I recently wrote a blog post about moving all my RSS readers to email subscriptions, and I immediately got 30+ negative comments on it. I'm planning to write a followup discussing the decision, based on a few datapoints below.
This is a draft, but would appreciate any feedback from the Q community.
RSS as a consumer-facing technology has been dying for years
First off, the image above is the Google Trends search on "rss" over the last few years. That tells you how many people are searching for RSS on Google. To me, that's the best indication that as a consumer-facing technology, there's been waning interest for years. Does any blogger want to bet on that as a long-term trend?
Now, it's true that over time it might be that RSS will stay, but just become more of an API - you'll see random blogs appear in places like Flipboard or Zite automatically - but the idea that people will see the little orange RSS button and click on it is a lost cause. (Oh, and searches for "google reader" don't fare well either)
Feeds are integrated readers, and they are winning
What's disrupting it is simple: Blogger, TypePad, and Wordpress were born in an era where we thought of blog networks as decentralized standalone properties. Turns out consumers don't care about that all. Instead, the formula of feeds plus following lets you have a vertically integrated reader, no RSS required. And if you look at the tremendous growth of everything from Twitter to Instagram to Tumblr, you can see that the integrated reader has won out.
It turns out the reader was a good idea, but not if it required people to know how to use RSS.
Email subscribers are 2x more active than RSS readers
From my own personal data from my blog, I know that although I theoretically have 5x more RSS subscribers than email, from a traffic standpoint, the mass of RSS subscribers don't make up for their numbers. On a per-email subscriber basis, I get about 2x the activity rate from people clicking links from RSS as compared to email.
So when it comes to the very practical question: What should I prompt my users to subscribe to? RSS or email? The answer is easy, go with email.
In otherwards, in order for the numbers to work out, I'd need an RSS prompt to convert at 2x as email to get the same activity level. Given that the market size and interest in RSS is decreasing over time, and a small vocal minority uses an RSS reader, I think it's pretty obvious where you want to go there.
Blogging is all about social feedback, and about relationships
There's a lot of reasons to blog, and a big chunk of it is intrinsic- it's just fun for me. On the other hand, it's also true that social feedback is important. You want an audience for whatever you write. Better yet, you want the audience to consist of people whose opinions you care about. One of the best aspects of email subscriptions (and Twitter) is that you can actually see who's taken interest in your work. You can even reach out to them and start a friendly conversation. Some of the most important relationships in my career have been made over email and Twitter. Funny, right? RSS, because it's fully anonymous, has none of these qualities.
Can a decentralized system be made to fix the above problems?
Possibly, and if you have an idea for how to do it, I'd love to hear more about it.
But until then, I repeat: RSS, I quit you. And if you're a blogger, you should join me too.