Feedly as a barometer of taste

Run on empty: (v) The feeling that all of one’s social networks have been exhausted of new information, leaving the user in an “empty” state of boredom, refreshing websites repeatedly, perhaps.

Example: “Hook me up with some links bro, I’m totes running on empty.

A while back, McSweeney’s ran Brandon Scott Gorrell’s useful (and laugh out loud hilarious) list of “Proposed Additions to the Internet Lexicon“. If you’re like me, and spend your fair share of time looking at glowing rectangles, you’ll appreciate Gorrell’s clever turns of phrase.

Gorrell defined run on empty as the feeling that you’ve exhausted all of the new information on your social networks. I remember, back in the day, feeling the same way when I’d run out of news on my Google Reader account.

RSS, the news syndication format that fueled Google Reader and other news readers, was how you drank from the internet. Instead of clicking through 30 bookmarks, you could slurp down and crush your news like a juice box. But juice boxes kind of suck. They basically hold a single swig of juice, not even enough to quench a potato chip.


Google shuttered Reader this past summer and the internet bloviated for days. Facebook and Twitter killed RSS! Woe is me.

If RSS readers are juice boxes, Facebook and Twitter are kegs. They keep the party–and let’s use the word party very loosely here–going all night. Twitter never, ever runs on empty.


In its day, Google Reader was said to drive more traffic than Google Plus, the heir apparent. But cloud based RSS readers never really went away. When Google shuttered Reader,  Feedly, Feed Wrangler, and others filled the gap.

Feedly is honest to goodness popular. As of August, they have over 13 million users and power over 30 apps as a RSS syncing backend. Poking around SimilarWeb tells a similar story.

For TechCrunch, Feedly is the number one referrer of desktop traffic.  And we thought RSS was dead. Same for The Verge, Engadget and of course, Slashdot, where it accounts for a staggering 52% of referral traffic share. What about for sites with a less, well, iGadget  rumours obsessed readership.

It turns out that Feedly is still the number two driver of traffic to the New York Times, accounting for a solid 9.5% of referrals. But perhaps the New York Time is a bit high brow. What about a paper for the people, the New York Post, purveyor of understated, sober headlines like “Headless Body in Topless Bar“?  Feedly is the number 5 referrer, driving only 1.28% of traffic.

For the storied, and a good deal more dignified, New Yorker, Feedly is back to being the number one referrer of traffic, delivering 9.5% of referral traffic. I even checked The Paris Review to try and find a point of high brow diminishing returns. Feedly, at 19%, is still the number two driver of referral traffic.  I finally checked the magazine of AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons. Feedly doesn’t even make the top 50 for referrals. Good to know there’s a floor.

New Yorker Referral Traffic

Let’s review. Techies like RSS. This we’ve always known. But Feedly also delivers a ton of traffic to mainstream publications like the New York Times and The New Yorker. Less so to the New York Post. Have we just stumbled on a new way to measure taste?

Granted, there’s a lot here unsaid. All of the sites mentioned don’t deliver their full articles over RSS, forcing readers to click to their main sites, where ads are served and the traffic monetized. SimilarWeb measures this as referral traffic. The second approach is to deliver the full article in the RSS feed and monetize through inline ads in the feed itself. It used to be that all the sites I followed used the first strategy. I dusted off my Feedly account and was surprised to find that most of the sites I follow now only show article snippets. Additionally, companies like Flipboard are upending the whole sector by focusing on discovery and signing content partnership deals. But that’s a topic for another blog-post.

The Smith Brothers at their beaderiest

RSS aggregators are still a substantial source of desktop web traffic. More importantly, they are a substantial source of quality web traffic; their user base is educated and tech savvy. RSS never died and publishers should neglect their RSS feeds at their own risk.

Cloud based RSS readers are no longer the juice boxes of the internet. RSS as the single origin espresso of the internet is a more apt metaphor. Sign up for a Feedly account and remember to bring your plaid shirt and plastic Kissinger glasses. A Smith Brothers beard couldn’t hurt either.



About the Author -

Data quality manager, working to make sure that SimilarWeb's measurement metrics are the most accurate in the industry. Former Chicagoan living in Tel Aviv.

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