The Next RSS

Note: this is a working theory that I’m hashing through – comments / thoughts / arguments welcome!

Since before the invention of the printing process, we’ve seen our content consumption largely curated by publishers.  Part of this (I’d imagine) has to do with the economies of scale associated with the distribution of content in the physical world, which continued on in much the same format on the internet (like many other offline-online transitions).   During that time, the way we discovered and obtained online content was quite simple – we went to the publisher’s website, and consumed what was available.

One of the most important early moves toward the democratization of online content discovery and curation (+ production) was the rise of blogging – which enabled a broader set of individuals the power to create and identify good content. With the vast landscape of publisher sites and blogs, RSS readers (e.g., Google Reader, Flipboard, etc.) and other content aggregators became valuable as a way of capturing the content worth consuming on an individual basis.  However, RSS is typically limited to receiving every post from a blog or a site – it allows us to bundle the publishers and blogs we like, but we then have to sort through a semi-curated firehouse to find the few items inside.

However, the social internet (today – Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Pinterest, and many others)  has fundamentally changed how we discover and interact with content.  Rather than publishers and bloggers deciding what is worth seeing, we use the hivemind of our friends and those we follow and admire. In other words, we’re in the process of seeing the curator role distributed to the crowd, in which the publishers and bloggers are influential, but less so.  Not only this, but the curation in this system is happening at the level of individual pieces of content (e.g., a single blog post, listicle, video) rather than at the level of the publisher or blog.

As much of the analysis around Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and their ilk has discussed, this shift toward crowdsourced curation has interesting implications for the required competencies of publishers going forward (and much spilled ink about whether this is “good”). But just as interesting, in my mind, is the opportunity this creates for the next RSS.  If individual publishers and their sites matter less as curators and destinations for consumers, RSS as a format and the reader applications on top of them also lose some value, as consumers see their networks surfacing the best content from those publishers, rather than needing to follow publishers blindly.

So what could rise in its place?  I think we’ve started to see a few services that have built universal content repositories (e.g., Pocket, Instapaper) – products that make it very easy to save and consume from any device, publisher, or service (especially social networks).  We’re also seeing services that mine that our networks to surface the most popular shared content (e.g., Nuzzel).  Both of these kinds of products help either capture or amplify the signal produced by our network.  As these kinds of services become more intelligent, I think they can largely do the curation and discovery “jobs” much better than RSS ever could.

Would love to hear your thoughts – tweet at me @ablordesays.

Note: H/T to HowToGeek for the image.