It was 2004 and I was excited: I was writing my own server-side RSS aggregator. It would be one that needed no DB, just a couple flat files, which allowed for simplicity in management and installation that other similar projects didn't have. "No MySQL setup, just drop the PHP files in a folder of your Apache server".
Up until then, we hold high the Web as the platform that gave everyone the right to independent publishing. RSS was the missing piece that allowed un-intermediated delivery of what we published: If you liked what I wrote, you could subscribe to my own personal channel, my RSS feed. At last, we had a decentralized content distribution mechanism.
When I was a kid, I would hear that one day each one of us would receive our own personal edition of the newspaper, published to fit our specific interests. It sounded like a science fiction scenario, but in the early 00s, it was real: It was my RSS aggregator, that showed me posts coming from sources I had hand-picked.
I know, it wasn't massively popular. But it was growing, and it felt like we could get there. My colleagues, at the advertising agency I was working at the time, started using RSS. My non-techie girlfriend would start using RSS. RSS readers were getting at the point where they could be used by the uninitiated.
Fast forward about a decade. A couple of days ago, I shared the most recent "RSS is not dead" post I came across, on... twitter.
Nowadays, 99% of people who want to subscribe to your content will connect with your Facebook page or your Twitter account. Decentralized, un-intermediated RSS gave its place to centralized content distribution governed by a couple commercial entities, like Facebook and Twitter.
Don't get me wrong: These are amazing products that have influenced the world in a positive way. The problem is that the companies behind them have full control over what is delivered to whom, how it is delivered, and when it is delivered. They set the rules. They choose what has priority over what. What to show and what not. They decide if and how much delivery costs.
It's 2014 and the only widely used technology we have to create an un-intermediated channel between a publisher and a subscriber is... email. [*] Email? Really? A technology older than the Internet?
[*] Unless Google screws that too of course, like they did with RSS and Google Reader.