Some commentators argue that RSS is already a format of the past. A few of them add that Twitter replaces RSS for end users.
Does it really? There is some truth to it. This is just a subjective impression though. Statistics indicated already a year ago that RSS is not really popular. Fred Wilson or rather a commenter on his blog summed it up pretty well. In my own words: RSS is alive but not (yet) kicking.
The focus of this blog post is not to discuss whether RSS is dead, dying or alive and whether Twitter really replaces it. Today I will attempt to assess the ramifications of the current move from RSS to Twitter or if you prefer it the addition of Twitter to many people’s daily reading habits.
At first I have to admit that I never got used to RSS. This is really a surprise to myself as well as I blog professionally for several publications. Also I have tested at least a dozen RSS readers and use 3 of them. Mostly I use RSS readers to test whether my RSS feeds actually work for others. Once or twice a week I will check my Netvibes subscriptions.
On the other hand I check my Twitter stream several times a day. Additionally I use several tools to determine who writes or tweets about me and about terms I care for. Last but not least I check several social news like Twitter aggregators to find out what’s hot and what not.
Nonetheless these tools are not enough to use Twitter in a RSS reader like manner. An advanced Twitter client like Tweetdeck allows you to subscribe to different keywords or users though. You could argue that this use case is really replacing RSS.
In a way not Twitter is a replacement of RSS but FriendFeed.
On Friendfeed you can not only subscribe to a blog but to everything an author publishes are at least wishes to share on FF. Thus Feedburner, the Google owned leading company offering RSS enhancement and management has recently added FriendFeed subscribers to the overall subscriber count of a blog. Many people, including me, disliked this measure.
From a marketing and SEO perspective RSS subscribers and Twitter followers (and FriendFeed subscribers as well) are quite a different pair of shoes. The main difference is:
You don’t own your tweets.
You just use a service that allows you to contact others. They might close it down any day, ban you or make you pay for it. A blog or any other publication that harbors content and offers an RSS subscription is online real estate. So from the publisher perspective an RSS feed is much more important than a Twitter stream.
Also you don’t offer a subscription to your blog via Twitter. Even in the case of publishing your new posts via Twitter it’s not really the same. Many people subscribe to your Twitter stream for other reasons than reading your blog. Thus the number of clicks to your blog posts will be most likely smaller than the number of people actually reading them via RSS.
So for web publishers, bloggers, SEOs alike RSS is the more important way of spreading your content. We can’t ignore the emergence of Twitter as a RSS like news reader. Many professional bloggers already automatically tweet whenever a new posting gets published. We at SEOptimise do that manually as well. This is somewhat obvious but primitive.
It’s as if we would offer TV programs on a radio, Twitter being the radio in this metaphor.
You can’t fully appreciate an RSS feed via Twitter. In the end it’s just a link you might overlook among the plethora of other updates.
Trying to gain and to retain your subscribers via RSS while at the same time getting more Twitter followers is the best way to go. You have to offer RSS enhancements to make people stick with RSS. For instance on my blog I offer Feedburner powered links to social sites which display the number of votes and the number of comments.
Also I use YARPP, a related posts plugin for WordPress blogs that also shows related postings on your RSS feed. Both enhancements create win to win situations for publishers and readers. On Twitter you should add value by not only publishing your RSS feed automatically. Twitter is for socializing and one to one communications as well. I even use it for crowdsourcing.
In future we’ll see more useful ways to use RSS and Twitter and combine them. TV has not replaced radio, cars haven’t replaced bikes and planes haven’t replaces ships. It’s the way you combine and use them.