Why Facebook and Twitter won

I wrote this as a comment on Mike Caulfield’s post about Twitter and Facebook.

Mike, I think the key thing that Twitter and Facebook do well that RSS did not do well is subscription. Suppose I want to subscribe to the RSS feed for this site. Count the number of steps to do this.(I just did it, it took 6 steps.)

In Twitter if I want to follow someone, I just click on the Follow icon and it’s done. (It’s gotten a bit more complex over the years, but not much.)

We identified that problem before there were other RSS aggregators and came up with a proposal for everyone to follow to make it easy, but they all invented their own buttons. I’m sure you remember the crazy mess of icons on websites, for a period, until people gave up on it.

Also if you look at how the vendors supported RSS, they were creating their own namespaces with data in them that could have been represented just as easily using the common elements. Apple was the worst with their iTunes namespace. So writing an aggregator kept getting more complicated. Then there was the proliferation of RSS versions. And the flaming on the mail lists (if this goes on much longer, the flaming will show up here too).

Google Reader came much later, and it did it’s own number on RSS by first dominating, sucking in all the other readers to their runtime and then shutting down. They couldn’t have done more damage if they tried

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