What makes RSS readers so compelling?

UI Designer asks what it is that makes RSS readers so compelling. He gives is own reason:

"Previously I had bookmarked about 15 sites that I visited on a daily basis, usually in the evening. I'm now easily monitoring 105 sites and it seems to be as easy as navigating to 15."

From a user perspective, this is probably the most common driver for RSS reader app adoption - the ability to consume a (much) larger volume of (substantially more) relevant content.

I have been aware of my own online behaviour changing dramatically since downloading a reader.  Very rarely do I now 'browse' in my browser...drifting around a number of various sites in the hope that something catches my eye.  This is what I did for over a decade.  Today, the first app I fire up in the morning is the RSS reader.  My browser's function has been transformed in its use - from my primary online space traverser to my interaction engine.

UI Designer also mentions that "I now have to remind myself to start my email program which has become painfully overloaded with spam even though I have an excellent spam filer."

The Email app has also changed its scope in function for me personally - from a newsletter receiver and messaging utility to messaging only.  I have unsubscribed (or tried) from every email newsletter I get and switched to an RSS form of content delivery (see Email v RSS, let us move on...).

I haven't come across a comprehensive study trying to understand RSS reader trends and how/if it is changing patterns of online content consumption behaviour.  If you know of one, let me know.

It is still early days in terms of general use, but I'm sure the RSS reader is one of those memes just waiting to hit the tipping point and reach the non-technical masses. Before you know it, my mum might ask me if I've 'subscribed to that RSS feed yet'.

Comments (6)
  1. Jeff Atwood says:

    hotmail :: POP3 –> blogroll :: RSS

    The browser will win, for the same reason that most people use Hotmail instead of a SMTP/POP3 client. I don’t consider an RSS reader an important app.

  2. Alex Barnett says:

    In the meantime, Nick Bradbury (author of FeedDemon) replies to the question: "What is wrong with feed readers".


  3. Alex Barnett says:

    Jeff, you raise a fair point, however, I don’t think this is about one app ‘winning’ over another.

    There are many possible combinations of apps…it is down to personal preference and work styles as to which combo suits you best (e.g. Outlook access to Hotmail). Consider users who don’t use a brower to consume RSS:

    – through Outlook (Newsgator plug-in for Outlook)

    – via smartphone, PDA clients

    – stand-lone reader apps

    I’ve tried reader plug-ins for the browser (e.g Pluk) and this maybe a fruitful direction – but it is still a reader app.

    I agree with you that web-based apps (e.g bloglines – management of feeds is a nightmare) and aggregation sites (e.g weblogs.asp.net) will be/ are popular but I can’t agree you that the reader ‘app’ is unimportant (see http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,64716,00.html?tw=rss.TOP).

  4. Jeff Atwood says:

    Remember when "Push" technology was supposed to take over the world? RSS reminds me of that.

    Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the dawn of the push revolution.. I mean, it was on the cover of Wired! It has to happen, right?

    Er, yeah.

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