The Data Digest: Usage Of RSS Feeds

This week, Google announced that it will shut down Google Reader on July 1, 2013. In its announcement, Google states that it’s doing this because the usage of Google Reader has declined and it wants to concentrate on fewer products. There was a lot of buzz online about this decision, and some fanatical Google Reader fans put together a petition to keep the RSS reader alive. They garnered more than 50,000 signatures in just a few hours.

This whole debate sparked my interest, and I analyzed Forrester’s Technographics® data to get a better understanding of the usage of RSS feeds over time. I found that Google is right about the decline. Our data shows that it was always only a dedicated group who used RSS feeds at least weekly — about 7% of US online adults in 2008; this had declined to just over 4% last year, with about one in 10 US online adults using RSS feeds about monthly.

This shows, of course, penetration, not reliance. Those 4% of US online adults might be very avid users, whose existence (personally or professionally) relies on these feeds. But Google has a business to run, and that means prioritizing investment decisions. And looking at the trend data, it’s obvious that RSS feeds don’t have a future.


No adequate replacement for RSS

I don't disagree with the premise of this article or Google's decision. The facts seem clear. Unfortunately, there is currently no adequate replacement for defining a personal news feed from the sources that I choose. Sure, erstwhile replacements such as Pulse, Digg, and Reddit curate content for their visitors, but that makes it the service's news feed, not mine. It's rather cumbersome (at least on mobile) to inject my preferred feeds, if it's even possible.

With the exploding variety and volume of news sources available to people, some kind of personalized news feed seems essential. If RSS goes away without an adequate alternative for personalized, self-selected news (and for many reasons a Facebook feed is not even a contender), that will be a very sad day.

And another thing...

P.S.- I would have never found and read this article or blog if I didn't see it in my news reader.


How was the data gathered? Was it a survey? If so, the wording of the question could be very relevant, since many people who use RSS don't recognize the acronym, and may not recognize they're using it at all.

If not a survey, then was it from HTTP logs? Whose?

Some background on the methodology behind the data would be helpful.


Scott, Richard, thanks for your comments.

The data was gathered using a survey online survey of 58,068 US online adults ages 18 to 88.
The question we ask is very clear and explains what RSS is, and has been the same for all these years.

My objective with this blog is showing the trend. As I state in the blog, there are many people who rely on these feeds. But overall, usage has gone down.

Hope this helps,

Thanks for the background

Thanks for the background info, Reineke.

Respectfully, I'd wager that a review of aggregate HTTP logs would yield a very different result. Probably not anything close to a majority, but likely twice as high as a survey would show.

Never underestimate the role of cognitive breakdown among subjects when conducting surveys. :)

Online US Adult Consumer Usage NOT RSS Usage

RSS is pretty ubiquitous to the extent that many consumers don't even realize that they are being served feeds.

I'd venture to say that RSS calls are much stronger than the survey suggests.

RSS is not just a consumer facing technology and has been working quite well often as a backend solution on the web.

I'd be interested in knowing what the exact question is that's presented in the survey.

Reineke Reitsma is quite correct - server logs would present quite a different picture not to mention not to mention developer usage of this format.

Different methodologies give different results

Richard, I agree with you that if you would use a different methodology (like HTTP logs) you would find different results. For example, the data I show is weekly usage or more, and about 10% of online US adults use RSS feeds at least monthly. But in a world where we measure usage of online activities by 'multiple times a day', infrequent use is of little value.