Serious Problems with RSS – Part 2 (The ‘Wire’ Effect)

You don’t create communities in RSS readers. You can’t really engage with readers. You really can’t do anything except consume raw content.

– Phil Sim, Why I hate RSS readers

Phil Sim made several great points when he wrote the piece quoted above. Another problem with RSS is that in many ways it turns content providers into a wire service. As Sim notes:

To use an old-media analogy, it’s the difference between writing for a wire service or writing for a newspaper. On a wire service, you’re story can pop up anywhere and likely will. On a newspaper, you’re a part of something. Something that hopefully stands for something and means something.

He goes on to reference several blogs that have true communities, where “half the time the comments on those sites are more interesting than the original posts.”

I’m not going to put all the blame on RSS when it comes to lack of community. I previously referenced the 90-9-1 research, where we saw that when it comes to the web participation inequality occurs across the board. It was exacerbated on blogs (95-5-.1). That’s where I see the problem with RSS – it is an enabler to further the ‘lurker’ mentality.

Things like FeedBurner’s FeedFlare try to combat that to some extent by building greater interactivity into feeds. But it’s only a first step to addressing the wire effect issue.