RSS Sucks

The Slashdot consensus on RSS: It sucks.

Here is the funny thing. Despite being an advocate of syndication, I don’t entirely disagree. RSS does generally suck. Here’s why:

  • Too many feeds. People like Scoble talk about reading huge numbers of feeds, and for a while I read around 340, but I’m now down to less than fifty — and even those I don’t make it through all the time.
  • Too little consistency. There is no uniformity about titles, titles plus summaries, or full-text feeds. I won’t re-hash the debate on this subject, but let me just say if your feed isn’t full-text it won’t likely last long in my aggregator.
  • Too many posts. To be blunt: Faced with feeds regularly containing more than six or seven unread articles I, with rare friend-driven exceptions, usually nuke the whole list.
  • Synchronization sucks. Despite using Feeddemon, which has a built-in synch across multiple PCs via Newsgator, my machines are not in synch. There are various feeds that the synched Feeddemon insists never contain items, despite there being items visible in the raw feed every day. The items are apparently being synched right out of existence.
  • Too many news feeds, not enough data feeds. I wrote about this ages ago in a Harvard Business Review article, but the real value of RSS is in infrequently/irregularly updated sites — it saves you having to rememember to go and check for new stuff — and in machine-to-person communications. I still want to be able to subscribe to my credit card, but I can’t — so I apparently punish myself by subscribing to waaaay too many feeds.
  • It’s asynch, not synchronous. I alluded to this in a prior post about XMPP, but I want realtime RSS/Atom. Getting delayed feeds, especially data feeds, on important subjects is nonsensical, and at least as irritating as getting twenty-minute delayed stock quotes. I want realtime data, and I want it now (literally).

The upshot? In way too many current cases RSS is just a clunky high-volume replacement for web browsing. Rather than making it easier to consume information, it makes it easier to drown in context-free news, inducing that panicked feeling we all eventually learn too well when you see an RSS folder stuffed full with hundreds of unread posts. Yaaaiiiie!


  1. Paul,
    “the real value of RSS is in infrequently updated sites”
    “Getting delayed feeds, especially data feeds, on important subjects is nonsensical, and at least as irritating as getting twenty-minute delayed stock quotes”
    Are 20-30 minutes asyncronous feed checking / refresh of infrequently updated sites a real problem ? :o)
    Ok, ok, was just joking a bit.
    Happy New Year Paul :o)

  2. Paul,
    Totally agree with you about feed consistency, synchronisation, and lack of data feeds.
    In terms of too many posts and too many feeds, I don’t think it’s the content that’s the problem, but the tools we have for reading it.
    Basically, I think feed readers do a pretty crappy job of letting people read the damn things.
    I’ve found that merging multiple feeds and displaying the one master feed on a basic web page, is a much better way to consume content.
    Something like is nice because you can control how much of the post you want to see (just the headline, or the whole description) and you can quickly skim through multiple posts (and feeds) without having to click a thing.
    That issue aside, perhaps RSS is dodgy at the moment because no one is making coin from it. The example I am familiar with is electronic newsletters, which were really poorly made before e-commerce caught on, before the marketing guys pushed customer loyalty and until the webdevs put the tools out to make e-newsletters easy to publish, track and monetize.
    One thing I am sure of, someone’s going to get them selves into a really nice biz publishing RSS feeds for banks, visa, merchants and (why the heck not) event anxious parents who’d like to keep tabs on how the kids are doing at school.
    In as much as RSS sucks, it’d suck more without it.
    * To merge feeds try (that’s what I use).

  3. Ummm… well, everything sucks. 88% of everything is crap, always will be.
    There will always be more information than one person can digest, there will always be room for improvement in ways to cope with this, there will always be good sources and good writers who occasionally fail organizationally.
    RSS and its many varieties is our current state of the art, how you use it can make a difference…
    I use Bloglines and there is room for improvement but this application does allow me to pick and choose among information sources better than ordinary surfing with just a browser. I await the next thing eagerly (if it is possible to modify “wait” with “eager”).

  4. Re: Sync – I think you are having the same problem I was having with FeedDemon 1.6 RC2. I have four computers running FeedDemon synching with NewsGator Online. I think Nick changed the default for “Retrieve only unread items” in one of the releases and suddenly it seemed like everything was out of sync.
    Go to Options -> Synchronization -> Options. The third check box is “Retrieve only unread items in synchronized folders.” Uncheck this. Items that you read on Machine A should now show up as read on Machine B when you sync.
    I’ve also found that leaving FeedDemon open on multiple computers polling simultaneously can mess up sync in certain situations – so when I’m not using a machine, I log off FeedDemon on that machine.

  5. Hey Brad — Have done as you suggest, so we’ll see what happens. So far so good, as the problem feeds seem to have updated. We’ll see what happens when my other machines are all cranking away.
    Either way, we’ve advanced a half-step: While Nick Bradbury’s software doesn’t suck (and none of his software ever could), RSS is still driving me nuts.

  6. Blogged yesterday about this Slashdot RSS thread here:
    A couple of excerpts:
    The qualitative, anecdotal data provided by today’s Slashdot RSS thread appears to contradict the attitudes expressed in a Slashdot survey that was conducted nine months ago. See here:
    RSS, in its current iteration, is still just too difficult to use. Traditional early tech adopters like Slashdotters held great hope for RSS nine months ago, according to the Slashdot survey. However, in actually trying to use it on a day to day basis in the months since (according to today’s Slashdot thread) they have encoutered a great deal of frustration. If those geeks have a tough time with it, imagine what that means for the average consumer.

  7. As far as information overload – desktop aggregators are begining to suffer from similar problems to email clients where everything goes through the inbox. Sure you have 500 unread items but some of them you care about a lot (important notifications, gmail, fed ex package tracking) while others are interesting but you won’t slit your wrists if you miss them ( because they’ll just be more tomorrow. Aggregators either need to allow you to differentiate between these types of subcriptions or maybe you need differnt types of aggregators for different classes of things.

  8. >>>maybe you need differnt types of aggregators for different classes of things.
    I was just thinking this, if the features you need for different classes and categories don’t exist in one app then having two or more aggregator tabs open on the browser may be the answer…
    In fact I’m thinking of having one instance of Firefox open just for RSS feeds, and another for regular surfing.

  9. Franklin Stubbs says:

    Hmm. Sounds like RSS feeds are overkill when Firefox tabs do the trick just fine. If you have a number of blogs that update infrequently, just read ’em all at once via Firefox tabs. Put the links in a Firefox folder, open them all at once every few weeks or so, and close ’em down one by one after you’ve scanned the content.
    The process of open a few dozen tabs and then hotkey closing the ones that aren’t updated is so quick, it makes the need for RSS seem redundant. If, that is, the purpose of RSS is to update infrequent blog content.

  10. Paul, first off, thanks for the kind words about my work :)
    I actually agree that RSS kinda sucks right now – it’s an information firehose. The current crop of RSS readers (including my own) don’t do enough to help find the important stuff, and they’re too geeky for mainstream use.
    However, I believe you’ll see a lot of improvement in both of these areas this year. The upcoming FeedDemon 2.0, for example, is much easier for non-techies to use, and it gathers attention data without requiring extra work on your part. That’s a small but important step towards filtering incoming information to show what’s most imporant to you.
    PS: Screenshots of FD2 are at

  11. Think of the alternative – email. We all know the sad state of email. For pure content distribution, RSS compared to email looks like the golden egg.
    You bring up many good points. I am confident most of your concerns will be addressed. RSS has only been in the “spotlight” a short time. Give it time. It will get better.
    Happy New Year!

  12. All too often good technology is misapplied, or applied too broadly, and turns people off. A second wave is required to clean out the excesses and provide sustainable value.
    RSS value will be to better connect users, a worthwhile goal for any technology. Bloggers track each other using RSS, and I gather they are happy with it. No surprise the general public has not found enough value in using RSS to read news.
    The next generation of readers will allow users to connect to each other, even if they avoid public blogging. We’re building a reader to allow users to connect to each other in multiple ways. And ranking information based on community interest is an important goal.
    We think the RSS killer application will be when web sites use RSS to connect their readers. Web sites with active readers contributing content build strong communities.

  13. I am sure, whenever anything new, was ever started in main-stream, it sucked.
    Same is with RSS. There are many things people thought it will be useful for, but were wrong. But idea of making changes available is great in itself.

  14. i love rss! i use to mange all my feeds. its very easy to use and synchronizes everything automatically.

  15. Wow, what a whining rant.
    Here’s your stumbling block
    1) not knowing what RSS feeds will help you make decision
    2) lack of expertise within any field — not knowing the key words that constitute phrases usable for filtering
    3) not knowing how to use an RSS reader using filtering phrases that filters for specific items