Web feeds are not dead yet!


I remember using the web feeds (RSS and Atom) in Mozilla Firefox in the early 2000s. It was the time before social networks such as Facebook and Twitter took the web by storm. Sharing, liking, and retweeting didn’t exist at the time, and “following” certain blog or news site boiled down to bookmark the site. Novice users had to occasionally visit the bookmarked sites to check out new content, while advanced users simply refreshed their feed subscriptions.

Web feeds didn’t just simplify the way of tracking new content on your favorite websites. They allowed you to get the information in a central location, with a logical and structured view without ads (at least until navigating to the article’s page) and with minimal bandwidth usage (back then this was somewhat important).

The majority of the websites had the famous RSS icon in a visible position and some browsers (e.g. Mozilla Firefox) even displayed the same icon in the location bar, just to make it a bit easier and allow you to subscribe to the feed with a single click. Those who didn’t like the feeds in their web browser used dedicated feed readers, while others got hooked on online feed readers such as Google Reader (now discontinued).

So, where did all the feeds go?

Well, the web feeds didn’t go extinct, they just took a back seat when the popularity of social networks rose. With the new ways of promoting and consuming tailored/related/ad content and easier sharing of interesting content with other users, web feed popularity began to decline. In 2012 Twitter dropped support for RSS and Atom feeds, in 2013 Google announced they were discontinuing Google Reader, and in 2018 Mozilla announced that they will be dropping built-in web feed support with Firefox 64. Slowly, but surely web feeds were being pushed back.

I have to admit that I too rather quickly adopted Twitter as a feed reader replacement back in 2008. I followed every person/website that I found interesting, I used a simple (Hotot) Twitter client (when that was a thing), I was able to share cool stuff and discover new, interesting Twitter profiles.

Unfortunately, over the years, social networks became less appealing and too noisy. 3rd-party Twitter clients became a thing of the past, ads began to appear in my timeline and almost everyone I followed started to publish more and more irrelevant content.

Feed me

Recently I decided to check out if my bookmarked feeds still work. I was a bit disappointed when I was reminded that Sage feed reader was never ported to WebExtensions API, but thankfully someone created Sage-inspired feed reader addon named Drop feeds, which is almost identical to Sage.

Having fired up the new feed reader, I was surprised to see that majority of the feeds I was subscribed to were still working. Bear in mind, some of those were bookmarked 10+ years ago! Some feed URLs changed over the years and required manual correction, while a small portion was discontinued altogether.

All in all, it appears that RSS and Atom feeds are still present at most of today’s websites. Thankfully, modern CMSs didn’t drop web feed support yet!