Google are killing the future of RSS

An RSS feed which you subscribe to is your personal subscription to a service, just like email.

A private subscription service for text, audio and video content, even involving a paid subscription fee has been possible for more than a year, based upon RSS.

In a recent podcast Robert Scobles interviewed the Google Reader team, where they made clear that from the start, one of the primary features of Google Reader was the sharing of your private RSS feeds. This is with total disregard for the intended private use of the RSS content.

Some background

For years email marketing has been plagued by spam filters. Whilst they become more accurate in detecting spam content, and allow requested content to be delivered, to effectively use email for marketing, and in some cases even personal messages, you would have to use an email service such as Aweber or Getresponse to ensure your content was delivered.
RSS guarantees 100% deliverability, and because of the way RSS is delivered, it is possible to include rich multimedia content within the messages. Delivering HTML email currently is much harder than text, and there are multiple compatibility problems with different email clients, both offline and online.
RSS will soon become integrated within our daily working environments, as an equivalent to email within Windows Vista, and online applications such as Gmail and their Google Reader.

RSS Technology being Destroyed

(before it has a chance to succeed)

One good example is Feed Magic. I have been a supporter of Feed Magic for more than a year, I own a license for the script itself, and a subscription to the service.

I am an affiliate for the product, and if you decide to purchase their product, I will recieve compensation. But that is not the primary reason for this post.

But can I effectively use them as intended?

Increasingly the answer is an unfortunate… no!

I can’t use what I paid for effectively, and that is the primary reason for this post.

The more indiscriminate sharing of RSS is being encouraged, the less chance break-through technology (that would revolutionise the delivery of marketing messages and vital support information) has of succeeding.

The Google representitives in the podcast actively encouraged the sharing of linkblogs.

I freely admit that the potential of Feed Magic is in its future. It has so much potential.

It should be noted that the RSS options provided by Aweber and Getresponse are nowhere near as advanced as Feedmagic. You could achieve their RSS features just by feeding your own blog with the content from your autoresponder by email.

RSS is subscribing to content you want. There is no way to spam your RSS box. If you decide you don’t want the content, you can unsubscribe.

So Google in part, with their Google Reader and very clear philosophy in the design of the service, are destroying something that could defeat email spam forever… the potential of RSS.

Robert Scoble had the opportunity to discuss this situation with the Google Reader team. Notice when he commented to my post on Google Reader (I assume he read it, and my reply)

Robert is also still sharing content of his linkblog, without asking the owner of the content permission.

This is just one example of how great web 2.0 software can actually harm rather than promote.

Edit: The Feedmagic site was discontinued – some of the technology might have ended up in Nanacast.

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  1. Scott Adams says

    Plain and simple, what you are reflecting is a part of a completing philosophy.
    RSS should be free vs RSS should be paid for. I think it should be free. More than likely we would disagree as well if we were in the same room also.

  2. Andy Beard says

    It is actually more complex than that

    Robert is currently argueing that he has the right to publish anyones copyright material, even up to 10% of their content, full feeds.

    You would have to ask him to remove them (but he would stop reading your feeds altogether if you did that – make of that what you will).

    All that is required is the introduction of one small header element in an RSS feed that would allow a publisher to tag his content “not to be shared”

    Noone has been mentioning anything about sharing linkblogs for 6 months, and suddenly Robert is pushing his linkblog in every other post.

    It is quite isolated atm, but imagine if everyone started doing it.

    Spam free delivery of content you want shouldn’t be limited to just publicly available content.

    I am not looking to hamper the spread of RSS technologies, but to maybe question the cowboy way in which some new technology is being introduced without questioning its effects on more than just bloggers.

  3. Stefan Constantinesc says

    what’s digg then?

    what’s engadget?

    what about all the other blogs out there that are basically just rehasing press releases and calling it news?

    google reader sharing feature, if anything is IMPROVING the future of RSS, not getting rid of it.

    if i read a good post i often check out that persons blog to see what other content they might have created.

    case in point: if you have a book you read and liked, and gave it to me to check it out, you just screwed the author right?

    wrong, i’m going to go on and see what OTHER titles this guy wrote.

    i simply don’t see your logic at all.

    killing rss, you just want attention with a headline like that and you know it.

  4. Andy Beard says

    I have never seen full content on Digg. In fact the content on Digg is a user written summary.

    Engadget put their own spin on any content, just like Robert does on his primary blog, and there is nothing wrong with that.

    Press releases are a very good example of content that is designed to be syndicated with permission. So are free to reprint articles.

    It is very easy to write a license for your content, or use a ready made one, that explicity allows the reuse in a linkblog.

    Robert being a high profile blogger should be more careful of issues like this, and he is actually being more blazen.

    killing rss, you just want attention with a headline like that and you know it.

    And with the title Robert used for his post, he was looking for a knee jerk reaction from his fans to win his arguement.

    Google Reader at is core was designed to be a tool for creating splogs.. oh sorry “linkblogs”.

    At the time of my original post 2 weeks ago I used a less prominent title, effectively keywords related to the article.

    I wrote this post immediately after watching the Podcast with the Google Reader team.

    I had looked on the sharing features as “bonus feature” that would likely be toned down if people were made aware of the dangers.
    It was made clear in the Podcast that sharing was a core feature.

    If it was intended to be such a core feature, why wasn’t more care taken in the way it was implemented?

    Also, Google have the readership data, and they are effectively saying that that data is theirs, and the publisher are not going to get it. All the other readers report readership data back to publishers.

    Robert has a huge amount of leverage, which means he thinks he can ignore copyright, or redefine it into what makes his life easier.

    What is going to happen next?

    Roberts linkblog is commercial, even without adverts. I am sure some publisher are happy to be included. Hell some would even pay to be linkblogged.

    In many ways Robert’s linkblog is worse than Bitacle 1.0

    You can read shared full content on many sites, but always within an enclosure preventing it being refed.

    It is just too easy to share content with Google Reader, and more control needs to be added to prevent content being shared when it is not intended to be.

  5. Andy Beard says

    It is certainly not my “personal” business model.

    RSS as a technology is much more secure than Email, because it is picked up and delivered directly by your feed reader or service provider.

    How many companies deliver content via email currently?

    Do you think they would appreciate 100% deliverability and being able to deliver rich media content directly to your RSS reader?

    I freely admit there is an uphill struggle. Awareness of RSS and usage is barely into double digits among internet users.

    That figure however affects all forms of RSS usage.

    Do you know how common this question is?
    “How do I get RSS for my blog?”

    So it is early days for RSS, even though it has been around since 1999.

    So could RSS ever replace email for certain content?

    I think it could.

    It is very easy to include a message in each email you send out promoting the RSS version of your content. If the RSS version is made more compelling, users who have adopted RSS Readers will switch, or have both.

    In marketing, tracking is the gospel.

    If you don’t know how many people opened your email, it is very difficult to judge the success of an email campaign.

    You can see how many clicked through to the content you were promoting, but how successful was the email content itself.

    If you have a list of 1000 people, and there were 100 click throughs that could mean.

    500 people opened it, and 20% clicked
    200 people opened it, and 50% clicked

    So was the problem with your email title, or the content?

    Split testing can help, but knowing how many people opened your message, and then how many clicked is very important. That is how Feedburner make money after all, with the advanced tracking.

    It is easy with RSS, because the graphics images are not blocked by the client.

    It has massive advantages for the customers too.

    1. Fresh news – it can sometimes take hours for time sensitive email to actually leave an autoresponder (though a lot less if you use a professional delivery firm) – very important for time sensitive offers.
    2. No spam – it is impossible to spam an RSS reader
    3. Direct access to the content, no more having to click through to view content.
    4. Reduced reliance on having to store passwords to access content that could be directly delivered. I currently have more than 1000 entries in Roboform
    5. Improved presentation of material

    So it is not my personal business model.

  6. says

    Okay, so my comment was a bit unfair. However, it’s apparent that what Google is doing threatens your marketing-is-all perspective on RSS (and the web in general).

    Any technology that hastens the death of the business model you describe in your comment is good by me. It would be wonderful to have a refuge from the vapid, market-tested trash that pollutes every other medium.

  7. Andy Beard says

    One aspect of business is delivering what your customer wants.

    Maybe a customer was interested in a product, but the price was too high… test different price points.

    Maybe the font size used was difficult to read?

    Google are collecting that data, they know exactly what was clicked on, and the owners of the content don’t.

  8. says

    There was a time that businesses bothered to talk to their customers to figure out what they wanted.

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t see why the technology industry ought hold back innovation to protect tired business models. Things change, businesses adapt. Just ask the music, movie, and book publishing industries.

  9. Andy Beard says

    Matt you are a programmer

    How much work is seriously involved in the following?

    My RSS feeds currently have a license


    Google, just like they implemented “nofollow”, could implement an XML equivalent of “noshare”

    Google Reader would detect that, and prevent the content being shared.

    Other than all the meetings with all the parties involved in creating a standard, the programming work is a matter of a few hours, and sure it would also need a little testing.

    Google Reader is a beta after all


    Problem totally solved

    The thing is Google Reader has been sharing content in this way for more than 6 months, and noone had pointed out that maybe it wasn’t a good idea.

    It didn’t matter too much, because noone was heavily marketing linkblogs. Even now there are little over 300 of them in existance (100 more than 2 weeks ago – quite a sudden growth rate). It should be noted that those are the ones that are advertised – I am sure many more exist that people keep private.
    But Robert is now advertising his daily. It was heavily emphasised in the podcast with the reader teams, and after I saw that podcast, I wrote this 2nd post…

  10. says

    I agree that it would probably be easily implemented in a short amount of time. However, I think that would even be a waste of resources. But if you can convince Google that it’s in their best interests to protect this business model, more power to you.

    I’m curious about one thing, though. Are you actually saying that you’d rather have less people reading your content just so you can have accurate numbers on the effectiveness of your marketing?

  11. Andy Beard says

    I’m curious about one thing, though. Are you actually saying that you’d rather have less people reading your content just so you can have accurate numbers on the effectiveness of your marketing?

    I would like the option

    Here is a good source of further reading I read 18 months ago after hearing about it on Lee Odden’s Blog

    The Business Case for RSS

    Some examples from the report for uses of RSS (at that time 18 months ago). These are personal private uses that shouldn’t be shared.

    Some affiliate managers already communicate with their affiliates using RSS.

    This is often financial information. It is certainly not something that should end up in a shared feed.

    One company uses RSS as a consulting billing awareness tool. The consultants create activity reports and the RSS feeds from the activity channels carry the billable information to the accounting staff for invoice preparation.

    Highly confidential information

    Create RSS autoresponders with scheduled messages, to keep in constant “marketing” contact with your prospects and slowly get them to the point of purchase.

    The sales process can involve certain special offers specific to the previous actions of the subscriber. Having the sales process shared subverts the sales process.
    Why should potential new customer be able to find out that existing customers are getting a bigger discount, or a better upsell offer?

    Provide limited-access content to your customers, employees, team members and even investors, without fearing other unwanted eyes. Use RSS for internal communications, teamworking and other needs.

    Have you seen

    Alex King’s Task Pro?

    RSS feeds of your tasks

    Subscribe to the RSS feed for your tasks or your group(s)’s tasks and keep up with what your group members are working on.

    Sounds like confidential information that shouldn’t be shared to me.

    How about some more Web 2.0 heros providing confidential information by RSS?

    How about a warning from 37 Signals posted over 2 years ago

    How can anyone say there is no potential for private RSS feeds and retain any credibility.

    I will leave readers to judge who they decide to believe on this issue.

  12. Andy Beard says

    Important Note:

    Google Reader doesn’t yet support RSS Authentication.

    Thus it is impossible to access a feed with a URL such as:-


    But it is just a missing feature.

    Pageflakes also doesn’t support RSS Authentication. Maybe a good thing.

    Bloglines does support it.

    It is possible with Bloglines to share the feed from your 37Signals account to the whole world.
    I haven’t used Bloglines much, but Robert did state that it was possible to create a feed of your Bloglines shared items.

    Surely there should be some controls preventing this?

  13. says

    The task list examples are bogus. It’s the user’s personal information, not the publisher’s. The user should be able to do what he wants with it, even accidentally share it with the world.

    The financial information and marketing examples do have some merit. (Why someone would subscribe to a feed full of marketing speak is beyond me. But whatever.)

    However, I don’t think any of these cases are strong enough to warrant adding a no-sharing restriction to feeds. (I’m taking back the “more power to you” statement in my last post. That was an incredibly stupid thing to say.) I’ve come to the realization that what we’re really talking about is a DRM scheme. We’ve already seen the kind of damage that can be done with DRM in the music, film, and ebook industries. Adding it to RSS for some short-term gain would be a disaster.

    There’s another programmatic way you could solve this problem. Simply prevent applications that allow for sharing to access your feeds. Very easy to implement. It would also help you with your goal of having less readers.

  14. Andy Beard says

    Hi Matt

    I don’t censor negative comments. Everyone is entitled to differing opinions.
    Unfortunately Spam Karma for some reason didn’t like you with the default configuration. It also blocked the pingback for some reason.

    Spam Karma 2 Report:
    +0.50 – Javascript Payload: Valid Javascript payload (can be fake).
    +0.50 – Link Counter: Comment has no URL in content (but one author URL)
    -2.50 – Encrypted Payload: Encrypted payload valid: IP not matching.
    -8.00 – Snowball Effect: Commenter granularity (based on URL): 0 old comment(s) (karma avg: 0.000000), 4 recent comment(s) (karma avg: 5.400000).
    -4.00 – Snowball Effect: Commenter granularity (based on email): 0 old comment(s) (karma avg: 0.000000), 4 recent comment(s) (karma avg: 5.400000).
    -13.50 – Overall Karma

    As to your examples, I think they are a bit extreme

    Having a requester popup saying

    “Do you really want to share XYZ because:-”

    When you are browsing down your “River of News” and hitting shift S to share stuff, it is very easy to make a mistake.

    In some ways Google is already treating RSS like email, that is probably the reason they don’t provide any subscriber information, in the same way by defauly pictures (used for tracking) are not shown in Gmail.
    Google are making RSS more private which many might look on as a good thing.

    Unfortunately advertising and some level of tracking go hand in hand, otherwise you can’t evaluate the effectiveness of the advertising.

    But you are right in one way. If RSS doesn’t have a way of preventing sharing, eventually content publishers will come up with an alternative replacement for RSS which they can control, and that is the distribution method that will become mass market.

  15. says

    I’m not sure how my examples are extreme. Once you add DRM to RSS, all the publishers are going to add it to all their feeds in an attempt to “control” their content. This is exactly what the music, TV, and movie industries have done, and it’s done nothing but alienate their customers.

    But now that I think about it more, RSS is not like CD and DVD players and recorders because it is a free, open spec. Anyone is allowed to play without having to buy a license from some governing body. Because of this, I can guarantee that RSS will *never* have DRM. Even if you convinced every one of the existing companies who make aggregators to implement your no-sharing flag, it would fail. Someone else would see a new niche in the market and create an aggregator that ignores the flag.

    There’s also no chance that the publishing industry will ever create a format to replace RSS. There are too many players with too many competing interests. One only has to look at the HD DVD/Blu-Ray mess to see how that would end up. And there are only a few major players in that struggle.


  1. [...] Andy Beard, who I’d never heard of until yesterday, has taken on Scoble, using Robert Scoble’s linkblog as an example for what he says is copyright infringement and theft because Scoble publishes a linkblog via Google Reader.  Scoble responds today, attempting to explain how RSS works, how a linkblog works, and how copyright works.  Be sure to read the comments.  It’s an interesting discussion, and I’m with Robert on this one. [...]

  2. [...] linking structure Related tags:blogging tips blog navigation duncan riley linking strategy pagerank robert scoble search engines seo wordpressIn the comments discussing my objections to the current implementation of Google Reader on Robert Scobles blog, something very interesting cropped up. [...]

  3. [...] That got someone named Andy Beard — whose website says he is involved in keyword research and affiliate marketing — kind of upset, because he said RSS is meant to be private and therefore Scoble was helping to ruin RSS. This makes no sense whatsover, of course, since RSS is by its nature a syndication mechanism. But in the comments on Scoble’s post, it became clear that others, including Duncan Riley of b5 media, think what he is doing is stealing. [...]