Despite that fact that some people think Twitter is a fad, there is a growing voice amongst social media that thinks Twitter has replaced RSS (Real Simple Syndication) as a news source. It has become a battle of speed vs. depth.
In case you are unfamiliar with them, RSS feeds are a stream of data from a Web site, usually a blog, that you can import into a feed reader such as Google Reader, and each time that site updates, the data is delivered to you as opposed to having to visit the site repeatedly. This has been a popular method for people in the tech field to gather information for a long time as there were just simply too many sites to visit in a day, but it hasn’t exactly been big with the mainstream Internet users.
As Twitter has grown in popularity, and many news outlets have added Twitter streams as ways to notify readers of news, there has been a growing voice that RSS is dead, and Twitter killed it.
The biggest proponent of this school of thought has been well-known tech evangelist Robert Scoble. In a post last October on his Posterous account, Mr. Scoble declared that he was giving up on using Google Reader and was only going to get his news from Twitter here on out. He cited reasons such as the speed of Google Reader, but his biggest argument was that news comes out instantly on Twitter, and then RSS catches up as you have to wait for people to write the posts about them, publish and then wait for it to get to your reader. Mr. Scoble went on to point out many ways one could get Twitter to bring them all their news by using lists.
The problem is that this is akin to getting your news via text message with no additional information to follow. In the 140 characters that Twitter provides, you have space for a headline like description of the story, but no depth. You are getting only the most cursory bit of information, while most people like some actual content to their news.
There is also a problem with the speed with which erroneous information gets passed around Twitter. Take for instance the disturbing trend of celebrity death stories cropping up almost every weekend on Twitter. All it takes is one or two people to ReTweet a false or inaccurate Tweet, and the bad information is passed around so quickly that there is no time for corrections to catch up with it.
One of the biggest problems with the idea of Twitter as a lone news source is the amount of effort involved to do it properly. While many people have said that through using lists — small collections of Twitter users you can sort any way you see fit — you can turn it into a powerful news gathering tool, it’s just too time consuming. Say you’re at work all day and can only check Twitter at night. Do you want to go to each separate list to see who updated and who didn’t?
With RSS it may take a while to update, there is no doubt there, but you have the benefit of deeper content, sorted the way you like by just glancing at a site’s name and the number of unread items next to it and you just have a lot more flexibility in general.
Am I biased towards RSS? Probably. I use both Twitter and RSS in my daily life, and quite frankly I just don’t have the time to watch each moment of Twitter. There is just too much information no matter how you sort it, and it requires constant moderation to use it properly. With RSS I know I can look away for a moment, with Twitter I feel like if I even blink I could miss the most important story of the day.
At the end of the day it is up to each individual to pick the solution that works best for them, but for your average user who doesn’t have every minute to devote to making sure they miss nothing on Twitter, RSS is probably the way to go.