“Apparently Rizzn hasn’t mastered the technology of escaping his ass.”  –  Steve Gillmor

image Despite the fact that Steve Gillmor, host of the Gillmor Gang podcast on the TWiT network, has always seemed to talk down to me over the years I’ve enjoyed his recorded material.  He has a way of making meandering conversations with altogether too large groups of technologists still sound interesting and engaging.

Unfortunately, his oratory skills don’t generally translate well to his written pieces. I say this as the general rule and guide to Steve Gillmor editorials, although once in a while he’s able to make an lucid written point.

Today was one of those rare cases – he wrote a piece over at TechCrunchIT today that got snuck into the main Techcrunch RSS feed.  The point he was trying to make was clear enough: “RSS is Dead.”

Unfortunately, the first time I understand the thrust of a Steve Gillmor post, it’s thoroughly narrow-minded and outright wrong.

Steve explains that he now reads all his publications from links on Twitter, and I think he implied that he hasn’t used an RSS reader in over a year (at least I think that’s what the line “I’ve done the math: Twitter 365 Google Reader 0.” is supposed to mean).

He makes some valid points: RSS inspired the “real-time web.” RSS is less of a consumer experience and more of a tool of memetracking machines.

Steve Misses the Larger Benefits of RSS vs. Twitter
“As usual Steve is going on in a roundabout, stream of consciousness way of saying “I’m a victim”, but he’s pointing his gun at some different people than the usual suspects this time.” – Mike Arrington

image I think he misses the larger point, and the true effect of “real-time web,” and that is what will be largely missed by those who choose to read their news through tools like Twitter and Friendfeed as opposed to those savvy enough to maintain an RSS reader.

I casually surf FriendFeed and Twitter, personally, because to me they’re like the IRC chatroom you might’ve left open during your workday back in the 90’s and early part of this decade – it’s your friends, sharing thoughts and interesting links. What you see in there is your crowdsourced news alerts – the important and popular stuff will tend to bubble up into your sphere of attention, but only if you pay attention to it all day long.

That’s never how IRC works – you don’t pay attention to it non-stop.  It’s a background process, and unless you’re terminally unemployed (or Robert Scoble), it’s not how Twitter works either.

On the other hand, a well organized feed reader like Google’s or Newsgator’s will allow you to find and read the stories you would have otherwise missed.  The time that the story was posted has little to do with whether or not you read it or not – if it’s in your “must read” folder, you’ll catch it. If you rely on Twitter to notice it, you’re simply pulling the lever on the one-armed bandit, and hoping you don’t miss something important.

Maybe He’s Talking About the Public’s Usage of RSS?
“I came across Steve’s post in the ZDNet blogs RSS feed which is a partial text feed — so, yes, his attempt to make fun of partial feeds is, indeed, cut off itself by his own partial feed. I read Jeremy Zawodny’s feed as well, and it’s full text. So, here we have someone who has a partial feed complaining about the partial feed of someone who actually appears to only offer full feeds.”Mike Masnick

image Even if he’s talking about raw usership of one technology versus the other, he’s still wrong.  How do you think most of those stories are fed into Twitter and FriendFeed? If you said RSS, you’d be right.

We went through this exact same debate back in October of 2008 when Forrester released a report that loudly proclaimed consumer RSS adoption at a mere 11%. As I said in my response to Steve Rubel’s loud eulogy of RSS:

The truth is that it’s pretty difficult to hit a website these days that doesn’t use RSS in some way, shape or fashion. If you look at the average page here on Mashable, there are about two or three sections which rely on RSS to pull in information relevant to the readers. If you turn your attention to the most popular sites on the web, sites like Facebook, MySpace and Google all have syndicated content strewn all through them.

Let alone sites like FriendFeed, Plaxo and and thousands of blogs and news sites out there that rely on aggregation of content via RSS.

Why is Real-Time Web “Succeeding” Now Where RSS Has Failed?
Steve Gillmor is a bumbling fool. Without Google Reader, I wouldn’t read three fourths of the sites I do. Twitter doesn’t replace that.” – schammy

image There’s no doubt, though, that the term “real time web” is getting a workout lately, and a lot of attention is being paid to Twitter, Facebook’s public timeline, and FriendFeed.

But that’s the mainstream crowd.  These aren’t news-junkies and writers.  Sure, those of us that fall into that category use those tools, but those of us that want a thorough and nuanced view of the world we’re interested in generally use RSS readers. Real time streams simply aren’t set up to give you more than a snapshot of what’s going on right now, and the memetrackers certainly do little more than tell you what’s popular at the moment.

I’m not dogging the “real-time web” here (I’ve done that elsewhere). I’m simply saying that because it is popular, and because Steve Gil
lmor uses it exclusively for his news-reading does not mean that RSS is dead as a technology, as he decrees.

I’ll bottom-line it another way – RSS isn’t dead simply because web tools use RSS differently now.  Even if most RSS feeds are read through “real-time web” utilities, RSS is still alive and well. Have you ever read an RSS feed in source-code mode?  Is that how you consume your news?

If you’re honest with yourself, the answer is no.  No sane person would.  RSS is always meant to be a machine-level format so that programmers can more easily import the information into other utilities, be they RSS readers of the traditional type, or real-time fed news feeds.

That, by definition, means RSS is alive and well.