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Twitter killed RSS (and that’s a bad thing)


I’ve used Google Reader religiously since it launched.  I’m a few days away from quitting it forever.  Pretty much every blog I read tweets the titles of their posts along with a link.  Better yet, the people I follow retweet their favorite links, providing a very efficient way for me to discover new articles to read and publishers to follow.

Contrary to all the uninformed handwringing about how Twitter is making people dumb, I find I’m reading more long form blog and newspaper content than ever.   And the stuff I’m reading is more interesting and relevant.  That’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, Google Reader has been desperately adding social features such as sharing starred posts and automatically recommending blogs.  These features are clumsy and won’t save Reader, or RSS, from its inevitable decline.

Although I’m generally happier as a user, I think all of this is bad for the internet.  Twitter isn’t an open protocol.   It’s a private company with a profit motive that has a history of unreliable service. Moreover, URL shorteners – a byproduct of Twitter – are effectively creating a second layer DNS service that is far less secure and reliable.

I know that many people have been calling for an open alternative to Twitter for a long time.  I support them, but I’m afraid it’s too late. The network effects of Twitter’s social graph are just too strong.  Not to mention its brand momentum.  But the biggest reason Twitter has won is that mainstream users don’t care enough about these “principled” objections to switch.  Do you think Ashton or Oprah cares about open protocols?  I doubt it.

But someday they will care – when the internet is less open, less reliable and less secure.

About Nathan Kaiser


  1. Before RSS was a much bigger deal, I didn’t understand how it was a game changer in terms of reading the net. I had friends way ahead of me in this game.

    I learned from that now and have a well populated Google Reader. I continue to hear that Twitter has now made this extinct but I haven’t gotten that impression. However, that is mostly because I’m using the vanilla-based twitter through the web and there you have no great tools to stay on top of trending topics.

    It wasn’t until I found myself at a conference that #blahblah and trending topics became important because they weren’t just trending topics they were live chat rooms, live feeds of data, or streams.

    I really saw a benefit to Twitter for the first time. Individuals had these streams of data of all types and if the #trended it or used the right keywords there was amazing use. I could now pipe in data from all these sources about the topic I wanted. It was a disjointed forum that erupts out of communication. Which is better than trying to get people to come to a temporal place to act as a forum.

    So I just downloaded Tweetdeck and I see where it is in some ways an awesome tool that far outstrips RSS as a discovery tool. But I still can’t see it replacing RSS for me because there is far too much duplication and spam.

    So I see Twitter as a great discovery tool, I can pull twitter searches into Google Reader and then use those to find the blogs/info that I eventually want add as permanent RSS feeds.

    I see it as a compliment, not as a replacement.


    * ReTweets are awesome if you are trying to expose your audience to the information. However, to those within the same circle, say at an event, it is a duplication of the previous tweet.

    * Duplication (in general) of posts in a given space, like when people quote people at a particular event. An event has a measurable echo here and the larger the personality the larger the echo.

    * Spam from outside individuals that are adding negative value to the space (compared to a repost which is perhaps considered neutral or only slightly negative).

    Some things I need for twitter to gain more value:

    * There are no decent tools to deal with the duplication. You don’t want the streams of data to be blocked, you want clients to manage it. I imagine that a tool that compares posts 140 character posts might have a good shot at dealing with the duplication.

    * There are no good community tools to assist with positively reinforcing good posts and negatively reinforcing spam/bad posts.

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