Only 2% of Web Users Use RSS?

Depressing but not surprising.

A Reuter’s article titled “Untangle the World Wide Web with RSS” by Robert MacMillan explains what RSS is and goes on to discuss why so few people use it:

So, why are so few people using it?

Only 2 percent of online consumers bother, according to Forrester, and more than half of that group is 40 years old or younger.

For starters, the name is deadly for attracting “average” Internet users — people who use the Web and handle e-mail, but quail at inscrutabilities like “service-oriented architecture” and “robust enterprise solutions.”

Then there are the orange buttons you find on Web pages. Clicking one produces a jumble of computer codes. It’s hardly the path to popularity.

I have my own thoughts about this. After all, I’ve only recently developed my own way to use RSS effectively after several false starts with the technology. Here’s what I think (for that it’s worth):

  • Too many feeds have excerpts only, thus requiring you to go to the Web site to read the whole article. I admit that I’m guilty of setting up my feed the same way. (Two reasons: some of my posts are so long that they simply don’t “fit” in a Feedburner feed (which has a limited size) and many of my posts are format-intensive, making them less easy to read/understand in an aggregator window.) I’ve since resolved that issue by using my aggregator as a sort of “index” to new articles, allowing the ones I want to read to load in Firefox in the background while I browse new topics, and reading them when I’m finished browsing. That’s my technique, but it might not work for everyone.
  • Posts aren’t always easy to read in the RSS aggregator window. Much of a site’s formatting is lost — at least in my reader, Endo) and sometimes that formatting helps readability.
  • Not everyone likes to learn how to use new software that might make them more productive. I’m like that. After wasting so much time learning software I wound up not using, I’m very hesitant to learn new software I might not use either. That’s why it took me so long to get an offline blog editor, despite Miraz’s glowing praise about MarsEdit. (I wound up with Ecto; go figure.) And for the record, she was right — how could anyone maintain a WordPress blog without an offline post editor?
  • Some sites have simply too much content. I subscribed to RichardDawkins.net for a full 36 hours before I was overwhelmed with the number of new posts. While I find his area of expertise interesting (atheism), I simply cannot devote that much time to it. This, by the way, is the same reason I don’t subscribe to mailing lists.
  • If you don’t check your RSS aggregator regularly, you can easily be overwhelmed with the number of new articles to review/read. This is what caused my first few false starts. I solved that problem by deleting all of the preprogrammed subscriptions and adding just the ones I found and liked. (Which is why an article I wrote on Monday asked for suggestions.)

And, of course, I agree with the Reuter’s article author that RSS simply isn’t user-friendly enough to attract less experienced computer users. Clicking an RSS link or “orange button” doesn’t subscribe you to anything. It just displays the feed’s source code on the screen. How can that make any newbie comfortable?

But, given time, I think RSS will catch on and attract more users. It has to. With all the content out there, anyone serious about keeping up has to have a good tool to get all the links and summaries in one place. It finally sucked me in.

And, by the way, I now know why I don’t read the news on Reuters.com: they split each article up into so many pages that you spend more time clicking links for the next page than actually reading.

What do you think?