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SimpleFeed Brands RSS

Companies that keep in touch with customers via RSS feeds can make sure they look pretty -- and see who actually reads them, thanks to SimpleFeed.

SimpleFeed 2.0, released this week, aims to give marketers more options for personalized content and more control over the management, measurement and branding of RSS feeds.

RSS first became popular among technophiles who liked the stripped-down, text-only format as an alternative to slow-loading Web pages. SimpleFeed launched in late 2003 as a service that made it easy for businesses to enable RSS on corporate sites.

"The problem with marketers using RSS is that the marketing department wants it to look like their Web site," said SimpleFeed CEO Mark Carlson. "So, we introduced templating."

The new version offers templates and design tools that let a company's RSS feeds carry the same look as the Web site. Fonts, colors, logos and images can be delivered within feeds. The presentation remains consistent no matter which reader is used.

The Web-based application provides 48 customizable reports so that marketers can analyze how many people have subscribed, how many have read a feed and how many have clicked through from the feed to the company Web site.

Carlson said that, typically, over 80 percent of the content sent via SimpleFeed is opened by the recipient, as opposed to e-mail's dismal 3 percent open rate.

Using SimpleFeed's checkbox-style subscription form, each subscriber gets a unique URL for the chosen feeds. "Because it's unique, we can track what you're doing with the content," Carlson explained. Once a company can tell which feeds are being opened and which provoke readers to click through, they can analyze what's working. "Our customers can figure out what their customers like and give them more of it," he said.

The new version also includes more options for designing the subscription page. For example, it allows for nested content, so that a company with many feeds can organize them with headings and subheadings.

Another new feature allows users to set up workflows and permissions, along with e-mail alerts and automatic triggers. For example, one person in the organization might be allowed to add text but not change design elements; when he did add text, his manager might be alerted to approve and publish the feed.

The new templates allow the insertion of a display ad, either by the company or from a third-party ad server, opening up the option for a company to include contextual ads. Most of SimpleFeed's customers are Fortune 500 companies, Carlson said, and not so likely to show outside ads.

"If you're a large corporation, which is who we sell to, you're not going to screw around for a dollar a day of AdSense revenue," Carlson said. "But it will be fun to watch how people put this to use."

SimpleFeed is provided for a monthly subscription fee based on the number of feeds sent, Carlson said, with pricing up to several thousand dollars a month.

SimpleFeed also announced that Bookspan would begin using its platform to create blogs and feeds for readers. Bookspan is a partnership of Bertelsmann A.G. and Time Warner , operating more than 40 book clubs that sell directly to members.