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How will people configure their information consumption options in the future?

(Note: I actually wrote this in March, but forgot to actually finish it, much less publish it. Since Google Reader is about to go away, however, the post is even more timely than it was before. Perhaps I should have waited until June to publish it.)

I should start this my making two disclosures that will be relevant by the end of this post. The first is that Jesse Stay is old. The second is that I am even older than Jesse.

Why are these facts relevant? Because for several years, both Jesse and I have chosen to consume information via something known as an RSS reader. RSS stands for either Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, and its purpose is to extract information from a source (such as a newspaper website or a blog) and present it somewhere else. The information reaches the “reader” (either the RSS software, or the person using the RSS software) by means of “feeds” that present all or a portion of the original content to the reader. A good RSS reader allows you to organize these feeds; for example, I can take all of my RSS feeds that relate to California’s Inland Empire and place them in an Inland Empire folder. If I want to see what’s going on in the Inland Empire, I can just look at that folder.

While there were many RSS readers a few years ago, things changed when Google entered the market and created a software application called Google Reader. As Google Reader became more popular, other readers died off or became frozen in time, not introducing any new features and not fixing any bugs.

After a series of unfortunate events (documented elsewhere), Google announced that it would discontinue Google Reader by the middle of the year. While some sought out those alternative RSS readers that were still around, others instead declared that “RSS is dead.” Those who believe the latter asked themselves, what next? How will we get information?

Jesse Stay suggested that an older technology may become the new alternative:

While RSS is great for B2B applications of sharing information and likely won’t go away, from a consumer perspective I think email has won this battle. If your site, which previously had a “subscribe via RSS” button on it doesn’t also have a “subscribe by email” button, it probably should. It is evident to me that while many are searching for a new RSS reader that the answer for many trying to guarantee delivery of content will actually be email.

But while Stay’s suggestion makes sense for him, and for me, does it make sense for everybody? It may not:

Email use dropped 59 percent among users aged 12-17, as well as 8 percent overall, according to ComScore’s 2010 Digital Year in Review. Users between 18-54 are also using email less, though among those 55 and older, email actually saw an upswing.

Young people are turning to social networks to communicate instead–the activity accounts for 14 percent of time spent online in the U.S.. That growth is fueled largely by Facebook….

Now that post is over two years old, and there is at least anecdotal evidence that some teens have even rejected Facebook and the like for newer services. But let’s assume, for the moment, that teens will use Facebook-like services such as Facebook or Google+ to consume information. (I’ll confess that as my Google Reader use has decreased due to the series of unfortunate events, my use of Facebook and Google+ to consume information has increased.)

How will teens get their information then? Through Facebook’s fake email address? Maybe. Maybe not.

Twitter? Twitter has huge volume, and if you’re subscribing to a few hundred people, there’s a good chance that you won’t see every tweet from those people. You could set up lists, but Twitter doesn’t have the elegance of an advanced RSS reader that retains items until you act upon them, or of an email application that retains items until you act upon them.

Perhaps I have to rid myself of the idea that everything has to be reviewed. If I see a company’s tweet, that’s great. If I don’t, too bad. (I hope this doesn’t lead companies to retweet every hour to guarantee that I’ll see their content.)

What do you think of the future of information consumption?

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2 thoughts on “How will people configure their information consumption options in the future?

  1. John:
    I think it will be all-of-the-above. A lot of readers will want e-mail. A lot of others, news-junkies like you and me, will need an RSS reader (or whatever replaces it), and a lot of others will go with Twitter or Facebook or the next new thing. Likely to be too many in any one channel to ignore that audience.

  2. By the way, what do you percieve will be the most popular choices for people replacing Google RSS?

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