A star-crossed romance lurches into embittered isolated loneliness

Broken Heart of Social Media shared CC by WebRanking Pictures

Sometime over the past couple years, the archives of the UBC e-Strategy Newsletter were pulled offline, the victim of re-organization. Apparently it was deemed unworthy of preservation. The vanishing newsletter hardly counts as a tragic loss as a collection of timeless prose, but as someone who wrote many newsletter articles over the years, it would have been nice to be notified. If nothing else, the newsletter archives served as an interesting series of snapshots from our university’s recent educational technology history, a period of near-constant change and notable innovations from many people.

We don’t care much about history in the field of educational technology. Perhaps that’s why after years of struggle to free ourselves from the clutches of proprietary information silos, so many of us are happy to jump right back onto platforms that are controlled by a new wave of groovy, ‘social’ corporate interests. But I digress.

The only reason I care to mention the e-Strategy Newsletter today is I wanted to reference a piece I wrote more than seven years ago. In this case, I was able to retrieve it via the Internet Archive, and whaddya know… I blogged the first draft as well. The piece was a silly little primer entitled “RSS: A Love Story”, a torrid tale of my new-found romance with a dreamy web-based protocol. To understand how exciting RSS was to me back then, you really needed to spend time trying to work without it… to understand how profoundly anti-social, needlessly complex and paranoiac most educational software systems were. I realize that I am romanticizing my memories here… but when we met RSS felt like a secret language that promised escape from grim realities, a sort of self-publisher’s samizdat. It was the foundation for some of my most enduring professional interests and relationships… I will never forget Stephen Downes’s relentless rip-job keynoting at the IMS Standards meeting, contrasting their rigid and barely-adopted metadata standards with that of RSS, “a cult, a way of life… a standard that enables, not requires.” It marked me as one of the Three Amigos… Scott takes some poetic license with the real energy and fun we had during that period in this funny reflection he did at Northern Voice a few years ago.

RSS to me exemplified openness and connection all at once… It was powerful, enabled wild things, yet was simple enough to get my head around. We worked hard to build an RSS remixer that got tantalizingly close to completion, and when we were forced to abandon the project we comforted ourselves by saying it was only a matter of time until somebody else answered the question, “what is eduglu“? Needless to say, it didn’t quite go the way we hoped

The prompt for this tiresome reflection is a piece making the rounds, cited by Stephen Downes, entitled “RSS Is Dying Being Ignored, and You Should Be Very Worried“. I won’t recap the argument other than to note that the trend of browsers to diminish their support of RSS is indeed very worrisome, and that it does seem to align with a more generally corporatized and less-open web. And while we still see plenty of examples of RSS making cool things happen (the whole notion of the PLE, open courses like #ds106, or the collected masterworks of Tony Hirst), it does seem like the movement of syndication to the mainstream has lost some steam, increasingly out of step with the “Like/ReTweet” web. See this disheartening piece by a prominent tech ‘thinker’ for an example of what I mean…

I’m hoping this is just one of those bumpy patches that can happen in any relationship… I really don’t want to move on just yet.

7 thoughts on “A star-crossed romance lurches into embittered isolated loneliness

  1. I’ve also noticed an increase in the “RSS is Dead” talk lately and it is worrisome. So much of the way I organize my life depends in RSS being pulled and mashed into Netvibes/Yahoo Pipes/Google Reader and a half dozen other places.

    I was quite disheartened recently to find out that the popular blogging platform Posterous does not have RSS comment feeds, which means that I now have to log into Posterous in order to see the comments people leave on my site. Big hassle when you are trying to monitor numerous conversations across a number of different platforms.

    I suspect most traditional medai publishers despise RSS as it takes eyeballs away from their sites and banner ads. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a real push by traditional publishers to get rid of RSS. At the very least, no tears would be shed or, I suspect, defenses mounted by trad media if RSS were to disappear.

    1. One other thing I noticed about Posterous – I could import my content from old blogs into it, but if there is an ‘export’ feature, I could not see it. Telling…

      I suspect the media angle you suggest is undoubtedly a factor (though they are pretty good at getting their ads into feeds). I think some of the trends around mobile devices (app-based subscriptions, the ‘like/tweet’ web referenced above) might be relevant as well…

      Maybe not related, but have you read this? http://www.ftrain.com/wwic.html

  2. Any post tagged http://abject.ca/tag/doom-mongering/ gets my vote for top 10 of the year, just can;t ind the like button. I was training students on UMW Blogs last week in a course, and it devolved into a 10 minute tirade on how their quest for convenience has killed RSS and made the web liable to the syndication machine that is Cable and network television to do their programming for them. It was a good one, and at the end I refused to talk about RSS cause none of them would use it anyway, because they are Facebook philistines. It was a highlight of my otherwise depraved week.

    All this to say, I’m afraid you might be right.

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