Going geeky: real-time RSS

RSS logo
RSS logo
The original headline for this post was going to be something like “RSS in the clouds”, but my internal monitor said that it was a bit extreme and techie.

And that’s what’s interesting, RSS has been around since 2001 thanks to Dave Winer who came up with the standard. Yet even with a beautiful Common Craft how-to video (below) to show us the way, it’s not something that has ever really come into common usage or common terminology outside Tech Land (if you really want the usage figures I can dig them out to show you).

But, if I say “Google Reader” or “keeping track of your favourite blogs, websites n’ stuff in one place”, you’ll have an idea of what I mean. RSS (Really Simply Syndication) is the thing that often powers those types of services. You’ve probably even seen the orange icons around the place, like the one above.

Cue that Common Craft video, which points out how useful this all might be:

Since 2001 RSS aggregators have been equated with new ways of consuming news on the web, described in terms such as ‘River of News’.

NOTE: At this point readers should be aware that updates to this form of RSS are every 15 -30 minutes or so and not in real time.

And what does that river look like?

For the purposes of this post I visited my Bloglines account – something I’ve not done for months. It’s laid out a bit like an email reader. I have 132 feeds within 10 folders and 16,933 unread posts. And that’s with Blogline’s limit of 200 posts per feed. That’s a lot of reading, and not necessarily very focussed reading at that.

Which is possibly why the likes of Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook and other social networks, where members recommend links to each other and information is in smaller digestible chunks, have subsumed RSS aggregators. The real-time nature of these services also enables conversation and discussion around a posted item.

So, why am I writing about all of this now?

This week real-time RSS has been the talk and excitement of Tech Land as WordPress launched this capability for it’s .com and .org options by implementing RSSCloud. This down-to-earth blog post by WordPress explains more.

To read the RSS feeds of WordPress blogs in real-time at the moment you will need to download either Dave Winer’s River 2 or LazyFeed. I’m sure in time others will follow.

The question is: will you?

And for those running websites with RSS, the question is: should I enable this?

Whilst I can’t answer the first question, other than guess probably not given previous evidence of RSS readers and usage, I can possibly answer the second question.

Ian Betteridge (via Twitter, note) pointed me to this post by Rogers Cadenhead, who questions issues of scaling and firewalls. He gives the following example:

I publish the Drudge Retort, which has around 16,000 subscribers, including 1,000 who get the feeds using desktop software on their home computers. If I add cloud support and all of my subscribers have cloud-enabled readers, each time I update the Retort, my cloud update server will be sending around 1,050 notifications to computers running RSS readers — 1,000 to individuals and 50 to web-based readers.

That’s just for one update. The Retort updates around 20 times a day, so that requires 21,000 notifications sent using XML-RPC, SOAP or REST.

Imagine that for my 132 feeds in Bloglines.

WordPress’s backing shows that this is something to take seriously. But without further development, the decision will be down to server load and money versus the opportunities that real-time updates might bring for your offering, taking into account those who use your website.