Strong opinions, weakly held

Are browsers killing content syndication?

RSS and content syndication have never seen the kind of uptake that I would have predicted once upon a time, but syndication is essential to the people who do use it. So it alarms me when I read that syndication may be on the way out. I hadn’t realized that Google Chrome doesn’t support RSS in any official way, and that Firefox 4 is de-emphasizing RSS as well. Here’s the crux of the argument:

If RSS isn’t saved now, if browser vendors don’t realise the potential of RSS to save users a whole bunch of time and make the web better for them, then the alternative is that I will have to have a Facebook account, or a Twitter account, or some such corporate-controlled identity, where I have to “Like” or “Follow” every website’s partner account that I’m interested in, and then have to deal with the privacy violations and problems related with corporate owned identity owning a list of every website I’m interested in (and wanting to monetise that list), and they, and every website I’m interested in, knowing every other website I’m interested in following, and then I have to log in and check this corporate owned identity every day in order to find out what’s new on other websites, whilst I’m advertised to, because they are only interested in making the biggest and the best walled garden that I can’t leave.


  1. Is browser based syndication that much in use? I know that I switched to google reader because I use like a billion different computers, mobile devices, etc. Keeping all that synchronized was sort of impossible (it might actually work fine now for all I know).

    I know from the syndicated feeds I’ve worked with, a browser fetch is rare to find in the logs. LiveJournal-based syndication numbers are higher.

  2. I also think it’s telling that nowhere in his post (nor in the comments posted) does the word “Atom” appear. RSS is old and broken and yet it’s still the most common term for syndication feeds. I think that would be different (i.e. we would have dropped the legacy term in preference for “Atom” or “feeds” or whatever) if feeds were more important to more people.

  3. I think the main point is that RSS/Atom ought to have better browser integration, even if it’s integrating with a web service. Why isn’t there a button in Chrome “Follow this site” that will take the Atom feed from a site and just subscribe my Google Reader (or service X) to it? Chrome’s total failure to support RSS/Atom has always seemed strange to me.

    I think the downside prediction is already halfway here. Facebook is the Internet now. Gruber’s “Power Users” who love email and task switching and filesystems and website syndication and open operating systems are the losers.

    In 10 years we’ll be either mechanics (if we’re paid to care for or program computers) or HAM radio enthusiasts (if we just like to do it). The personal computer of the past 35 years is nearly gone, and the Internet of the past 15 is going even faster.

  4. As long as new programs like Flipboard continue to be created and get traction, syndication will continue.

    I do agree with daveadams in that the way we (the nerds) use the internet will become hobby/niche – but as long as people find value in syndication (even if they don’t realize that’s what it is), it will exist…

  5. the browsers have always been outclassed by dedicated feed readers. i’m not surprised to see them give up, as i’ve never seen a single user. it’s particularly nice to have a cross-device reader, and browsers have never manned up to the cross-system challenge offering only baby steps such as Chrome Sync which sync preferences but not environments. vis-a-vie that sync issue, i have a chrome extension which records your browsing history into an Atom feed, and can draw that history as a directed graph, it’s called Spaces, was done for the Mozilla Design Competition Summer 09, and code’s available at http://cgit.voodoowarez.com/spaces/

  6. I don’t care whether browsers provide any sort of syndication-consuming capability, that’s a nice-to-have, not a must-have. But I do think it’s important that they do something useful when you click on a link to an Atom feed or RSS feed, whether it’s launch your favorite third party feed reader, or take you to Google Reader. Even just formatting the page nicely and allowing you to jump off to a feed reader is good.

  7. just one other point, given that the syndicistas are fractured across lots of non-browser clients, it rather makes sense that they rely upon Extensions. it would, however, be nice if web pages could do more to help users understand and connect. instruction sheets for following X link, loading this extension, coming back here, & clicking the atom symbol in the url bar are indeed muddling and improbable.

    it’s up in the air what’s worse– Atom logos everywhere that trigger “save as” dialogs or sheets of XML, or triggering the primitive feed reader an end user likely wouldn’t like anyways.

  8. “I do think it’s important that they do something useful when you click on a link to an Atom feed or RSS feed, whether it’s launch your favorite third party feed reader, or take you to Google Reader.”

    Full Disclosure: I work for Mozilla.

    The support for RSS/Atom will continue in Firefox 4, what’s changing is how it will be used by default. Please feel free to try the Firefox 4 Beta 8 that is available from the Mozilla website to see for yourself. You can see that the functionality is to select the ‘Bookmarks’ menu item and then ‘Subscribe to this feed’.

    We are using data from our Test Pilot program, real user data from a broad cross-section of users who have opted-in to share with us how they use our browser, to make informed decisions about how Firefox will look and feel and work. Will we get it all right? No, but for some, any change is unwelcome. That’s unacceptable in today’s competitive browser market.

    If you really want the RSS icon back in your URL bar, I’m sure there will be numerous Addons to provide that functionality soon if not already. Firefox will continue to be the most extensible browser on the market by design and by philosophy.

  9. There is a feed icon in my Chrome browser’s URL bar, right now. It got there after I installed a Google-written extension.

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