inessential by Brent Simmons

RSS and email

You have no idea—or maybe you do—how much email I’ve been getting about how RSS can and should help with the problem of email.

The growing consensus is that email is broken. It’s been broken by spammers and viruses. (And stupid-but-scriptable clients.)

I don’t know if RSS is the answer or part of an answer or not.

When it comes to newsletters, I think it’s obvious that RSS is a great alternative. (Just ask Chris Pirillo.)

But what about mailing lists? Mailing lists are many-to-many. I love mailing lists; I subscribe to quite a few.

One possible solution is to have a weblog that people sign up to be able to post to. You can post but you can’t edit other people’s posts. You could comment on other people’s posts, though. And it would all be available via RSS.

This could be pretty nice, actually, assuming some good software for reading and writing. The important thing is that it be made as easy as joining a mailing list and reading and sending email.

So that leaves one-to-one and one-to-few email.

I’ve learned that some people are creating private RSS feeds to solve this problem. Here’s how it works: say you and I correspond often. I’d create an RSS feed just for you. It would be password-protected and encrypted, of course. Instead of sending you email, I’d add a post to the feed, and it would show up in your newsreader.

And vice versa—you’d create a feed for me.

I find this idea rather difficult, though. If you correspond with lots of people, it means creating lots of feeds.

This could be turned around, I suppose. Each person could have a feed that anyone else could add to. Then, instead of knowing someone’s email address, you’d have the address of their feed. (Or, more precisely, the URL of some posting interface. You couldn’t read their feed, you could just add to it.)

That might be more do-able.

But then, if it took off, wouldn’t a stupid-but-scriptable client come along to break the whole thing? I’m not sure how RSS itself can prevent that. A stupid-but-scriptable client would still attract viruses and security problems.

Anyway, I’m not proposing anything, just thinking about it, since I know that lots of you are thinking about this too.