Really Stop RSS!

Here’s a fact – It’s a great bit of technology if you look at it from the user’s point of view, but RSS by itself does not promote a sustainable internet. Google Reader shutdown? The internet needed that.

Like every one of our ‘opinions’ on technology, we’d like to start this too with a separate, ‘non-investor’ view on RSS – it’s great technology! And we mourn the tragic death of the genius Aaron Swartz, the creator of this great technology and the co-founder of Reddit.

What’s RSS?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication – a technology, that as its name suggests, allows you to syndicate content from multiple websites into a personal space (a reader) in a really simple manner. It means that you no longer have to have a crowd of tabs open on your browser in order to read all the content that you want to, or click on several bookmarks to open these tabs. All your favourite sites, with their latest articles are ‘syndicated’ to your personal RSS Reader Account – which also allows you to organise these sites with tags, categories etc.

Monetisation vs. user-experience

From a user’s perspective, RSS is great technology. No more messy tabs, no more clicking through to find the latest articles, a completely organised repository of research, and no pesky ads…

But let’s stop right there. “No pesky ads”? Now, that is a cause of concern. Because if the users aren’t viewing the ads, then who’s paying for the content to be created? The amazing advantage of the internet – high quality content which is (mostly) freely available to all – to the user, is also a death-knell for publishers. How long can publishers keep boasting of the number of subscribers to FeedBurner and other Readers (once a popular widget on publisher websites)? The ads are not being seen since popular Readers deliver only content.
So how is the publisher making money from free users? Paid users are few and their acquisition cost is high. Also, the time taken to convert users from ‘free’ to ‘paid’ by achieving a traffic threshold* can bleed any good-quality content creating publisher dry. Because it takes sources, skill and time to generate great content. And all of that costs money.

The solution

For this very reason, the shutting down of Google Reader is a good thing for publishers (and probably a lesson for other RSS Readers as well). There needs to be a way to monetize RSS subscribers for the publishers. Probably, RSS Readers need to start seriously thinking of and working with publishers to come up with ways to deliver ads through the Readers. Any publisher who is not concerned about this is thinking too short term and will die once the bubble of their large number of free subscribers bursts.

Thus, while we reiterate that the technology is great, it’s time to think of an equally, if not more innovative way to ensure that publishers’ coffers don’t suffer at the cost of user-experience. If that’s not being already worked on, then please, really, stop Really Simple Syndication!

*For more on this, read the view of Phil Libin, the CEO of one of our favourite apps, Evernote.