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October, 2004

In Response to an RSS Question

In response to "Content Creation and Organizing", David asked this question which I felt as though deserved a much longer response that I felt like writing in the little comments box: What do you think will be the next round of software applications that will emerge around RSS to enable its widespread adoption? Plugins to browsers that enable aggregation links to be always visible? Aggregation tools/agents that search for favorite sites among like-minded users? Billboard-like listings by topic that identify sites that are, within the recent past, the targets of the highest rates of linking? What topics/events do you think will drive significant waves of RSS adoption?

I know that we're going to see the major browsers add RSS functionality within the next year or so (Safari already has some functionality to my knowledge and Longhorn is going to be RSS enabled). I think that for RSS to really reach the mainstream it's going to have to run more in the background, people are not interested in learning something new, whether or not that something is really not all that confusing when it all comes down to it. When I did interviews for my RSS article "This Way App," [American Demographics, September, 2004] I had experts tell me they expected people to be using RSS in one way or another in the next six months. I also expect that we will see one of the major players (Yahoo!, Google) really begin to push RSS and help people understand (I understand that My Yahoo! already has RSS capability, but it's not really something they've been actively promoting up to this point). What we're seeing now, though Yahoo! beginning to add RSS feeds to news searches with both a link to the feed or a button to add it straight to My Yahoo. It's this kind of embedding that will push RSS out of early adoption and into the mainstream (Google has also added Atom functionality to Gmail, a step in the right direction). At the end of the Scoble entry "My Message in a bottle to Bill Gates," he asks this question: "It's interesting, at Gnomedex (a geek-centric conference) about 90% of the audience uses a news aggregator already. Do you see the trend? Is this a trend that gets Microsoft's attention?" This trend has gone well past critical mass amongst early adopters.

Another possibility is that it takes the business route to reach the mainstream consumer. One of the ideas I discussed in "This Way App," is the business potential the technology has.

For businesses, RSS provides an interesting new approach to inter-office communication. Combined with company blogs, RSS can offer a powerful way for managers to communicate with employees and for employees to communicate with each other. 'We see a lot of companies having employees create internal Weblogs so that they can talk about what they're working on,' says Greg Reinacker, CEO of NewsGator Technologies, creator of RSS aggregation software. 'We also see a lot of companies replacing internal mailing lists with RSS.'

This business adoption would certainly push mainstream adoption because if it were part of someone's job they would be forced to learn the technology. Once people understand how to use RSS and see how powerful a tool it is, I have little doubt they will appreciate what it does for them.

As for the second question about actually aggregator features, I don't believe that there are many features at this point that will drive adoption. Unfortunately we are still at a point where the entire process is too confusing. There's no easy way to add feeds to your aggregator (although that's what the point of the script I run that allows for the pull down menus on the XML buttons). With that said, though, I have no question that we will see aggregators that search for favorite sites amongst like-minded users. In fact, Bloglines already has that feature with a 'related feeds' button at the top of every feed. Other features that we are looking at in the future are things like ranking of entries based on past viewing. Another feature is aggregation of like entries and linked entries to allow for easy reading of a single topic across multiple pages, allowing users to get multiple views on a topic at the same time. Ability to filter out entries on topics that don't interest you is another one that I would appreciate. There are lots of feeds I have for very specific reasons and if I could put in a term that I wanted to appear in every entry for that site it would save me some time and energy.

I don't completely understand the question about the "billboard-like listings by topic." To my understanding, this already exists with Technorati. Beyond just their politics page you can do a search for any term and get back a listing of entries with that term ranked in order of incoming links (although that is incoming links to the entire site, not just the single entry). I think this is the idea you're asking about, although I may be mistaken and please correct me if I am.

Finally, when I think about events/topics that will push RSS to the mainstream I think about the major players getting into the field and Microsoft adding RSS functionality. With something like 95 percent of the web using Internet Explorer, RSS adoption by Microsoft would bring the technology to the world. With that said, though, little things like RSS feeds on Craig's List is something that will help push adoption (I discussed this briefly in an entry titled "Craigslist: An Effective Use of RSS). This is exactly the kind of thing that RSS is perfect for. When you're interested in tracking oft-changing information without having to constantly go back and check the page. On Craig's List you can do a search for anything and just watch new results come up in real time via RSS. There's no question in my mind that we are looking at something that will change the way many people use the internet (I know it's revolutionized my browsing), but we are still a few steps away from the tipping point.

October 11, 2004
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.