Marc Hughes

I am a developer from a bit west of Boston.

The power of RSS

17 Mar 2008

A year ago I didn't read any RSS feed. I browsed the internet like it was meant to be browsed, through websites! I read 3, maybe 4, sites daily. I occasionally viewed another dozen less frequently.

A year ago I started to add sites to my "web clips" bar on the top of my GMail account. They were all development related sites, mostly flash/flex. Pretty soon I had a dozen or so and I found myself clicking that little ">" button on the webclips bar over and over and over again to see more and more and more.

Six months ago I switched to Google Reader. I copied my list of RSS feeds from web-clips. And I added a few more. This was great, way easier reading them from the webclips interface. I subscribed to my Bugzilla bug list at work, no more refreshing a page to get a list.  I unsubscribed from a few mailing lists I was a part of and picked up their feeds.

I now had a single, central, place to go to look for news items about software development.

A month or two after that I started adding feeds for other topics besides development. Project management, web comics, even a blog from a guy making art out of bent objects.

It's around that time that the RSS reader became my first destination when browsing the web for any reason. I wouldn't hit slashdot, or cnn, or whatever. I'd hit my RSS feeds. I'd be able to quickly browse over more content, in nice neat categories, than I ever could before.

Now, I have two main jumping points for the web. 1) Google when I'm searching for a specific thing. 2) My RSS reader for everything else.

So when I go to a website that I might want to remember in the future, I don't instinctively go for that add-bookmark button. I look for the little "RSS" icon.

I think more and more people are ending up like this. I was certainly a late-comer to the world of RSS in the group of "geeks", but I wonder if we'll hit a point like the www hit when only geeks used a web browser, to everyone using a web browser.

I ran a survey for AgileAgenda on what features people are interested in seeing in future versions. Out of curiosity I put in "Subscribe to schedules through an RSS feed." Amazingly, that was the only option with near 100% "yes" votes. I didn't even know what that means. I've talked to a few people and they all thought it was a great idea, but then I pressed on why.  Nobody seemed to quite know what type of data those feeds should have in them.  

It feels like the time we hit a few years back when "everything" has to be on the web. But now it's "everything" has to be in an RSS feed. When deciding to put things in an RSS feed, I hope our web-lessons help and we can tell between what is an idea, or a idea.

If you're writing Flex/Flash code to parse out RSS feeds, you should check out:
It handles the differences between the various RSS/Atom formats for you.

p.s. I've since come up with a plan for RSS based schedules, but don't want to spoil the surprise before it's ready.  It's going to rock.