Saturday, January 19, 2008

Evolution of RSS in media: vanishing into transparent ubiquity

Heather Green of BusinessWeek and the Blogspotting blog continues to ponder how blogging has evolved since her 2005 BW cover story on blogs and asks "Did RSS Live Up to Expectations?" Her post closes with the assertion that "RSS doesn't seem to be mainstream yet." I could not quite agree with that and commented so on her post. I reproduce those comments here for your consideration:

"RSS doesn't seem to be mainstream yet."

1. Are there *any* MSM web sites that do not have those little orange "thingies" available right there within easy reach? How much more mainstream do you need to get?

2. As far as actual mainstream end-user usage of web feeds beyond techies using exotic feed readers, maybe that is mostly a question of the extent to which people use aggregation "portal" pages such as My Yahoo, iGoogle,, et al, without even necessarily knowing that RSS is the technology under the hood. Please try to gather some numbers on this type of usage, since I think it is a better gauge of penetration into the general online population.

3. Is RSS as a very specific technology what you really wanted to focus on, or is the more general category of "aggregation technology" of greater interest? For example, Google News is popular, but I suspect it is still the case that the bulk of the MSM stories may be collected from more traditional news feeds rather than specifically using RDF or Atom XML-based syndication formatting technology. I mostly read NY Times articles by clicking on links in a daily email message that take me directly to the story web page or maybe I just read the short summary contained directly in the email, bypassing the overall structure of the web site. Another example is my ISP's main web page which presents a bunch of boxes with lists of stories in various categories but without any apparent dependency specifically on "RSS" per se. So, the general concepts of syndication, feeds, aggregation, and direct access are there regardless of the specific technology used to implement those concepts.

So, in a number of senses, RSS is quite mainstream, but I suspect that as time goes by fewer and fewer users will recognize the literal term "RSS". Sure, today your site and other MSM sites let the user "manually" refer to "RSS feed", but increasingly the truly user-friendly interfaces such as My Yahoo, iGoogle,, et al allow the user to select sources with no reference to "RSS."

Ultimately, that is the true test of whether a technology has genuinely "arrived" and become hard-core mainstream: it vanishes into transparent ubiquity.

BTW, one point to make about "RSS": it hides the distinction between "blog" content and traditional web pages. For example, a NY Times RSS feed might have both blog pages from their site in addition to traditional MSM story web pages. So, in a very real sense, RSS is helping to level the playing field between blogs and traditional MSM.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sure, there are still plenty of nooks and crannies on the Web where RSS is not fully exploited, but RSS has in fact penetrated the overall Web to a surprising degree.

-- Jack Krupansky


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