We stan for really simple syndication

Elevenist is a site that’s meant to enable people to do two things: keep track of sites that they consistently like and get recommendations from their network of fresh new posts that fit their interest.

Elevenist relies heavily on a piece of technology that’s been wired into the web from basically the beginning (or close enough) called really simple syndication (or “RSS”). The format publishes a machine readable page that makes it easy to pull the content from the website (but little of its formatting) and copy it over to another website.

RSS makes it dead easy for one website to look and see if anything new has popped up on another website.

Here’s what we’ve learned about how people interact with the web here several decades in: Individuals have a hard time remembering to go back and check sites they have visited directly. Even sites they like!

In terms of driving people to remember to come back and look at a site, social media has a lot of things going for it. An underappreciated feature of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter: they are unitary. They are one website or app to visit that will let a person know about lots of new stuff.

So Elevenist is trying to bring that unitary benefit of one site to go to and find what’s new without a lot of the more brain warping facets of social media. We’ll see if we can worm our way deeply enough into some people’s minds to become a regular stop. Who knows!

But we are doing RSS a little bit differently than our predecessors. RSS makes it easy to copy all the content from a page (the text, the photos, etc) and hoover that out to another site.

We don’t do that. We think the web has gotten a lot better since the early days of RSS and also the business model has come more clear. Websites want to know that people visited. They want those traffic counts. Knowing someone hit your RSS feed isn’t as good as a visitor.

And for readers, we want them to see content as it was intended. Even the best RSS feeds cause buggy weirdness when they republish on other sites, so forget it! All we are snagging from sites is the basic info: title, site name, date published and the short description pushed out with each post. It’s enough information for a reader to decide if they want to visit.

If they do want to read it, though, they need to click over to the site. And we hope they do!

Halcyon days

RSS has been languishing since 2013, when Google killed off the dominant tool for using it, Google Reader. By that point, publishers had come to feel ambivalent (at best) about the technology (and its descendants).

First of all, it’s fair to feel pretty weird about a technology that basically steals all your writers’ hard work and posts it somewhere else that you don’t control. Further, some felt it actually robbed them of key traffic and made it hard to prove to partners that they were as influential as they thought they were.

Deep down, it often seemed like the idea of RSS was in fact to actually republish on other sites. After all: syndication is an idea from newspapers, where one writer would send work around to lots of publications and they would all run it.

Why would a site want to make it “really simple” for other websites to take their content and some portion of their viewership with it? It’s one of those notions from the utopian early days of the web. It’s nice to think about things that way, but it was never going to work.

For a highly readable history of this format, read “The Rise and Demise of RSS” from Vice.

So the ambivalence from culture creators is understandable, but if RSS can be used in a way to help good publications increase the stickiness of their audience, then Elevenist is their ally on the road to sustainability.

Right now, the move is to switch over to email subscriptions, but newsletter fatigue is coming. There’s already too much going on in our inboxes. Folks want somewhere else to go and take this stuff in. Good news! Elevenist works great with the newer newsletter services, such as Substack.

Because of the decline of RSS, it can be hard to find the code for a site these days. So, fine, we are finding them on readers’ behalf. That’s largely the point of this blog! If you want to see our latest finds, sign up for and/or log in to Elevenist and subscribe to Elevenism with the link below.