The failed promise of RSSWhile Internet power-users have been using RSS for years to keep track of up-to-date information from multiple websites, the reality is that RSS has never gained widespread adoption. And it now seems unlikely to ever do so. Indeed, Apple have already depreciated the RSS-reading functionality that was built into their Safari browser; presumably due to lack of adoption by users. I still find RSS remarkably useful and the indispensable Reeder.app remains one of the five most-used apps on my iPhone. But I am in a small and seemingly ever-decreasing percentile.
There are many reasons why RSS never gained widespread traction; some cultural, others technological. Primarily, I think that the affordances for adopting and using RSS are too opaque. There are too many steps involved in making it work successfully. The user is still expected to bring too much prior knowledge along to the process. Very little prior knowledge in fact, but still just enough to add sufficient friction that uptake is reduced in the aggregate.
Observing RSS usage through a marketing and communications lens, there were never many, if any, adverts endorsed with the RSS icon and a ‘www.company.com/rss’ address line. As a content delivery mechanism RSS simply never became part of the mainstream marketing mix.
Despite its general omission from the toolkit of today’s marketers, the core benefit of RSS – that of having information pushed out towards you – still remains compelling. Rather than only visiting a company’s web site once or twice and gleaning whatever information that they can at those times, RSS can facilitate an ongoing narrative for savvy customers. However, Facebook Pages deliver on that promise and experience far more efficiently and successfully for corporate marketing departments. Firstly by delivering true one-click subscriptions. Then – it seems trivial to observe – the addition of the social layer around company’s Facebook Pages is what makes them truly more compelling. I am not going to dive into that topic here. That is the revolution we are living through. I can point you towards innumerable posts, articles and books about the success of Facebook and the ascent of social. One related observation is that Twitter hashtags overshadow Facebook Page addresses in TV advertising. A topic for a related post.
Update: January 2013. We can see broader trends at work that ultimately cause micro-effects such as Facebook Page addresses sneaking ahead of corporate websites addresses as the call-to-action on marketing messages. This article has some interesting observations about our preferences for timeline-based web interfaces. Sites constructed from a chronological mental model (such as Facebook and Twitter) may turn out to be optimised for how we humans receive information. Sites based on a spatial mental model (which would be most existing corporate sites) may prove to be at a fundamental disadvantage over the long term. The novel insights in that article are a powerful reminder to me that we are still only in the most early days of the Internet and we will need many, many more years to slough off the conventions and mindsets that we bring with us from previous media.