There was this incredible moment in the mid-2000s where it felt like everyone had their own blog, and those blogs all had RSS feeds. I’d start my day by scrolling through the latest posts (RIP Google Reader).

It was sort of like social media today: ideas and insights from my industry peers were available to me in a handy little scrollable list, all in one place.

Jason looking old and grumpy with the caption, "in my day social media was Google Reader"

RSS was missing features… and I think that was good, actually?

RSS feeds didn’t have some of the things social media would introduce later:

  • there was no “like” or “retweet” option
  • discussion was broken up into individual comment sections on the blogs (if the blog had comments at all)
  • discovery was harder because there was no Algorithm™ to speak of — you curated your own list (because the feed reader had no opinions or business goals)

But in retrospect, what RSS was missing might have been what made it great:

  • no likes or retweets meant that the point was to share, not to farm engagement
  • localized discussion meant the issue of context collapse was much more contained
  • having a small list meant I actually read things instead of skimming to try and finish reading the whole internet

It was far from perfect, but I can’t help but feel like we lost something when we gave up on RSS.

We lost control of what we see

The biggest loss of the last 15-ish years, internet-wise, is that at some point we lost our ability to choose what we see online. Every social site has some kind of recommendation algorithm, and while I understand why this starts, it ultimately turns into “show people the most inflammatory stuff because engagement makes investors and advertisers open their wallets”.

Cassidy Williams put this really well in a recent post:

“In the earlier internet days, you went to a fun website or read the latest thing because you decided to go do it. Now, all of this content is pushed in your face, designed to be as addicting as possible, so you keep coming back. You can curate it to a point, but companies design these systems this way on purpose.”

Source: I miss human curation

That’s fine, I guess, but the side effect is that now I see all sorts of junk on social media that I didn’t choose to see. Suggested posts and promoted posts often make up more of what I see than the people I actually, y’know subscribe to.

And for every post that gets shoved into my feed that I enjoy, there are a hundred or so that either make me feel sad, angry, or annoyed — when did we decide this was the right default?

I’m not sure what happened, but it feels… bad.

You could run out of stuff to read

This may come as a surprise to folks who haven’t been on the internet as long as I have, but there used to be a point where you could run out of things to read online.

It could be frustrating sometimes, sure, but there was a sense of satisfaction that came with knowing that you’d read everything you intended to read. That last entry would get marked as read and you could just, like, do other stuff and not worry that you were being left out of the conversation.

Can RSS make a comeback?

I don’t know. I hope so.

This blog has an RSS feed.

I know some of my friends never stopped publishing RSS (examples: Chris Coyier and Cassidy Williams). Sites like YouTube still publish RSS feeds. Even some of our social media provides an RSS feed, with options to convert other feeds like Twitter to RSS if you want!

And there are still RSS readers out there like Feedly and Feeder.

It feels like there’s a moment happening where this idea of building our own little spaces on the internet and curating our own little feeds of what our friends and colleagues are up to is maybe — just maybe — something that would work.

So I don’t now. Maybe add an RSS feed to your site and let people know about it.