Report on RSS penetration

Paul Boag

Yahoo has published the first comprehensive research into RSS take-up. The results have made me reconsider how I present RSS feeds to the end user.

Key findings

The key findings of the report were as follows:

  • Awareness of RSS is quite low among Internet users. 12% of users are aware of RSS, and 4% have knowingly used RSS.
  • 27% of Internet users consume RSS syndicated content on personalized start pages (e.g., My Yahoo!, My MSN) without knowing that RSS is the enabling technology.
  • 28% of Internet users are aware of podcasting, but only 2% currently subscribe to podcasts.
  • Even tech-savvy "Aware RSS Users" prefer to access RSS feeds via user-friendly, browser-based experiences (e.g., My Yahoo!, Firefox, My MSN).
  • My Yahoo! has the highest awareness and use of any RSS-enabled product.

A good take-up level

Generally, I was very encouraged by the report. Although only 4% knowingly used RSS this did not concern me as 27% of internet users were consuming RSS without knowing it. The majority of people are probably only vaguely aware that the web pages they view everyday are built using HTML but that doesn’t stop people viewing sites.

Hard to add website feeds

What was more concerning to me is that 50% of people who did use RSS (whether they realised they were or not) only selected feeds from the default list made available by their newsreader. That means only 13.5% of internet users are actively adding feeds they find on third party websites.

It would appear from the report that this problem is largely due to the mechanism involved in adding a feed, and the terminology used. As an end user, you have to look for a feed button that could be labelled anything from "XML" to "web feed". Once I have found such a link I have to copy and paste that URL into the appropriate place in the newsreader. It is a messy process, which requires a high level of technical competence.

Yahoo provides a user-friendly approach

It would appear that Yahoo is firmly leading the pack when it comes to introducing RSS to the main stream. My Yahoo! Had the highest awareness level of any RSS enabled product with over 52% of internet users being aware of it. It also had the highest level of usage compared with its competition being 10% higher than its nearest rival.

In my opinion, this is due to the mechanism Yahoo has created for adding RSS feeds to its site. They have avoided hard to understand terminology and difficult subscription methods using their "My Yahoo" button. To add a RSS feed to their site all a user has to do is click on the "My Yahoo" button and they are done.

The future

This report provided an encouraging snapshot of the current penetration of RSS. I am sure that we will see continued growth of RSS and a broadening of the demographics that uses it. Currently RSS users are largely, young, educated, affluent men, but I am confident this will change in the same way that it has for the web as a whole.

My recommendations

So how should a website owner respond to this report? Well, if you do not already have an RSS feed on your site this report makes it clear you should certainly consider it. However, more significantly I think it highlights the need to change the way existing RSS feeds are presented. We need to change the terminology we use, support "quick add" functions like My Yahoo! and provide clear instructions on how to subscribe to a RSS feed.

In order to prove that I practice what I preach, I have reorganised the RSS feeds on this site. I now refer to them as website feeds, provide instructions on signing up for a feed and allow users to either access the feed directly or subscribe via My Yahoo!