For a couple of years now, I've been addicted to RSS. I would estimate that the vast majority of the online content that I consume, I consume through feeds. I'll tell anyone who asks that I would be perfectly happy if I never had to visit a destination site again (as impractical as that may be.)
But recently it has come to my attention that I may be using RSS improperly and, man, that makes me feel weird. In an email exchange a couple of weeks back, referencing my complaint that a nice pickup by Adweek and the resulting traffic spike netted me only two new subscribers, Steve Coulson pointed out that getting someone to subscribe is the equivalent of getting to "fourth base." You typically need multiple touches (er, pun intended), the person needs to visit your blog at least a few times to really get a feel for it, before they're ready to take the RSS plunge. Steve's not alone in this assertion -- I've seen plenty of other bloggers write about RSS as the reader loyalty holy grail.
I get it, but this isn't how I use RSS personally to manage the flow of content. Of course I subscribe to the blogs I love -- that's a no brainer -- but I also subscribe to lots of bloggers that I've only just "met." In fact, the first thing I do upon discovering a new blog (mostly marketing blogs) is subscribe to the feed.
What if I didn't subscribe right away? Would I ever find that blog again? Is it likely that I'd get to sample its content a second, third or fourth time?
Probably not. I'll never remember your URL; I probably won't even remember your name or where I came across the link to your site in the first place. I might eventually find you, but it will probably require lots of Googling and some old school hunt-and-peck. This is time consuming and, more likely than not, unsatisfying.
I could bookmark you the old fashioned way -- in my browser. But then I'd have to scour my long bookmarks list and, once I find your blog buried in there somewhere, I'd have to actually visit your site. Isn't it a bigger commitment to visit your site than it is to have your updates come to me?
So for me, subscribing may actually be the lowest level of commitment. After all, scanning the headlines from a new blog takes seconds -- and if after a week or two I realize that I'm not such a fan after all, it only takes one click to drop the feed out of my reader. No second thoughts -- I gave you a shot and you just weren't for me. Maybe we'll meet again, somewhere down the road. But once I'm eating your feed, if you last more than a few weeks we're probably going to have a long, meaningful relationship.