October 24th, 2004
Over at Apophenia, Danah Boyd suggests that RSS feeds, like email, are primarily being used by the older generation: she says it's Instant Messaging and SMS that's got the attention of 'youth,' and the main type of feed they're interested in is their LiveJournal Friends Feed.
I don't doubt that the preference for IM over email exists, or that the preference is reversed on the other side of the age divide. As a fortysomething who's been using email for a dozen years, I have very little use for IM: I have ICQ, AIM and Yahoo! Messenger accounts, but I rarely bother to fire up my IM client. The main reason I prefer email to IM is that I like being able to time-shift my electronic communications. I wonder how long it'll take the generation which is growing up now with SMS and IM to decide that they want the ability to decide when they'll be bothered by incoming messages?
I understand that the generation gap with respect to IM is a real phenomenon, but I'm not at all sure that any of this has much to do with the take-up of news feeds. I'd guess that the reason for the relatively small-scale use on the part of young and old internet users alike is twofold. First of all, other than weblogs (which are still far from a mainstream phenomenon) not that many web sites outside the techie sector offer newsfeeds, and many of those which do are news sites: given that we're always being told that younger people aren't interested in news, isn't it to be expected that they'll have found less reason to use RSS feeds than we older types?
Second, for the most part users still have to go out and find, install and configure yet another application in order to make use of newsfeeds. At the moment only information junkies are particularly aware of the advantages of RSS and Atom: that is, those who (like me) have a horrendously long list of bookmarked sites they'd like to keep up with on a regular basis. As more web browsers integrate RSS/Atom feeds into their bookmarking systems (as OmniWeb and Firefox do, and the next version of Safari will) and online portals routinely start offering to include syndicated content in users' home pages, newsfeeds will become at once more ubiquitous and less visible.