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Someone asked me recently:

“I’m curious, do you think Twitter could completely replace RSS?”

It’s an interesting question and one that I felt deserved an answer.

I’ve come across a lot of content in my research about how and why Twitter is a suitable replacement for RSS. It’s true that when Google Reader died, it took a lot of other readers services with it. For a lot of people, it served as a nice platform to rekindle this long-standing debate.

While I believe that Twitter is an equally helpful tool for keeping up with news, I’m not convinced that it can replace RSS.

Here’s why.

Different Tools for Different Tasks

Twitter is a place to share your interests, discover the latest news, and discuss the topics that matter to you. On the other hand, RSS technology is used to deliver web content from blogs, news sites, podcasts, etc. to your chosen reader service.

The problem with trying to say that Twitter can replace RSS readers is that even with its updated profiles and list features, Twitter is still a service that was built for a completely different purpose.

I use both Twitter and RSS for content discovery. However, my reasons for choosing one over the other depends on what I wantI go to Twitter to find out what’s happening and discover what others are sharing. I use my reader to stay informed about the topics that interest me using sources I hand-picked.

Too Much Noise

Another big problem with Twitter is the extra noise. Even if you curate an amazing list of accounts to follow, you’d be hard-pressed to find one editor who tweets pure content from their Twitter profile.

For example, I just looked at Jason Kottke’s account (kottke.org is one of my favorite places to find cool stuff), and found this tweet pinned to the top:

He curates awesome content on his blog, but this is a great example of my main problem with using Twitter to get my news updates. Even when you follow great people, you still have to wade through tweets that have little or nothing to do with news.

Twitter is a space for self-expression, which means it also comes with a deluge of rants, debates, and random thoughts shared on the way into the office. That’s what people expect when they go there, and it’s part of the reason we all enjoy it so much.

But it’s not what I want or expect when I log into my reader.

Twitter Doesn’t Stop For You

I’m not completely against the idea that Twitter might be a nice alternative to RSS, especially if you’re using it for entertainment purposes. However, as someone who depends on curating great content for work, Twitter has another major limitation.

It never stops.

If you step away from your computer (and you will), you’ll miss content from the people you follow. Twitter is useful, but it’s meant to provide up-to-date and in-the-moment information. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find everything you’ve missed.

With an RSS reader, you have the ability to quickly scan all the updates from your feeds that have been published while you were away.

Lists Are Not Feeds

While both Twitter lists and RSS feeds are time-savers since you can curate content into a single location, they are not the same solution.

Here are some of the main differences:

  • Feeds allow you objective access to content without a 140-character limit.
  • Lists are made up of tweets from another person, meaning your content is chosen for you.
  • The main focus in tweets is often the added commentary rather than the linked content.
  • You know exactly what you’re going to get from a feed.

Perhaps, the biggest advantages to using an RSS reader is the ability to organize items with categories, saved items, and Read/Unread. You can quickly move through your updates and manage what you’re reading. Twitter lists act as a filter for cutting through the noise, but there’s no easy way to organize those tweet, even if you use third-party apps like Tweetbot or Tweetdeck.

Image Credit: Fredrik Wass

What about you? Do you think RSS can be replaced with Twitter? 

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