WordPress just added a new feature called RSSCloud—and as unassuming as that sounds, it's going to have a potent effect on every WordPress blog: They're all going to get a little injection of real-time update action.
The blogging phenomenon already turned the publishing world on its head by getting the word out faster than traditional print media, but its begun to trail the latest fast-publishing phenomena like Twitter. And that's why WordPress just activated the RSSCloud code, which has been in the RSS2.0 specifications, but hasn't been implemented yet. The change is relatively small, but it lets RSS readers grab blog updates instantaneously instead of having to regularly poll the sites to check for changes.
Google tried to implement something similar recently—dubbed PubSubHubbub—but it's very likely it'll leap aboard the RSSCloud bus, as the company's been hotly-rumored to be desperate to get into more real-time data. So far the two RSS readers LazyFeed and River2 are leading the pack.
But there's a big question lurking behind all of this: For a while the "RSS is dead" discussion has been brewing on the Internet, as the relevance of RSS seems to be fading thanks to improved browser technology, and the rise of popular news aggregator blogs. So can the WordPress RSSCloud re-inject some life into RSS itself just as it makes WordPress blogs come alive with real-time updates? It depends on a number of things. The prime issue being uptake of the real-time code by readers—Google really has to get aboard. Then fans who read blogs will have to really value the added real-time feature of the RSS feed, or they'll find different ways to access their news. And finally it all comes down to how real-time the RSSCloud system really is. If you Twitter something, and simultaneously update your blog will the Tweet arrive first or will your RSS reader ping you? And if you update a blog posting, and then re-edit it, will the new edition be re-transmitted in the same way?
There's also an intriguing problem associated with a real-time blog update alert system: If your blog is hacked and malicious postings occur, they'll go out to all your followers in real-time. And if you think such a hack is unlikely, then it's not—Robert Scoble suffered a hack attack at his WordPress.org-hosted blog just last week. In his case the hackers deleted whole bunches of his posts, but a they could easily have used the platform to publish postings that would've reflected badly on Robert.
In the end, WordPress itself notes that it'll be pursuing more diverse ways of making blog fans aware of an update—including Twitter feeds. This means RSS is really just the first step in making WordPress blogs more real-time, and that can be taken as an indication it won't be the saving grace for RSS itself.