Study: RSS Still Not Widely Adopted

New research from Yahoo and Ipsos suggests that although blogs and feeds are trendy among the technorati, awareness of RSS remains quite low among most U.S. based internet users.

The study found that only 12% of all users were aware of RSS, and just 4% had knowingly used the technology for reading feeds from blogs, news sources and other regularly updated content sources on the web (if you're unfamiliar with RSS, see the SearchDay series, What is RSS, and Why Should You Care?).

An interesting twist on those numbers, however, is that 27% of users actually consume RSS on personalized start pages without realizing that it's the underlying technology enabling what they read. Sites such as MyYahoo, MyMSN, and the Firefox browser with its active bookmarks provide easy access to regularly updated RSS feeds with little or no effort from users.

Who's using RSS? Among aware users, the majority are male (71%), between 18-34 (50%), with a college level or higher education (67%) with an average income of $74,000.

What kids of feeds are people reading?

World and national news are the two most popular categories, with 52% subscribing. Roughly a third of all users subscribe to entertainment, science and technology, weather and local news feeds. Surprisingly, although blogs and RSS feeds are often confusingly interlinked in people's minds, just 22% use RSS feeds to follow blogs.

Why do people like RSS? Ease of use and choice of content are top reasons. Another surprising finding was that just 7% of users liked RSS for its instant updating capability, a core benefit of the technology.

Other stats shed light on how much RSS content is being consumed. Among RSS users, the average number of feeds people subscribed to is 6.6, and on average people spent 4.1 hours per week reading feeds.

The study suggests that users of more advanced RSS aggregators such as NewsGator or FeedDemon might be more likely to subscribe to a greater number of feeds. But the survey also found that even tech-savvy users preferred simpler, web-based feed readers. Unsurprisingly, My Yahoo was the favorite, used by 52%. Firefox's live bookmarks followed, with 47% and My MSN was next, with 27%.

It should be noted that Yahoo has done more than just about any other major search engine or content provider to publicize RSS and make feeds easy to access and consume. The "add to my yahoo" program that allows content publishers to place a button on a page that automatically subscribes a feed to the user's My Yahoo subscriptions has proven quite popular. You can also easily subscribe to feeds that appear in Yahoo web search results.

Yahoo's findings suggest that RSS awareness and usage is static, primarily the domain by savvy internet users. In a study on the state of blogging by the Pew Internet Life Project last January, just 38% of all users knew what a blog was, but 5% said they used an RSS reader or aggregator to get news and information from frequently updated web sites and blogs.

What about the current podcasting craze? Despite all of the hooplah and media giants rushing to join the bandwagon, fewer than 28% of all internet users are even aware of podcasting, and just 2% actually consume podcasts.

The study was conducted on behalf of Yahoo by Ipsos Insight, which surveyed 4,038 respondents during August of this year.

A white paper describing the study is available here:
RSS: Crossing into the Mainstream (pdf)

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.