There is No RSS Market

Richard McManus writes that the RSS market is in disarray. Specifically what he is saying is that the market for RSS client applications has gone sideways, he isn’t touching the other half of the equation, which is what publishers are doing with RSS.

I wrote about the second half a while back in what was one of the most widely read posts I have ever written, Is Twitter Killing RSS?:

“Twitter provides publishers with several key advantages over RSS, namely the ability to control brand and force traffic back to their monetized site. Of course none of this precludes them from also using RSS to distribute content and there are equally compelling reasons for doing so but if I were to make a prediction it would be that publishers increasingly find primary utility for RSS in the backoffice while de-empathizing RSS for audience acquisition, in the process embracing Twitter as a mechanism for engaging an audience and promoting content at the same time.”

My prediction has largely come true… no publisher is putting emphasis on their front end RSS while there is near universal embracing of Twitter for audience engagement and promotion of content. This is beyond debate at this point, it has happened.

Richard’s point about the RSS client app market has roots in the same observation I made, which is that RSS as a standard has failed to evolve in ways that solve publisher problems. In the absence of meaningful evolution of RSS as a standard, it is no surprise that RSS as an end user application has floundered.

The problem isn’t that the market is in disarray but rather that there is no “market” for something that is, in spite of being free across the board, not growing in end users or with publishers. On any given day there are likely no more than 1 million active RSS users, and half of those are committed to Google Reader which is a pretty good product at this point. This may sound like a large pool of users but it most certainly is not when it comes to formulating a product strategy, and herein lies the fundamental problem that RSS client application providers face, consumer users want a lot and won’t pay for it and enterprises, who will pay, don’t want a specialized product called RSS, they want this functionality slipstreamed into products they are already using.

I still use RSS with enough frequency to be called a regular user and Google Reader has put out some really good functionality to help users discover new and relevant content, a frequent topic for me. However, I would not advise anyone to go out and build an RSS application, even a mobile one, in this market because I don’t believe there is an actual market to begin with.