The Reason RSS Cloud Can Work Now
Rogers Cadenhead recently wrote a post “The Reason RSS Cloud Failed to Catch On“. In this he argues that RSS Cloud is not sustainable when it begins to scale to thousands of users needing to receive pings every time a post is made. While he has a point, I believe his argument is much more accurate when put into the context of 1999 as opposed to 2009, and it is even more irrelevant a few years from now. This points to one thing… RSS Cloud was ahead of its time.
Today, supporting RSS Cloud is cheap. Bandwidth is a fraction of a percent now compared to what is was 10 years ago along with cloud based virtual servers available for ~$10 / month. I’d suspect a properly tweaked VPS at the Rackspace Cloud or EC2 could handle millions of pings / day without issue. Unlike PubSubHubBub, the content of the post is not delivered with RSS Cloud, it is just a body-less ping, so bandwidth isn’t even an issue. A server supporting these types of capabilities back in 1999 would have cost thousands of dollars per month. Now? Just a few bucks. 5 years from now I suspect it will be free (example: Google App Engine is currently free and could be configured for this service).
Let’s go ahead and take into consideration the dream scenario with RSS Cloud, and that is that we have completely replaced Twitter. In this scenario Ashton Kutcher will have 5 million followers and will need to notify each of those followers when he tweets out 100 mundane posts / day. Let’s not kid ourselves and not think there is a middle man in there somewhere. These services are the “Cloud” portion of whole term. Just like Feedburner and Google Reader are proxies between publisher and reader now (by storing local caches of RSS feeds), there will be many services that would be happy to host the feeds, providing a web client to the reader and analytics to the publisher in turn receiving all the statistics they chew on. Proof? Twitter purchased Summize (search.twitter.com) and Google bought FeedBurner because they saw the value of this type of service. Afterall, the analytics portion of that is the whole business model that Twitter is rumored to be building.
But ok… let’s assume those “Cloud” services never pop up because, hell… I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t, but let’s just imagine they don’t exist. Solution? TURN OFF THE NOTIFICATIONS! That’s the beauty of RSS Cloud feeds, it’s completely backwards compatible with non-Cloud enabled feeds. If the Cloud server fails to send out notifications, then their subscribers will simply revert back to the old method of routine polls looking for new content. But, failing to notify your subscribers of new content in a sea of real-time has drastic consequences. Even if you are the first to report information, you will always be “scooped” by others because the lag caused by your inability to notify your subscribers. That alone will be enough to even the playing field. As a compromise, you could get away with just notifying a few dozen RSS aggregators (Google, Yahoo, Feedburner) to take care of the majority of your subscribers, and those using readers you don’t notify will revert to polls.
So as you can see, RSS Cloud is currently gaining traction because it wasn’t until now that it was a viable service for the masses. Even now there is very little support within the client portion of RSS Cloud, but I suspect that will be a battleground many will fight for in the next couple years.