The truth about RSS

If you think RSS feeds are giving you the same stories that you can find on a news site, think again. It’s true that the ubiquitous little orange square that one increasingly finds on websites can be a gateway to a world of content. But is using RSS a reliable way to stay informed about ...

602162_rss_study_home_05.jpg
602162_rss_study_home_05.jpg

If you think RSS feeds are giving you the same stories that you can find on a news site, think again. It's true that the ubiquitous little orange square that one increasingly finds on websites can be a gateway to a world of content. But is using RSS a reliable way to stay informed about the world itself?

If you think RSS feeds are giving you the same stories that you can find on a news site, think again. It’s true that the ubiquitous little orange square that one increasingly finds on websites can be a gateway to a world of content. But is using RSS a reliable way to stay informed about the world itself?

Not yet. A new study from the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda concludes that RSS feeds work very poorly for anyone who uses news for more than infotainment. The study looked at 19 of the world’s top news sites to determine which news outlets use RSS well—which outlets give users the range of information on their feed readers that most closely approximates what can be found on the home website.

Among the best: The LA Times, BBC World Service and Fox News.

Among the worst: Al Jazeera, The Guardian and the New York Times.

Rather than RSS, the study found, casual news consumers users should just stick with Google’s Top Stories. The problem is that many news outlets don’t want to share all the news that’s on their site—especially stories that are not staff-written or produced. One reason may be that such stories, such as those by AP or Reuters, don’t carry the “brand” of the news organization. But without those stories, many RSS feeds are not truly delivering news 24/7 and, in addition, lack the breadth of news their home sites deliver.

As a result, RSS users have no idea what they’re missing. The study illuminated how difficult it was to get even all of the staff-generated stories from “today” via RSS feeds. And without going back to the home site and checking, a user doesn’t know exactly what is NOT being sent via the RSS feeds. What’s more, the study uncovered, just because two separate news outlets both have feeds labeled “International” hardly means that they have decided to send the same type or quantity of news through their feeds.

For complete examinations of these and other findings, take a look at the full study here.

Susan Moeller is director of ICMPA and associate professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park.

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