Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why RSS sucks

according to feedburner my subscribers has halved overnight (from around 1000 to 552) Has there been some mass exodus from my blogRSS is the glue that holds Web 2.0 together, the motive force being participation. Without RSS, I can't imagine what my online existence would be like. The simplistic view would be to imagine it would be the way things were before Web 2.0 came along, but of course, you can never go back. When I drew a diagram of my PLE, RSS was the hub at the center that everything else spun off. I heart RSS.

And yet, there is something deeply wrong with RSS. So many people struggle with it - last week's post Is RSS dying? points to some of the reservations. Apart from the name, we have no good metrics for RSS and no good tools to measure it. But, you may say, Feedburner tells me how many RSS subscribers I have. Measuring engagement via RSS is notoriously difficult, even without the wild fluctuations that Feedburner manages to generate routinely. Even if you measure the calls on the feed file from your own sever, the question remains:
What does "Subscribing" mean?
Back in the day, page hits were easy to understand, and easy to sell. OK, you didn't know what happened to any page once it has been downloaded, but robots apart, at least you knew how many people were vaguely interested in that page in a given period. And when I wrote a grant application or had an annual review, I was in no doubt that the person who read it could understand how interest in my site had increased.
What the heck is a "Subscriber"?
For the most part, they don't visit my site, but browse the content in a feed reader. Or do they? How can I know - the subscriptions persist after they've been forgotten about, or when the subscriber is on holiday. Do they actually read what I write or film? The number of comments I receive only very roughly parallels the number of subscribers - commenting varies depending on the content of the post rather than the number of subscribers.

How do I sell these complex ideas to the people who may, or may not, give me money? And more importantly, how can I use RSS to add value to my output?
What the heck do you want from me?
So at this point I wave my magic wand and tell you what the solution to this mess is, right? Err, no, although I do have some idea of the tool I need to achieve this. In fact, it's probably not a single tool but a dashboard displaying a lot of outputs - think of it as a cross between the WordPress dashboard and PostRank, with a dash of DiSo. In the meantime, we endure Feedburner. Does this help? Not much.