For Whom the RSS Feeds

“E-Mail is for Old People.” That’s the title of an article appearing by Dan Carnavale in the October 6 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. (The article is currently available without registration — as of October 2.)
Carnavale notes that many undergraduate students have moved on to newer, communications media — instant messaging, text messaging via cell phone, and web 2.0 sites like Facebook and MySpace. He notes that,

A 2005 report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project called “Teens and Technology” found that teenagers preferred new technology, like instant messaging or text messaging, for talking to friends and use e-mail to communicate with “old people.”

Newer, trendier — or perhaps just plain better — technologies have the attention of undergraduates and their juniors. Some schools have created a quasi-official presence in MySpace or Facebook and maintain it with much of the information that might have been exclusively posted by email a year or two ago.
RSS is not mentioned in this item; it’s a bit different a beast, admittedly. But the article got me thinking: just who is reading all my carefully constructed RSS feeds anyway? If RSS is a significant chunk of your library’s public relations and announcement effort, is it effective — particularly if the generation of people that seem natural users of it happen to see RSS as too unidirectional and “email-like.”
When I look at the server statistics on this blog, or on my library’s blog, I see lots and lots of hits from aggregators and search engines. And lots for Magpie, which I use with Feed2JS to reprint announcement headlines on my library’s home page. While some aggregators are kind enough to tell me that they’re acting on behalf of so many subscribers (sadly, that’s “so many” is far too often ‘1’ when it’s RSS4Lib, and I know that the aggregator is toiling away for me alone, a remnant of my exploring aggregators using my own feed), the hits-per-subscriber ratio assumes I publish more frequently — a LOT more frequently – -than I do.
Perhaps because it so darned easy to create an RSS feed out of almost any source — blogs and wikis, of course, but also content management systems, databases, you name it — and because it is so flexible, RSS is destined to fade into the background, just another piece of the infrastructure of the information age. Yet the promise of being able to skim and dip one’s intellectual toes into the information stream makes it more valuable than it seems. Ask not for whom RSS feeds, for it feeds for you…