Do We Still Need RSS?

William Vambenepe says that “If the lords of the Internet have their way, the days of RSS are numbered.” He then points to the facts that Apple, Twitter, Firefox, and Google are all slowly but surely de-coupling RSS access from the functionality of their products.

Before I got the chance to work with RSS personally, I had categorized this post as a bit of a rant and kept it in my drafts folder, wondering if I would have the chance to take a closer look at it. For the past week I’ve been trying to figure out how to push this blog’s new material into my existing FeedBurner RSS account. I have no idea how to make it work. Our Emerging Technology Librarian, Emma, has no idea how to make it work (and looked sort of freaked out when I told her about my project.)

At the moment, I’m ready to start cheering for Team Lords.

The process of building a new website after importing the old posts was the easy part. Typepad has decent export options and WordPress is much the same with importing new material. What it doesn’t have–what nobody in the world apparently has–is a way of seamlessly switching an existing RSS feed for a new one. There is the added consideration of where the new stream of traffic comes from: so far, most of the action on the new website has come out of shared posts, tweets, and URL transfers, not RSS click-throughs. Even on the old blog, RSS click-throughs constituted less than 10% of the total activity.

I have tinkered with the guts of FeedBurner’s forms, tried splicing new feed URLs into existing feeds addresses, and played with the idea of using third party plugins to push new posts to the old feed. Nothing has worked very well. There are plenty of ways to squeeze traffic into the new feed but no way to transfer the new stuff into an old RSS URL.  (If you know of a way to do this, don’t keep it to yourself. Drop me a comment and let’s talk about it.) Old blog = old feed,  new blog= new feed, and there is no crossing the lines between the two. At least that’s how it seems right now.

I can burn new feeds all I want. I can combine them into one gigantic master feed through applications like Yahoo Pipes and Google Feed. I can redirect existing feeds from one blog to the other if I can figure out how to create a 301 permanent redirect through cPanel (or convince an exceptionally helpful tech support person at my ISP to do it for me). I can build an XML redirect and send it into the old feed in the hope that the current subscribers take advantage of it and migrate.

Or, I can abandon the current subscribers. For obvious reasons, that’s my least favorite option. Sadly, it seems to also be the most efficient option unless I can muster the additional time and energy to Franken-feed something together. Regardless of FeedBurner’s relative ease of use, modifying an existing feed is considerably more difficult than just burning a new feed and assigning it to a syndication page.

I’ll be honest. After three days of this, I’m ready to give up. RSS is unquestionably useful tech, but if it’s not portable, then other more portable options will leave it in the dust.

I burned a new feed for the WP blog, and I hope that at least some of the existing RSS subscribers have the patience, energy or motivation to click on the new feed when they get to the new website.

Which brings me back to the original critique of Vambenepe’s point . . . maybe the reason that the big players are abandoning RSS is the fact that you can’t really do anything with it. Except, of course, create more RSS feeds.

Again, if there is a way of making RSS portable, then I’d love to hear about it.


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About Jonathan Frater