Did Twitter kill the RSS reader or copy it?

Two memes caught my attention in the last few weeks.

Many conjectured that the rise of Twitter is what “killed” RSS. I don’t believe RSS or the RSS reader is dead.  In fact, I believe, instead that these paradigms are converging.  It seems to me that “New” Twitter is evolving to become more and more like an RSS reader.  Executives at Twitter  themselves have touted Twitter as “for news…for content…for information” and not a social network. The new design/functionality of Twitter.com seems to trend that direction by bringing more content into view in a separate panel, a la Bloglines or Google Reader. They even added the same keyboard shortcuts as Google Reader.

I’ve always thought that for consuming information, in some ways, Twitter was a step backwards from an RSS reader – the beauty of an RSS reader is that it enabled fast processing/consumption of a wide variety of blog posts via full or partial content of the posts.  On Twitter, however, instead you get a headline or even partial headline and a link, usually abstracted by a link shortener so you might not even know the source.  So why has Twitter cannablized my time spent on Google Reader (I had abandonend Bloglines for Google Reader a long time back)? Twitter provides the following:

1. Social interaction/conversation unrelated to blogs

2. Socially filtered news/information – in theory if one subscribes to the right people, better/more interesting/more relevant information will surface more quickly than having to sift onesself.

3. Lower threshold to create one’s own content – we all wrestle with finding the time to create content while trying to wrestle with consuming the firehose of available content out there – Twitter gives you a place to do both and through it’s 140 character limit, lowers the threshold for creating content.

4. Feedback – Google Reader has tried to add social features and encourage sharing, liking, etc. but this is a forced layer.  Maybe serendipitously, Twitter started out with social features as primary, therefore the features are more addictive.  We all strive for the validation associated with @mentions and retweets.  This makes us come back for more.

Clearly though, Twitter saw the value of the efficiency of an RSS reader format in terms of processing and consuming information.  They are moving towards a better means of displaying this content.

I think that companies/products like Flipboard are even further ahead though. Social+information is a powerful combination.  Finding the right balance will be the key to annoint the winners in this space.

There is also, however, an interesting contrast in the underlying standards.  RSS is a true public standard. Meanwhile, as described by Alex Payne here, there is Twitter with a capital T which is the web client and then there is twitter with a lowercase t which I believe is the Twitter “standard” of messaging/the platform.  RSS was never a standard that gained mainstream adoption, for a variety of reasons, not to mention techies insisting on calling it RSS everywhere.  twitter (the standard), on the other hand gained wide adoption by developers and has been made more accessible to the general population.

I’m not sure what the success of Twitter as a company and as a platform means for RSS as as standard.  I do think that clients/web clients like Google Reader that enable one to sift through reams of unfiltered content will continue to exist, but probably that most people will probably use services like Twitter or products like Flipboard to find/consume content. Professional content creators (bloggers, journalists), information addicts (e.g. me) or “curators” will probably continue to use RSS readers. It reminds me of Steve Jobs’s analogy about PCs being to tablets as trucks are to cars. Probably  a similar analogy applies here.

What do you think? Do you still use an RSS reader? Has Twitter replaced that for you? Has changing to Twitter been a step forwards, backwards or sideways? Also – any thoughts on the new twitter for those that have it?

One response to “Did Twitter kill the RSS reader or copy it?

  1. I remember this RSS is dead meme – great analysis. I think one place Google Reader supersedes Twitter content platform lies within Reader’s ability to display the content/text/media directly within the feed window: the click through on Twitter (links) is often a deterrent for my consumption, albeit social.

    Great meeting you today, and I would love to chat more and share some ideas of my own.

    Ray Wu

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