Blogging healthy, RSS not so much

People claim that dedicated personal weblogs and anonymous XML syndication are the past. The future belongs to the walled gardens of social networks where every user interaction is tracked for advertising profits. But are blogs and RSS feeds really dying, or are they just momentarily less prominent than Facebook’s Like circus? I dug up some numbers to decide this question.

Usage Statistics

First, let’s examine the three major blogging services. The following numbers include “real” weblogs as well as news outlets and other companies, but I’ll assume that these free services are mostly used by individual bloggers. We’ll get to self-hosted blogs in a minute. There are also a variety of smaller services, such as TypePad, which I’ll skip here.

  • Blogger doesn’t seem to publish statistics. Blogging.org claims 203 million blogs worldwide in mid-2012, on any system, with a 35% Blogger share in America. Using this share as a global estimate yields 71 million Blogger users… but now we run into trouble. The same survey’s 43% WordPress share in America would scale to 87.3 million users globally, and there are at most 68.6 million today. Assuming that the ratio of Blogger’s and WordPress’s market shares scales globally, we arrive at 55.8 million Blogger users today, and that’s probably the best guess we can get.

  • Tumblr advertises 90.6 million blogs with a remarkable 87 million posts per day, indicating that most of these blogs are in active use. The service is noteworthy for its recent rapid growth, nearly doubling since 03/2012, even while blogging was supposed to be dying. Tumblr is sometimes called a “microblogging” service like Twitter but that’s nonsense – it’s a full-scale blogging service, suitable for long posts.

  • WordPress.com advertises 60.2 million blogs, with 33.9 million posts and 11.5 million pages published last month. The latter figures are relatively low, which might imply a large proportion of dead blogs. However, the long-term charts for page views and posting activity all show an intact (if uneven) upward trend.

Self-Hosted Weblogs. There’s also WordPress.org which provides its CMS for self-hosting, but sadly no installation statistics. BuiltWith’s Top in CMS list shows 8.4 million WordPress installations. That includes many websites that aren’t weblogs, but also some that host multiple individual blogs. Still, this number is small compared to the free hosting services, and the additional numbers for Blogger (455k) and Tumblr (170k) are negligible. The complete list of CMS-driven websites adds up to less than 16 million.

Atom/RSS Syndication. Very little data is available here. Google’s 09/2010 update shows explosive Google Reader growth but that was over two years ago, and Google again provides no numbers. Nor could I find any sales data on my favorite Windows and iOS readers, FeedDemon and Reeder. Google Play shows “1–5 million” installations (it’s no more precise than that) during the last 30 days for Google Reader and its popular competitor gReader. A few million is quite good – but two orders of magnitude smaller than either the total Android install base or the user bases of the big social networks Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, all of which number in the hundreds of millions. The official apps for these networks all show a matching “100–500 million” installations on Google Play, too.

Conclusion

Blogging itself is very healthy. The total number of weblogs can be safely estimated well above 200 million, competitive with the number of users on the major social networks. On the other hand, XML syndication appears to have only a few million users, which raises the question of exactly how all those blogs are getting read – if they are getting read at all. WordPress.com and other services have their own internal subscription methods, but I find it hard to believe that anyone (except spammers) would only want to follow blogs on the same service, or else register with multiple services just to read their blogs. The one alternative that comes to mind is Twitter, and tweeting one’s latest posts has indeed become all but obligatory for bloggers.

While Twitter could work as an RSS replacement, that would be a shame. XML syndication is unlike any social network in that it’s totally private, transmitting only the inevitable IP address. Publishers cannot collect marketing information on their subscribers, and subscribers cannot push spam to the publishers. Besides, Atom and RSS are standard formats that allow interoperation between arbitrary services and clients – the opposite of locking users into walled gardens. No wonder Twitter is deprecating Atom/RSS while Google+ has never supported syndication in the first place. We can only hope that the ever-increasing pressure to monetize users will aggravate them enough to fuel a renaissance of XML syndication before it’s gone for good.

2 thoughts on “Blogging healthy, RSS not so much

  1. MishaBurnett

    I suspect that many people are using social networking sites as blog aggregators, both the big ones like Facebook and the more specialized ones such as GoodReads. I know I do.

    XML syndication has a reputation for being user unfriendly, I can recall trying to configure an XML feed for my LiveJournal account and having to write a lot more code into it than I was comfortable with–that may have changed. Also, I don’t have a job where I can check my e-mail on a regular basis, and it’s easier for me to scroll through my Facebook page and click on the links I want than to wade through a couple of dozen e-mail messages in order to see what people have been up to.

    Reply
    1. cnahr

      Thankfully, XML syndication is quite unproblematic on the current blogging systems. But it’s true that you need a separate dedicated reader, and that’s likely a big hurdle when people already use some social network client to check up on new things.

      Agreed about e-mail subscriptions, I didn’t mention them because I also assumed everyone would hate getting even more automated e-mail! I occasionally use them to follow comments but never for post subscriptions.

      Reply

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