I was not able to influence the VCs who started the RSS companies -- famous companies like Newsgator and Feedburner, and not-so-famous ones. Like most VCs they thought they understood better, so they went their own way and most of their companies flopped. Feedburner made a little money for its investors by centralizing RSS and selling that to Google. Why Google wanted it is a mystery. If they wanted to strangle and kill RSS, it would have proven a very good asset, but Google hasn't shown an interest in doing that. Maybe they just had a lot of money and it looked interesting. Who knows.
The people in the tech press never listened either -- at the beginning it was CNET, and these days its TechCrunch. I keep saying the same thing over and over, the Google Reader approach is wrong, it isn't giving you what's new -- and that's all that matters in news.
Anyway, RSS is doing fine. It forms the pipes through which news flows. Nowadays there are some new-fangled faucets called Twitter and Facebook. But behind the scenes, connecting it all together is RSS. Formats that are as deeply entrenched as RSS is stay deeply entrenched. It's how technology works. It's why we still use QWERTY typewriters and why pages are still 8.5 inches wide and 11 inches tall.
Why does Twitter work better for news than Google Reader? SImple, Twitter gives you what's new now. You don't have to hunt around to find the newest stuff. And it doesn't waste your time by telling you how many unread items you have. Who cares. (It's like asking how many NYT articles you haven't read. It would be gargantuan. I don't bother you with the number of Scripting News posts you haven't read, so why does Google?)
First, we need a really lean and mean feed reading web service. It senses how frequently each feed changes and reads it that frequently. It's also possible for it to receive pings that say "read this feed now" -- very simple protocols, nothing as complicated as the stuff being proposed these days.
Let's call this server RiverCentral. It should be open source and very easy to install. But one of the big tech companies, one without too many fingers in too many pies, would run one. I like Yahoo or Amazon for this. It operates as a web service and a user interface. Simple REST API.
What it doesn't do -- handle subscriptions. That's always been the weak spot in RSS. It should be centralized too, but that should be run non-commercially, by a foundation. Something like the name service that's at the core of the Internet. That's the one bit of the RSS puzzle that must be centralized and must not be in the hands of commercial vendors. Because then none of the commercial vendors will mind delegating their subscription-handling to it. With the RSS "market" virtually dead now (not to be confused with RSS itself) who could possibly have a problem with this?
Now we can make news really simple, and work the way we want. We've also got a platform-with-no-platform-vendor. Let everyone play, large and small. We need lots of highly optimized feed reading hubs, and one place to handle the subs.
Now this may not happen, and I'd argue if it doesn't RSS won't reboot, as a market. But it will happen in another sense. Either Twitter or Facebook will evolve to be the ideal news system, or a new upstart will come along to do it. The opportunity is there and the field is wide open.