When services always had RSS


I talked about RSS a lot earlier this year, mostly defending it from the charge that it’s irrelevant, and from weak arguments that it’s only useful for plumbing. But there’s one aspect I missed: it used to be assumed that a site would come with it. Now you have to use third-party tools, or write your own scraper.

Twitter famously offered RSS feeds, both of the firehose and individual accounts. Now no major social network does, and sites like Instagram were launched without it at all. It’s no secret why; owners see it as a form of lock-in, and a way to hoard data to sell to advertisers. Publish RSS feeds, and people could easily switch sites and get valuable analytics for free.

I’ve already debated the corrosive effect advertising and online tracking are having on the web. But even with those aside, the above assumptions about RSS are false. Sufficiently-motivated agencies scrape sites already, and if your service is so good, why are they scared of people leaving? All this does is make the experience for users worse.

It’s simplistic, though not far off the mark, to say users of these new RSS-free sites are just product to sell to advertisers. Nobody would use them if their sites weren’t compelling or useful, so site owners need to at least pay lip service to serving their users’ needs. But the temptation is there to think you’re invincible when you get sufficiently large, and to then treat their users with contempt. Getting rid of RSS is just one of a multitude of ways that can can be expressed.

I guess all I’m saying: Wear sunscreen offer RSS feeds!

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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