Google Killed the RSS Feed

The RSS feed is in a coma. Google put it in that state and, boy, have they ever dropped the ball on this one.

Video Killed the Radio Star

It all started with Google’s attempt to steer their huge ship towards the mythical land of all things Social. You see, Facebook’s success really took a few giant tech companies by surprise. Google in particular. Surely, they thought to themselves, we must be able to compete.

So instead of focusing on their core competency, they decided to start throwing Social everywhere. It showed up in their search results. It was pushed down your Gmail throat. You had to have a Google+ account to use Google’s services in any capacity. UI and accounts got more and more confusing. YouTubers weren’t spared either.

Oh, and they wanted your real name, like Facebook. If you are secretly transgender or wanted by the Iranian government, tough luck, kiddo. (The relative lack of Social success and massive protests have eventually led them to change their initial policy.)

So what does this circus has to do with the RSS feed? Well, when you’re wearing Social blinders, that’s all you can see. They discontinued most of their services that couldn’t be adopted to this narrow world view.

Google Reader, the first successful attempt at making RSS feeds somewhat mainstream, was shut down. Instead of this handy service that was already loved by millions around the world, they wanted you to share articles on their social network. Follow people, put them in circles, and generally pretend you were on Facebook. There, they figured, no need to properly follow a feed with the purpose of never missing a new article. Good stuff will bubble up to the surface. Hopefully.

To round things off, they also got rid of the RSS button in Chrome so that finding the feed for a site is now a decent first exercise in learning HTML programming for the general public.

These two simple steps by Google have pretty much mortally wounded the RSS feed. It won’t recover I’m afraid and it’s a damn shame. A minority of geeks will continue to use the technology via services like Feedly, but the mainstream dream is gone.

All for a social network that relatively few people use, let alone in any serious capacity (at least in part because Google stubbornly refuses to open their API to allow third-party apps, like Buffer and Hootsuite, to post on people’s own profiles).

If you think I’m just talking hypothetically, think again. I saw one of my blogs go from a healthy 16,000 RSS subscribers to less than 300 in the span of just a month or so after this change was made (many, including my wife, who is a popular blogger in her field, witnessed the same sort of abrupt, brutal nosedive with her RSS numbers as well).

From a blogger’s perspective, this irreversible change has some serious implications:

  1. Email subscriptions have never been more important. Unlike Facebook subscribers or Twitter followers who will rarely see your updates, emails are still being read and given a certain importance by the subscriber (Google is trying to mess this up too, but that’s a whole other post). You need to capture people’s email as it’s the only guaranteed delivery method for your updates that you have. (On that note, you can subscribe here.)
  2. Feel free to maximize your social media properties and efforts, engage and entertain users, but have an email subscription as your ultimate call to action.
  3. For the sake of us geeks who are unwilling to give up the good fight, do be sure to prominently feature an RSS feed link/button on your blog or site.
  4. If your audience is not technical, consider having a ‘How to follow this blog’ link with step-by-step instructions on using Feedly or Bloglovin (the latter of which is particularly popular among women).

It’s an unfortunate turn of events that has damaged blogging in an untold number of ways. Thankfully, it hasn’t killed things off entirely though, especially if we are willing to adapt.

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About Antonio Cangiano

Antonio Cangiano is a Software Developer and Technical Evangelist for IBM, as well as a web entrepreneur, serial blogger, and published author. He makes extra income blogging in his spare time about technical topics. He authored a definitive blogging book published by The Pragmatic Bookshelf.

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