don't provide RSS feeds.

But if your blog doesn't have RSS, you shoot yourself in the foot.

You completely give up control of your traffic to search engines and social platforms. Along with email newsletters, RSS is among the handful of options remaining to bloggers for establishing a direct communication channel and relationship with readers. With no gatekeepers.

The readers who subscribe to your RSS feed always see all of your posts, no matter what Google, Facebook, or Twitter decide.

What if only a minority of readers subscribe to your RSS feed?

They are the ones you want. These readers are the superfans who share your work. They may be bloggers themselves and link to your posts from theirs, or enable other opportunities such as guest blogging or podcast interviews.

The few RSS subscribers are much more engaged and valuable than the many who don't even click links on social.

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    RSS is so far from dead! I'm one of the weird ones apparently. My site victoria.dev has a prominent link to the RSS feed in the main menu, and I RSS items all have the full content of my articles.

    Big tech can't profit from RSS because it's such a direct way to reach readers. If you monetize with product links instead of advertisements on the page, I think it's extremely viable. That said, I do wish non-technical readers had an easier way to understand and use RSS.

    Anyone want to collaborate on an open source RSS reader app? 😁

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      I'm another weirdo, I like RSS both as a reader and a creator.

      These days it's even easier for non-technical social users to grasp the basics, here's how some RSS concepts map to social:

      • subscribe ➔ follow
      • newsreader ➔ social app
      • feed ➔ social feed/timeline
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        Any ideas for packaging that info? Aside from building an app with a tutorial, or something similar.

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          I'm thinking about a landing page with a capsule description of RSS and very short explanations of these mappings, a main section for each. Interested bloggers could refer their readers to this page.

          The sections could provide step-by-step instructions that abstract from specific apps and are general enough to be easily understood. The sections might include small, relevant portions of screenshots of actual apps (e.g. just a subscription box with a feed URL next to a subscribe button, something like that).

          The key is keeping things short. An infographic might be another good way of conveying the same information. Again, bloggers could share it with their readers.

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    Counterpoint as a "professional" blogger:

    Bloggers fear scraping and content-stealing websites often use RSS to monitor blogs whose content they copy. Also, I know it's not "cool" for developers, but websites that are monetized with ads give away their ability to monetize their writing when people don't visit the website (of course - the intersection of people using RSS readers and people without adblockers may be narrow, I don't really know).

    I have RSS on all my websites but I know a lot of bloggers who remove RSS because of those two reasons!

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      I was looking for an RSS feed on your monicalent.com website and couldn't find one. Is there one there?

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        Yes, there is! Hugo puts it in a weird place, but it's here:

        https://monicalent.com/index.xml

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      Can partial feeds help, at least with ads?

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        Yeah, I definitely don't include the full content in any of my RSS feeds, though it makes some RSS people grumpy :) You still have the issue with theft though :(

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          I used to be in the grumpy camp. But, as Internet connections became faster, clicking away no longer takes much time and isn't an issue.

          These days I'm okay with less than a partial feed, just a headline is fine. A big fat fiber has something to do with it 😀

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            Haha I think so too. Plus, for me, the design of the blog is super important. I am very focused on visually how the text looks when reading it (e.g. orphan words, is this paragraph overwhelming, etc.) so my articles aren't really meant to be read in an "outside" context ;)

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              Right. Even advanced feed readers struggle with complex layouts such as those in technical blogs. So I often end up visiting the original websites even when the full feeds are available.

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    Why not just an email list? Seems like an email list would do everything RSS does but better. I guess maybe because most ESPs are not free?

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      Email lists and newsletters are great. RSS is just an additional overlooked option.

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        Do you know if there are ways to keep track of RSS analytics (e.g. subscriber count, read count)? I know you can track traffic to your website via normal web analytics, but what about if someone just reads your article via RSS but doesn't click on anything?

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          The only one I'm aware of is the venerable Feedburner by Google, but I'm not familiar with such tools as I don't use them.

  4. 1

    Nice tip Paolo,in addition to that RSS is used by aggregators, so keeping RSS and submitting the blog to relevant content aggregators is another great way to distribute your content to more channels

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      You're right. I joined an aggregator and my blog gets 3-4X more traffic from that alone than other sources.

  5. 1

    I'm a huge fan of RSS, and it's great and very efficient for curating content!

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    RSS is still used in the podcast community...
    It's the only option to upload your podcast on spotify, itunes, google podcasts, deezer and so on

  7. 1

    The big companies let RSS die mostly because they can't control it.

    1. 1

      Right. But, if bloggers and tech sites wanted RSS, no one could take it away from them. Instead they contributed to the demise of RSS by neglecting it.

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        I think RSS is quite alive and doing well, and the stories of its demise are mostly exaggeration. We implemented it for our book publishing pipeline last year!

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          Bubblin looks interesting but I'm not sure I understand how it works. Is it a self-publishing platform where authors supply the manuscript as an RSS feed, and readers visit a specially formatted website?

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            RSS is to only keep an eye on new releases. You got it mostly right!

            There are couple of ways to publish a book on Bubblin. To self-publish from your local you’ll need a tool like https://bookiza.io installed on your machine. The other option is to use the Codepen-like editor on Bubblin itself to compose the pages on your book.

            Since most writers aren’t developers, we end up publishing their work using the same tools for them–so it's not entirely a self-publishing platform at the moment. 🤞🏻

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