You may have never heard of an RSS feed. I begin with this statement because I would have assumed the opposite. I would have guessed anyone reading blogs would have heard of and be using RSS. I have learned otherwise. When Google announced that it would shut down Reader I asked my graduate educational technology class what they planned to do for a replacement and I was met with several blank looks. It is important to understand that not everyone sees the world as you do.
Following the elimination of Reader (an RSS aggregator used directly or indirectly by many who made use of RSS), there was a good deal of online commentary on the purpose of RSS (e.g., TechCrunch). The point seems to be that Google knows all and must have decided that RSS readers and RSS were no longer necessary. This was a surprise to me, but when I searched the question “is RSS relevant” I was able to find negative reactions as far back as 2006.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) offers a way to identify changes to web content. So, instead of visiting say 25 blogs (or other web content) you might follow to see if the author has generated anything new, you can make use of an RSS reader that will identify what has changed. RSS saves a great deal of time. Visit one service instead of many sites. If you were a blogger, you wanted to be certain readers could subscribe to the feed from your site. If you were a reader, RSS was about increasing your efficiency and probably increasing the number and range of sites you followed.
Sometimes we seem to tire of good OLD ideas and gravitate toward the new and shiny. This does not seem productive or efficient, but it may be human nature. We seem attracted to the changes in our environment as a survival mechanism.
I think about learning from online content as search and discovery. Search implies I know what I want to know and I use powerful tools to locate the best sources for this information. Discovery implies I admit to being unaware of information that would potentially be quite important and commit to scanning recommendations to see what invites my attention.
RSS is a good way to discover. It is like making a commitment to a news source and then reviewing what this source offers. There is danger in the biased selection of sources, but with a little self discipline a variety of sources can be identified.
What has changed in the world of information consumption? I suppose that services like Twitter, Google+ and to a lesser extent Facebook offer a source for recommendations. Individuals who you identify as trusted sources (really?) offer suggestions and you follow up. This is pretty much the only reason I use Twitter. To my taste, there is too much junk in the Twitter feed. Even with careful selection of individuals, there seems to be so much spam.
The blogs I write do send a short message to Twitter so others who do not use RSS, but who might be interested in my comments know when a new post has been generated. You may have identified this post from a Twitter link. The use of Twitter to identify your blog posts is controversial. I am not certain why. I suppose it is regarded by some as self promotion. A one tweet per post model is fine with me. I do find it annoying when multiple tweets advertise the same blog post.
I guess the concern is that the RSS model is preferred by geeks and others have moved on. Facebook and Google+ bring a stream of content from those these individuals chose to follow and that is evidently enough. A quick scan of Twitter might be used to fill in the gaps. Perhaps Google abandoned Reader because it offered little benefit to the their business and because RSS does compete with a function of Google+.
For the time being, I will continue to promote RSS with my students. I see this as promoting the contribution of bloggers. I am concerned that the audience and hence the motivation for an active blogging community will suffer when social media moves exclusively to Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.
BTW – RSS did not disappear with Reader and my recommendation for a Reader replacement is Feedly