The browser jumpstarted mainstream Internet use and made browsing the user paradigm. You could type in a URL or follow links and it worked pretty well as long as you knew where you wanted to go or someone else had the foresight to provide a link to where you might want to go. But this approach couldnt keep up with the hypergrowth of the Web. Even if you surfed all day long, the unknown was growing exponentially faster than the known.
Enter the search engine. Instead of being limited to what you knew about or could find a link to, search engines allow you to query across millions of Web sites and billions of Web pages. Search makes vastly more of the Web accessible, but it too has limitations. Simple queries return preposterous quantities of links (as opposed to answers) while complex queries go unanswered. Personal relevance and understanding user intent are, to be charitable, in their infancy.
Both browsing and searching are about discovery, but have little to do with consumption. Discovery is work. You navigate and enter queries. Consumption is when you get something valuable. Browsing or searching by themselves are just a means; the end is consumption. The way these terms get used everyday reinforces this gap. Can I help you? No thanks, Im just browsing. Did you find what you are looking for? Nope, Im still searching.
The subscribe model allows software to act on our behalf and significantly improve consumption. RSS is obviously the first successful taste of the subscribe model (well conveniently forget the whole “Push” episode of the late 20th century). Subscribing doesnt replace browsing or searching any more than searching replaced browsing. Both will remain common activities with continued growth and innovation. Theyre probably how you will find most of the things you subscribe to.