The Online Journalism Blog's Malcolm Coles calls on newspapers to kill their RSS feeds because no-one's using them. Some newspapers are churning hundreds of of their stories out into personal newsreaders, something that in the early days of RSS seemed a highly risky approach as it could, the sceptics believed, reduce the value of the on-site advertising as eyeballs were diverted elsewhere. It turns out that might have been a best-case scenario, with most newspapers having readers of their feeds numbering in the hundreds, some popular columnists in the paper mustering only a dozen readers on their online feed.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland we've not seen many attempts through 4iP
to crack the challenges of local and national news online, so I'm not sure how passionate discussion around this theme might be. But the demise in popularity of RSS feeds is not restricted to newspapers. On my own personal education- and creativity-focused blog
I've seen a stagnation in the number of regular, get-the-post-as-it's-published readers through my RSS feed, which hovers somewhere around the 5900 readers mark. Many subscribe to this for the added goodness of my daily dose of favourite online bookmarks
that gets included alongside blog posts. But the number clicking through to my blog posts from this feed has dwindled to about a third of what it was a year ago.
An education colleague and good friend in the Far East, Jeff Utecht, has found the same with his blog
Because of Twitters live constant scrolling feed, we also talked about how the “life span” of a blog post is shrinking. I use to get comments on a blog post lasting weeks. Now I post a blog, it gets a comment or maybe two in a the first 10 minutes, gets retweeted for about 20 minutes and then it’s old news. I’ve also been running tests about the timing of blog posts. Being in Thailand I found that blog posts that I posted on my lunch hour had fewer views then those that got posted late at night. I have a theory this has to do with time zones as most educational twitters are in North America. So I’ve set different blog posts to go live at different times and have found that I get more readers on a blog post if it is posted around 3pm EST. This is a great time to release a blog post as educators on the east coast are just getting out of school and checking Twitter, while educators on the west coast are checking Twitter over lunch. Depending on the blog post I can see views fluctuate by the 100s.
Likewise, the most popular referrer for my own blog and for 38minutes is... Twitter. Personal recommendation communities all over the Twitter network refer what they think are the best posts, leading users to perhaps waste less time seeking out the best (though they may lose an equal amount processing the information about John's dinner, Susan's ill cat and Jenny's discovery that she's paying too much for her electricity bill).
Personal recommendation communities are one way for newspapers (and bloggers at large) to increase the spread of their words and their thoughts. But in order to stimulate more meaningful conversation newspapers and bloggers are going to have to face up to another innovation in conversation of the past year: it's nearly all happening on Twitter, especially for more established 'brands'.
Take one post, posted here on 38minutes
and on the more 'corporate' feeling (I'm told) 4iP blog
, late last week. On 38minutes a conversation ensues, albeit amongst a few people. On the 4iP blog, nothing. The discussion on 38minutes was spread further on Twitter than the 4iP blog version, with a wider group of Twitterers who know each other (perhaps through 38minutes or perhaps just through meatspace connections) then able to comment back and forth, on the blog post, for sure, but also on Twitter itself, in soundbite 140-character conversational snippets.
The challenges of audience and conversation are never purely about technology, RSS or
Twitter. They're nearly always about the connections your most passionate users or community members have both
in the real world and online. My question for newspapers would be whether they really know who their online and realworld connectors and contributors are. If they don't, then they cannot hope to provide a space for them to find each other, to collaborate, communicate and comment on their sites and on the distributed networks of Twitter, Facebook et al.
This is where old journalism, the one-to-many communication through one medium - the article - , will be (is) fundamentally undermined. We all want to be involved in the investigation, uncovering, writing and rewriting, organising and distribution of the news, and newspapers that want to survive to this time next year need to scramble to find ways to allow us to.
Pic: Newspaper feed