JSON Feed is a new feed format from Brent Simmons and Manton Reece — developers who are probably familiar to those of you that follow the Apple world. JSON Feed is intended to do the same job as RSS and Atom: allow feed readers and other applications to access an easily parsed feed of items, including blog posts, social media posts, and podcasts.
You might be asking yourself why we need yet another feed format. RSS and Atom get the job done. There’s no clamor from users for a “new and improved” feed format. Nevertheless, I think JSON Feed is welcome, largely because it is just JSON. In recent years, JSON has become the “default” data serialization format of the web. Most developers — and all web developers — are familiar with JSON. Every language worth using has a library for reading and writing JSON. Modern APIs are JSON-based, and many legacy XML-based APIs are being rewritten for JSON. JSON is conceptually simple: it’s easy to write JSON by hand and to write code that interacts with JSON data.
The same cannot be said for XML, the underlying format of both RSS and Atom. XML is more complex than JSON, harder to understand, and harder to debug. RSS readers are often way more complex than they should be because they have to cope with malformed feeds from poorly written content management systems and apps. Using XML for feeds is overkill and wastes developer time.
In contrast, JSON Feed is simple. Take a look at this blog post from Niclas Darville, who added JSON Feed to his Jekyll blog in a few minutes with Jekyll’s Liquid template system. Apple blogger John Gruber’s Daring Fireball is probably the most prominent site to adopt JSON Feed at the time of writing. If you want to look at JSON Feed in action, check out the Daring Fireball feed.
But perhaps we should ask a more general question than whether we need a new feed format: do we need RSS-type feeds at all in 2017? Many bloggers and publishers outside the tech world don’t bother with feeds. Social media networks like Twitter and Facebook have marginalized RSS-type feeds. Web apps are built with APIs so developers can request content without a more traditional feed.
As a writer in the technology space, I use feeds every day. My job would be more difficult without my trusty feed reader (Inoreader). But people like me are outliers. There’s no denying the popularity of feeds has declined among the wider web-using public. But I think site feeds are still an essential part of the open web. They’re easy to implement, don’t rely on a third-party platform, and allow users to monitor a site in whichever app they want. Perhaps more importantly, feeds are a crucial part of the podcast ecosystem. The future success of JSON Feed depends largely on whether it gains traction with podcast creators and app developers.
If you’re a WordPress user, you can add JSON Feed support to your site right now with this plugin, and if you’re a developer, creating a JSON Feed parser for other content management systems and apps shouldn’t pose much of a problem.