No doubt you will have a number of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) icons on the Internet. RSS is a group of web feed formats that are used to publish updates to blog entries, news headlines, audios, videos, and any other frequently-updated online works. An RSS document is often referred to as a ‘channel’ or ‘web feed’ – it is a section of text that includes various metadata such as the date and authorship of a published update. RSS has traditionally been used to keep online users in the ‘loop’ – and RSS updates can be viewed using RSS reader software based on the web, on a desktop, or using a mobile.
In recent years, social networking sites – such as Twitter – are starting to move towards a less standards-defined way of sharing content. In a mission to drive more visitors to their sites, they are starting to remove RSS icons from their pages. For example, this means that in order to access an RSS feed for an individual on Twitter, users must log out of the site entirely then visit the individual’s Twitter profile page, rather than simply clicking on an RSS icon.
So what has actually happened to RSS? Certainly, developers say it’s still there, working in the background, however, more and more direct icons/links are being removed from web pages. Of course, you can still subscribe to user timelines, using products such as Google Reader and adding an individual member name in the URL – i.e. http://twitter.com/dotcomweavers, but it’s no longer an option to simply click on the RSS icon. Also, it appears that RSS feeds are even being removed entirely from HTML sources on some of the major sites – so, what exactly is going on?
Many developers say that this new trend is being implemented to keep social networking sites simple. They are removing the option of viewing open standard RSS feeds, and are instead using more proprietary API formats. In short – it would appear that RSS is slowly being ‘killed off’. Although the technology still exists, the option to subscribe to it is being phased out – and this can only mean one thing, RSS as a protocol is vanishing.
For many users, this could herald the end of open standards as we know it, as more sites start to choose proprietary APIs instead of RSS. It means that only developers with specific RSS knowledge will be able to create code to obtain certain data – the average end user won’t have the knowledge required to extract data from social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook. And perhaps this won’t be an issue for many users – according to the developers at Twitter, very few people have complained about the removal of RSS icons.
As the needs of end users changes, so does the technology implemented, and it’s inevitable that some ‘traditional’ features are being phased out as part of the process. It does however seem sad that RSS is becoming one of the first casualties of this evolution, and the question must be asked – what next?