I had a worrying thought this morning: how much of RSS is still around only because entrenched packages like WordPress continue to ship with it by default? I say this because support has either been dropped elsewhere, or had been hidden enough that no reasonable person could easily discover it.

RSS used to be displayed far more prominently in browsers. Firefox, Safari, and the Chromium-based browsers used to include RSS icons or text in their UIs that would activate upon detecting a page with the appropriate meta tag. Even Microsoft made a big deal about including it with Internet Explorer. These buttons would direct people to an internal reader, or to a site or client software they chose to handle such requests.

Various RSS icons from the mid 2000s

It was the same on sites themselves. Blogging software and general web CMSs would routinely include the orange XML or RSS wave icon in their themes. Sometimes sites would take it a step further and include direct links to popular feed readers, which signaled in neon lights the open nature of the protocol. Not having these, or even just a single orange XML link used to indicate a site was old or crappy, and it would come as a genuine surprise not to see it.

Why were they removed? I haven’t ever been able to find a concrete answer. It seems to have been swept away in an attempt at minimalism, though I’m concerned there was more of a thought that nobody uses it anymore. If so, why not? And surely removing them wouldn’t foster adoption.

These buttons and graphics were a convenience for those of us who knew what RSS was and sought it out, but just as critically it made the protocol discoverable. If you see something everywhere, chances are your natural inclination is to find out what it is.

I wrote back in May my issue with defending RSS as just being plumbing. Those of us who use it daily and appreciate what it represents are thankful the format is still doing well, especially in light of social networks and this trend away from hosting your own content. But plumbing isn’t meant to be seen, and it seems a lot of the web is happy with RSS being relegated there.

I want my problem with RSS to be that there’s too much good stuff again. It’s time to bring it back.