Last year I wrote about how Twitter threads were the latest symptom of a web so desperate to silo thought into a few ephemeral sites that only see you as a slab of attention to sell. I’ve used Twitter for a decade and a half, but any serious thoughts go onto sites I control, and are linked to instead.
Discussions around RSS are another way I’ve seen this play out. We’ve had to click past plenty of stories predicting the death of the syndication format ever since Google Reader closed, presumably given the dominance of the service and the fact people only associated RSS with Google Reader. It reminds me of how Internet Explorer became dominant when Microsoft labelled early versions of it in Windows 95 as The Internet; and we all know how well that turned out for the web.
But I’ve been especially dismayed at how weak and uninspired the defence of RSS has become. The web likes a good Gotcha! or Turns Out story, and the narrative around RSS now is that it’s still ubiquitous in the form of web plumbing you don’t see. “You might not use RSS or care about it anymore, but it does this ancillary task, so it’s still important!”
RSS was important for so much more than that. Yes it was a technical specification for transmitting and parsing information, and it’s still used in that capacity today, albeit depressingly as a funnel to just a few social media sites. But it was also the practical implementation of a bigger idea: that anyone could publish information and have it shared and aggregated by any service that could read it. It was one of the great equalisers, along with being able to host your own web server.
I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with what the modern web has become, from tracking to overengineered frameworks and poor design. But this wholesale sweeping aside of one of the web’s best ideas has been equally destructive. I’d say it’s being done intentionally I were more conspiratorially-minded: the best way to prevent change is to tell people something isn’t possible.