June 3, 2014
One Weird Trick to Get Everything You Want

You probably heard about the Facebook executive who complained about the proliferation of “stupid stories about how you should wash your jeans instead of freezing them.” It’s almost too easy to be snarky about a Facebook guy who worries the Internet is awash in silly sponsored content. 

Besides, we know that silly sponsored content is not a benign issue. MetaFilter founder Matt Haughhey has written thoughtfully about how Google’s opaque and inscrutable ranking systems have been killing his business. He admits that, “we were doing nothing in terms of SEO, as I find the whole business kind of gross.” But because MetaFilter won’t play the ranking game, ad revenue has collapsed. Having thoughtful, high-quality content isn’t enough to get read.

The Internet is still full of great content. The problem is that the big Internet companies don’t do a good job of facilitating it. Well, that and advertisers and shameless self promoters are finding new and annoying ways to get in your face.

Last week, we wrote in defense of publishers’ right to get paid for advertising. But that’s just one part of the equation. The other half is providing a better way for quality content to be found. Or at least found without having to tart it up with stupid SEO tricks. 


I know that content syndication can be used and abused by some people for link building. But RSS is not an algorithm that can be gamed by advertisers and content hucksters. I know that it is still the best mechanism to find the content you want. You’re not going to be tricked into clicking on a link and you’re not having your newsfeed polluted with promoted content. 

And I think it is time to start talking about this. Sometimes I get the feeling RSS developers think of themselves caretakers of an established and respected institution. You know, the kind of institution that can keep catering to a dwindling number of dedicated and sophisticated followers but doesn’t bother attracting new users. RSS is not new technology. But it is outside of the mainstream content delivery that’s increasingly compromised by someone’s desire to sell you something. 

And if a Facebook executive is recognizing the mindlessness, other people are too. It’s time to reintroduce RSS to the world. How about telling people that there is a way to actually ask for content you want to see and actually have it delivered to you. It’s not a miracle or weird trick. Although it will probably seem that way to a few people. 

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