The controversy started because of Firefox which has an open issue on removing the feed icon in the toolbar. Mozilla made a very interesting usability survey about what is used and not used in the toolbar of Firefox, and they found out that "only 3%–7% of users use the RSS button on the toolbar".
It may mean a few things.
- People do not care about feeds.
- People do not know what is it.
- People do not understand what is it.
The issue is not knowing why it is not used. Maybe the browser vendors should all do the same kind of survey with a more refined analysis to really understand what is happening. The tools inside the browsers for handling RSS feeds are often poorly designed and lack a bit of help for new users. They assume most of the time that people will understand what 1) the icon means 2) the principles behind this icon. There are plenty of software out there to manager your feeds, but none are really easy to use if you are a new user. It is mostly disconnected from the daily user experience. People are mostly used to the email because they have to work with it. People never really had to work with feeds, except those tracking information.
Opera browser has an integrated mail application with an RSS reader and there is a short screencast to explain how to add feeds to your reading flow. Still in my suboptimal, we (browser vendors) really need serious usability studies to better integrate this feature (if necessary) in the flow of people's information consumption.
Update 10:34am EST: It seems that some people misunderstood what I was saying here. So let's get a bit deeper.
- We need better usability studies for understanding what is really happenning
- RSS buttons might be a wrong metaphor for subscribing to feed readers (see above)
- Subscription and reading are too different things, but saying RSS is dying when one button disappears is inflammatory
- The issue is wider than feeds itself, it is about interchange flow of information. For example, you can't comment about a blog post in your feed reader. *That* is an issue.
- a few more issues