Facebook: the app to bring RSS to the masses?

About a month ago, I wrote that I didn’t ‘get’ Facebook. But given the hype surrounding it, particularly in the media sector (as Sky’s Simon Bucks rightly points out), I’ve persevered – and it’s starting to make sense.

Facebook is absolutely nothing without its sociability. As I noted before, most of its actual content-based functionality is done better elsewhere. But it does the sociability thing better than anything I’ve ever seen. The ability to see the minutiae of everyone’s daily activity is addictive: so much so, that I’ve even set up the RSS feed in my desktop sidebar for a nigh-on real time view. There’s an undeniable thrill at being able to look through other people’s contact lists, to see if there are any names or faces you recognise. Plus of course, with so many users worldwide, it’s fun to see how many people out there share your name… and precisely what they look like.

As time goes on, I’m steadily reaching the unexpected conclusion that Facebook might actually be the app which brings RSS to the masses. IE7 hasn’t had the impact I expected. I’ve been using Vista for just under 24 hours, and I’m surprised that it didn’t force RSS upon me. Only Google Reader seems to have made a big splash in terms of ‘specialist’ applications. And then there’s Facebook.

So many of Facebook’s third-party applications are actually just consuming RSS (or something close to it) from other sources. And unlike most RSS usage scenarios, signing up to Facebook is a doddle. Even better, the first thing you see when you join Facebook is a bunch of your friends, particularly if you don’t mind it scanning your address book. Far more welcoming than a bunch of generic feeds that you probably aren’t at all interested in.

And crucially it’s the publisher (rather than the reader) who takes on responsibility for the RSS subscription process: I’ve imported the details of my blog, my Flickr account and my Jaiku account, all of which now feed into my Facebook stream. By signing up as my friend, you effectively sign up for RSS alerts from all my personal sources.

I’ve been using the web since early 1994. I still remember most of the ‘eureka!’ moments. The last one was when I realised how reliant I was on RSS feeds. Given the number of times I ‘just drop by’ Facebook at the moment, I’m wondering if this might be one in the making.

Quick update: as if to prove my point – the first example I’ve seen of (effectively) an RSS feed applet for a specific site. Techcrunch, inevitably.

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