Let me start with a question:

How many websites do you regularly visit to gather information?

Even including online services like banking, eBay, or Hotmail, most Internet users probably only regularly visit a handful of sites; a news site, a couple of work-related portals, something hobby-related. Going to websites to see if anything has been changed is a time-consuming task, even if those sites have a prominently displayed news section on the homepage.

To save users the trouble, many sites offer double-opt-in email newsletters to keep interested users up-to-date. As a form of direct marketing, an Email newsletter is a powerful tool with many advantages, especially in terms of tracking. However, at some point we come up against the same problem as with websites: a user will only subscribe to so many newsletters – at some point the number of mails in our inbox becomes an irritant rather than an aid, mails are deleted unread, newsletters are unsubscribed to.

Moreover, Internet users are becoming more wary when giving up their email addresses, due to the ever-increasing spam in their inboxes.

As the number of information channels available to us, and the information delivered through those channels, increases, filtering the information delivered is becoming more and more of a problem for the user.

Enter RSS…

What is RSS?

RSS icon It has been said that the hottest brand on the Internet at the moment is the little orange RSS button. A keen-eyed Internet user can’t have avoided seeing its emergence over the last year or so. More often than not, it’s accompanied by the link “what is RSS?” In a nutshell, RSS allows the internet user to have the information he chooses delivered to him, without his having to visit the site of origin.

A bit of history

The name RSS is a term currently used to span a number of different formats that are all trying to achieve the same end. Even the acronym RSS has different meanings, depending on whom you listen to

  • “RDF Site Summary”
  • “Rich Site Summary”
  • “Really Simple Syndication”

Netscape used it in 1999, in the days when they were still in the portal business, as a means of taking a summary of content from one or more sites and displaying them in the framework of another. When the source site changed its content, the “collecting”, or “syndicating” site would be updated as well. The technical side of things was based on XML, a format intended to make data easily portable, thus “really simple syndication”.

Content providers began to allow users to choose which RSS “feeds”, as they became known, they wanted displayed. The “aggregator” was born. The user can view information from a number of sites on one page, in one graphical format, and thus saves him-/herself time.

Most aggregators, or “newsreaders” are standalone desktop applications, although there are popular websites offering the same service. The Firefox browser can also handle feeds, as can the newest version of Apple’s Safari. Microsoft has also announced that its next-generation Internet Explorer will have feedreader capabilities built in.

The rise of RSS is closely linked to the meteoric rise in popularity of blogging over the last two years. The popular blogging applications all automatically produce RSS feeds from the content they contain. A blog, true to its historical beginnings as an online diary, contains frequently updated content, and a regularly updated blog can quickly amass a large number of pages. Blogging has without doubt made a huge impact on the amount of information being made available on the Internet, and has pushed the concept of “timeliness” to the forefront. RSS is proving to be a perfect vehicle for delivering large amounts of regularly produced content.

However, it’s not only blogs that are providing feeds; most major sites with regularly updated content have begun to offer RSS feeds to their users, including W & V, FAZ, Die Zeit, süddeutsche.de, Spiegel Online, ProSieben Community.

RSS data from a number of user-chosen sources, delivered to an “aggregator” or “newsreader”, whether online or as a desktop application is making it easier for Internet users to scan large amounts of incoming data.

RSS saves web-users time, providing distilled content, free of graphical frameworks and advertising. If HTML has made it easy to display content, and email has made it easy to deliver content, RSS is combining the benefits of both.

The information access model of a website may be defined as PULL – the user actively navigates to the site to retrieve information. The model for email may be defined as TARGETED PUSH – the content provider sends an email to a particular user, targeted through his/her email address. The model for RSS is neither PUSH nor PULL. The content provider BROADCASTS an RSS feed; any number of users can choose whether to subscribe to it.

This means that adoption-threshold for RSS is lower than that of email, because the level of user control is higher. No one can send me an unsolicited feed, and when I unsubscribe from a feed I can be sure that I am really unsubscribed.

What can RSS mean for my company?

RSS provides us with a new channel of communication – a channel that is easy to deliver as well as to receive. Any newsworthy content can easily be reformatted into an RSS feed.

An RSS feed can contain:

  • Company news
  • Upcoming events
  • Product specials/offers
  • Technical support tips
  • Industry studies
  • Alerts

RSS is moving from the early-adopters into the mainstream, as the software user-base grows and more and more content becomes available. Therefore, as content producers, we must ask ourselves:

  • Do I have existing content that can be repurposed and offered as an RSS feed?
  • Can I (easily) create new, appropriate content?

The reasons for implementing RSS as a company are:

  • It is easy to repackaging existing content into an RSS feed – make the content available work harder
  • RSS can act both as a delivery channel and as a gateway – every item in a feed contains a link back to its website of origin
  • RSS promotes user loyalty – a subscribed user will at least look at the headlines in the feeds you are publishing.
  • RSS ensures 100% content delivery – there are no spam filters or blacklists to block your feed, because RSS is 100% opt-in

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