RSS has a special place for me since I spent a lot of time with the protocol over the years. I’ve not been a vocal RSS evangelist, like Dave Winer, but I’ve been a long time contributor to this business with intraVnews, the Outlook reader that I wrote in ’04.

After Google’s announcement to kill Google Reader, I had a moment of sadness. I’m not a heavy user of GR, but it has some features that I will surely miss.

One of the things that I miss while browsing is an easy way to Favorite an item for future reference. I’m not a fan of browser bookmarks or bookmark services. The thing I dislike about bookmarking is that it tends to work in a hierarchical fashion and creates too much clutter. I like my favorites to be chronological. I hardly remember where I read something, but I often kind of remember when. Services such as Read It Later could fill this gap, but I really don’t like any of them. I don’t want to be reminded off stuff I have to do. I just want a record. With GR I had this and I thought I was safe.

A second thing I like about GR that I will miss is the ability to occasionally catch up on feeds for specific topics or people. For some things, like the blogs of my heroes, I don’t want to miss any updates. The reading scenario for rivers of news and timelines is one of scanning, filling vacant time-slots. It’s good for serendipity but bad for targeted reading.

Another thing that I used only occasionally but that is powerful is search. Search in GR allowed me to get a high quality list of new recent updates for specific topics in chronological order without a lot of noise. General search engines are bad at chronology and include a lot of things I’ve already seen.

So, now what. Back to the drawing board. Just as the RSS dust had settled a bit, it’s full on tumbleweed time now.

When I think about it, what is it I really want? What I really want is a connection.
Surely, Facebook and Twitter and all the follow me services are filling this gap, but they are completely inadequate in my opinion, for my specific use cases.

For everything I come in touch with (on the web or IRL), if the item interests me, I want to be able to do one of the following with zero effort:

  • Favorite the item
  • Subscribe to updates
  • Get two way interaction and personalised updates.

For example, I’m reading my email and poof there is an ad for a coffee maker. How did it know that I like coffee? Never mind, this one looks awe-some, it works with pouches and only has one button and has Wifi. Favorite!

Obviously I’m a critical consumer and connoisseur of quality coffee and also concerned with global warming. I love this newly discovered brand X because it uses a vacuum flavor preservation process and produces ecologically grown fair-trade coffee in bio-degradable packaging with carbon-neutral transport to the last mile.

So, let’s say I decide to buy this new smart coffee maker. It’s just one click! On my order confirmation page, there is a button: Subscribe to updates for this coffee maker. No stinking newsletter from a company, but an offer to connect with just the thing I’m interested in.

Let’s see what that means:

  • I get stupid Facebook updates from Brand X. Ok, I can live with that.
  • The manufacturer gets a unique opportunity to send me relevant updates.
    “Hello! Just a note to let you know that we’ve updated our software. The next time you have brewed a cup, we’ll update your machine over the air. Your coffee will be even more aromatic and automatic!” Ok, thanks, that’s good to know!

    I really appreciate updates like these, but after some time, I’ve started to love this machine and I’d like to interact at a deeper level, and maybe do something back. So now I enable a two-way connection, sharing.

  • The manufacturer can send me personalised updates.
    “Hello Peter! We see you love great coffee in the morning. Have you tried X Espressky, our scotch flavored breakfast coffee? Next time you make a cup, press the button twice in a row and we’ll send you a sample”.

    Wow! Thanks! [Double click!]. Four clicks so far and I already feel like a VIP in the whole brand X coffee ecosystem. And, I can opt out anytime! But why would I do anything like that!

  • Furthermore, BrandX now receives feedback through my connection. Since I’m genuinely interested to share my unique coffee drinking experiences, I will eagerly respond to their interactive notifications. This will allow brand X to collect interesting usage data and make my coffee life even better. We’re truly at a symbiotic relationship stage at this point and it’s rewarding to be able to make such a valuable contribution to society.

This was just a little illustration of where I think things are going. I think that RSS at one point had the potential to play a role here. I think it still has some potential, but technology is moving ahead. RSS is just not powerful enough in my opinion to be the conduit of all future connections, simply because it relies on an infrastructure that was not designed for notifications.

The next new thing will be a message bus, Internet scale, open and extendible in which simple applications everywhere plug in, listen and talk.
Come to think of it, it could be SMTP or a mix of SMTP and real time protocols such as XMPP! Our mail clients could ignore the machine-to-machine messages and other applications could pick out interesting messages (those with the right topics). And the good thing about that is, everyone already has an address and it’s easy to give everthing an address too.

Anyway, unless Google Reader lives on, RSS is probably pretty much dead for me.