How Many of You Subscribe to Topic Feeds?

Written by Richard MacManus / January 19, 2010 5:30 AM

5 years ago I wrote a prediction about RSS here on ReadWriteWeb. I proclaimed that "in the not too distant future, more people will subscribe to topic/tag/remix feeds than feeds of actual people."

I think it's fair to say that I was totally wrong on that prediction. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, in particular, many more people 'subscribe' to people than topics (subscribe a.k.a. 'follow' or 'friend'). And I'm glad my prediction didn't pan out, because the social graph of people is much more interesting to follow than a bunch of keywords. But it begs the question: what happened to all the promise of tracking topics using RSS?

While many of us use Google Alerts and apps like LazyFeed to track keywords and topics, that's still a relatively geeky thing to do.

In a follow-up post in January 2005, entitled Why Topic/Tag/Remix Feeds Are The Future of RSS, I wrote that "tools will evolve to let people easily set-up personalized searches for information relevant to them and subscribe to the results [using RSS]." I wasn't suggesting that conversations or people are unimportant. On the contrary, as I explained in '05, "topic/tag/remix feeds will make it even easier to find the conversations that matter to you and indeed you are more likely to meet new people and discover new points of view."

That has certainly happened, but not so much due to RSS - more because of Facebook and Twitter. While RSS did expand over those 5 years, social networking services became much more popular as ways to track information.

Also, online media has matured a lot over the past 5 years. Nowadays people commonly subscribe to blogs and other news media across a variety of niches - and that's how they keep up-to-date on topics of interest to them. For example, I subscribe to NPR All Songs Considered and Pitchfork (amongst other sites) to get the latest alternative music news.

Both of these trends (the rise of the Social Graph; and maturing of professional niche media) have made topic feeds from the likes of Google Alerts less attractive than I thought they'd be 5 years ago.

However, I still believe in the promise of topic-based RSS feeds. Indeed I currently use a number of services to track a set of topics of interest to me. One is Google Alerts, which I have set up as RSS feeds in Google Reader. Plus I use a couple of services that launched just recently, LazyFeed and Regator.

Sadly, the promising services of 2005 - such as PubSub and Feedster - haven't made it as far as 2010 (although last year PubSub was born again under new management).

It's possible that LazyFeed and Regator won't last either, but let's hope that a startup soon finds the key to unlock the potential of topic feeds.

In the meantime I'm curious to know if you subscribe to topic feeds? If so which tools, if any, do you use to track topics? Please leave a comment. I'll write a follow-up post later this week, highlighting the best apps that are mentioned.