Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 8:23 AM

How many Facebook users know what RSS is?

The tech industry has a set of questions that are really talking points that "prove" that there's no reason to support RSS in publishing products. I've heard it ever since RSS started taking off about 15 years ago, so my answers are well-rehearsed.

Amazingly the essence of the questions are captured in a 140-character tweet from Internet entrepreneur Jonathan Abrams. He says: "Over 1 billion people on the Internet read news. What percentage of those people use RSS? What percentage know what it is?"

I don't like Twitter debates, they never accomplish anything. I prefer to spread out in a blog post and bloviate at length. I invite Mr Abrams to do the same.

First, I don't have percentages on any of these things, I doubt if Mr Abrams does either. But they're not really questions are they? I guess he's really saying that 1 billion people get their news from Facebook. So why bother with anything else?

But how does the news get to Facebook?

Most people on the Internet don't use JSON and have never heard of it. So by Abrams' calculation it doesn't matter either. But it does very much matter! The last few steps in the process of getting news from reporters to readers involves publishing it as either JSON or HTML. It's pretty much got to be one or the other. How many of those people even know what JSON or HTML are? Probably very few. No one is losing any sleep over this. Or sponsoring public service campaigns to educate people on the importance of JSON. It's not a huge problem.

See, the point isn't how many people know about RSS. If I lift the hood on a car I see a bunch of boxes and tubes and stuff and I have no idea what any of them do. But I know how to put the key in the ignition, put my foot on the brake and start the car. I can do all kinds of great stuff with a car without understanding its equivalent of JSON.

Cars and gasoline

Once, a long time ago, I was cleaning a bunch of parts of a VW bus I was putting together at my uncle's farm in Florida. I was using gasoline to do the cleanup (it's a great solvent). At the end I was left with a bit of dirty gasoline and had no idea what to do with it. So I decided to see what would happen if I lit it on fire. Bad idea. The tiny little coffee can with a tiny little bit of gasoline in it exploded! Made a huge sound and I felt it all over my body. I still remember it. I had been putting this stuff in my car for years without any clue as to how powerful it was. If I had thought about it a bit, I might have figured it out, but I had no need to.

Same thing with RSS. The power of RSS is that everyone uses it to move news around. Abrams' startup Nuzzel wouldn't work without RSS, any more than my car will work without gasoline. He should be singing its praises and helping it work better, not picking fights.

If RSS had an ego (it doesn't)

And by the way I don't own RSS, so you're not hurting my feelings if you dis it. But you do make me think less of you. And if you're in tech and your business depends on RSS, I question your ability as an entrepreneur.

One more thing, on RSS's behalf, as if it had an ego, which it doesn't. Facebook might have a billion users, but I'd be willing to bet that RSS has a lot more users than Nuzzle. So even in terms that matter in the warped culture of Silicon Valley, Abrams should have a little more respect for it.


Last built: Sun, Nov 2, 2014 at 11:45 AM

By Dave Winer, Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 8:23 AM. What a long strange trip it's been.