Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Hacks: Articles about programming in Python, Perl, Swift, BASIC, and whatever else I happen to feel like hacking at.

No more Twitter on masthead

Jerry Stratton, July 10, 2013

I’ve removed my twitter feed from the masthead. When Twitter offered an RSS feed, putting up the latest two tweets was trivial. I’ve looked at their new rules for using the JSON feed, and don’t feel any desire to make sense of them.

I wouldn’t even have bothered mentioning it, but in the process of trying to find out what was possibly going through their heads removing something so simple and easy to use, I ran across some very good blog entries talking about the wonders of RSS.

From Battle for the planet of the APIs:

In the web’s early days, AOL offered an alternative. “You don’t need that wild, chaotic lawless web”, it proclaimed. “We’ve got everything you need right here within our walled garden.”

Of course it didn’t work out for AOL. That proposition just didn’t scale, just like Yahoo’s initial model of maintaining a directory of websites just didn’t scale. The web grew so fast (and was so damn interesting) that no single company could possibly hope to compete with it. So companies stopped trying to compete with it. Instead they, quite rightly, saw themselves as being part of the web. That meant that they didn’t try to do everything. Instead, you built a service that did one thing really well—sharing photos, managing links, blogging—and if you needed to provide your users with some extra functionality, you used the best service available for that, usually through someone else’s API… just as you provided your API to them.

Then Facebook began to grow and grow. I remember the first time someone was showing me Facebook—it was Tantek of all people—I remember asking “But what is it for?” After all, Flickr was for photos, Delicious was for links, Dopplr was for travel. Facebook was for… everything… and nothing.

I just didn’t get it. It seemed crazy that a social network could grow so big just by offering… well, a big social network.

But it did grow. And grow. And grow. And suddenly the AOL business model didn’t seem so crazy anymore. It seemed ahead of its time.

From Lockdown:

This is how RSS and Atom have always worked: you put in some effort up front to get the system built,2 and in most instances, you never need to touch it. It just hums along, immune to redesigns, changing APIs, web-development trends, and slash-and-burn executives on “sunsetting” sprees.

RSS grew up in a boom time for consumer web services and truly open APIs, but it especially spread like wildfire in the blogging world. Personal blogs and RSS represented true vendor independence: you could host your site anywhere, with any software. You could change those whenever anything started to suck, because there were many similar choices and your readers could always find your site at the domain name you owned.

And from The web we lost:

Five years ago, most social photos were uploaded to Flickr, where they could be tagged by humans or even by apps and services, using machine tags. Images were easily discoverable on the public web using simple RSS feeds. And the photos people uploaded could easily be licensed under permissive licenses like those provided by Creative Commons, allowing remixing and reuse in all manner of creative ways by artists, businesses, and individuals.

For the moment, at least, RSS is still ubiquitous. I still pull the most recent photos out of my gaming Google+ page to display on the Gods and Monsters home page, for example, and still use Vienna to keep up-to-date on all of the blogs and news sites I read. If you don’t have an RSS feed, I may still bookmark your site—but I’m not going to remember to visit it regularly. If you distribute your updates via Facebook, and don’t spam your Facebook feed, I might add you there—but things get lost in Facebook. Even more so in Twitter, now that it has no RSS feed to track what’s been read and what hasn’t. I expect that, for the purpose of making things available to read, RSS will remain until something better comes along.

In response to Why I still use RSS: I still use RSS because connections regularly fail, especially to Twitter.