By now you’ve seen and heard the buzz about Weblogs, those personal journals/independent Web sites
that have sprouted like wildfire in the past three years.
Indeed, you probably have a few bloggers in your company, kind of like we do
(Alan Meckler, Jupitermedia’s CEO, for example.
And Jupiter Research Analyst Joe Wilcox). Or they may
post to their own personal Weblogs on their time. All well and good, right? So why should all this be
of interest to you or to your company?
Well, for starters, the trend shows no signs of slowing. In just a few years, blogging has become a bona fide
phenomenon. If you have people in your organization who blog, it might be time to set a policy about blogging.
Have you considered how the use of blogs could help or hurt your corporate image?
What’s behind Google’s move to pay bloggers out of its AdSense revenues? The short answer is that it’s
another sign of the growth and power of blogging, as well as how syndicated feeds to your desktop are helping
to drive the technology.
Although it’s early yet in the advance of blogging, the story of its rise in popularity really is about
the use and potential with syndication technology driving bloggers: RSS.
Depending on who you talk to, RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication
And its use is only starting to change the way we think about how we get our information across the Web,
as well as how we distribute it. Plus, any technology that at least threatens to solve the spam that is choking
our inboxes is worth understanding.
In this section of internetnews.com‘s In Focus, we’ll provide you a brief overview that looks at how
the technology came about and where it’s headed.
1. RSS Defined
RSS is an XML-based format for distributing and aggregating
Web content. A Web site that wants to allow other sites to publish some of its content creates an RSS document
and registers the document with an RSS publisher. A user who can read RSS-distributed content can use the
content on a different site. Syndicated content includes such data as news feeds, events listings, news stories,
headlines, project updates, excerpts from discussion forums or even corporate information.
The most common use of RSS is with blogs. Files for RSS often end in .xml, .rss or .rdf.
If you’re aware of RSS, it’s probably because you use a news aggregator, which reads and gathers content
from any RSS feeds you subscribe to. But it’s not the only format. After Netscape got out of the portal
business, the original version it created, 0.90, was followed by RSS 0.91, which is now owned by UserLand Software.
However, other groups have devised RSS 1.0 separately from UserLand, which still develops the 0.9x branch.
Not Only RSS Formats
As per the AtomEnabled.org Web site, Atom was conceived
and realized by engineers interested in improving the functionality of RSS. The primary difference between
the two formats is that Atom is somewhat more complex (for producers of Atom feeds). In addition it can carry
more complex information, and it is consistent across the syndication, storage and editing of information.
For example, says Sheila Ann Manuel Coggins, an avid blogger for About.com, although Atom is not the same
as RSS, it has similar functions. It allows a list weblog or news information, known as feeds, to become available
for syndication. The information may come in the form of headlines only (titles) or headlines with content
(full or introduction only).
Here’s how a typical RSS feed code looks like, such as the feed from the front page of internetnews.com.
What’s important is the metadata, or descriptions about the data, such as:
|When you click on RSS links, this is the typical code you would get for the feed.|
2. What’s In It For Me?
You’d be surprised. We asked some of the leading lights in the tech blogging industry how companies might benefit from using RSS.
Anil Dash, vice president of Business Development, Six Apart
There are already thousands of companies and individuals using syndication, and the early deployments
seem likely to be common going forward. Individuals use XML feeds to track a larger number of Web sites or
information sources in less time, which is a very simple and obvious benefit for them. This becomes increasingly
valuable as the feeds get customized and personalized for that person’s purposes.
Businesses can use syndication as a communications channel to their customers,
partners or employees. Their technical staff or IT department can use
it as a simple way to exchange data between applications or locations. The
combination of update notification when information is updated or changed,
and the ability to deliver content to a person on any device or in any place
is extremely compelling from a business standpoint.
Syndication seems like a natural complement to e-mail and instant messaging; it won’t replace
e-mail any more than Web browsing replaced e-mail when it came along. These tools tend to increase
each other’s usage. And an important factor will be whether technologies make it easy
to read and write feeds, making the Internet more about two-way communication.
We think one of the main ways these feeds will be used is to track weblogs.
An increasing amount of the news, information and conversation that people want to participate in
is happening between webloggers, and news feeds can help people stay connected to the people they
care about with less effort and more immediacy.
Burton “Buzz” Bruggeman, founder/COO, ActiveWords.com
Its potential is enormous. It has the potential to be one of those pervasive technologies
associated with every device and every chip.
In the computing business, people have been waiting for a long time for the concept of intelligent agents
to be realized, such as software you put out there that serves as your shopping bot. You turn your shopping
bot loose and it retrieves what interests you. That is what RSS is all about. But it is about
having human beings as intelligent agents.
What we have all of a sudden is a medium that is very focused around the things you care about. The
potential for that is so enormous that people can’t quite get their heads around it, such as intermediating
huge amounts of traditional media.
Consider Engadget or Gizmodo. I talk about the fact that I subscribe to Wired magazine, and look at gadget pages.
And now I go to Gizmodo, which is hours old, minutes old, as compared to Wired taking 60 days to get to
press, so the material is always dated.
At one point and time, a friend of mine proposed the notion you could, using the Internet, attract all the
people who cared about the letter A, let’s say, and have them congregate around the intersection of Cyber and Sapce.
With RSS, they don’t have to congregate. It comes right to them, in a very rich and robust fashion, with
pictures and sound.
Jeffrey H. Matsuura, Director of Law and Technology, University of Dayton School of Law
The greatest potential for RSS is as a means of gaining access to updated information (e.g. news headlines) quickly.
Organizations can use it as a method of continuously informing target audiences of the most current
information relevant to them. Individuals use the system to keep track of the material that they are most
interested in monitoring.
RSS is popular largely because it can help reduce reliance on e-mail. The system publishes
updates to recipients who want to see the information. I don’t think RSS can replace e-mail, but it
provides a more efficient method of getting information to people than e-mail alone.
RSS has some limitations. Some argue that the RSS process wastes bandwidth, as full updates are pushed out on schedule
even if the changes in the content are very minor. There are also concerns that RSS in its present state is
not particularly user-friendly and is not a particularly secure system.
I do not know how the competition between
RSS and Atom will ultimately be resolved. Each camp has strong supporters — Google and IBM for
Atom, Netscape, Yahoo and Amazon for RSS. Some people are pushing for integration of the two systems. It seems most likely that the number of formats
does not matter much as long as the available readers can read all the different formats.
Matthew Bailey, Web Marketing Director, The Karcher Group
RSS gives a great potential for companies and individuals to implement direct-channel communication. It
is simply becoming another popular method of communication and publication, [whose] potential
cannot be calculated at this young stage. I’m sure there will be many changes, forces and evolution in the
next few years that will shape the technology, but the potential can’t be accurately foreseen, because the
majority of the power is in the hands of Internet users.
Companies can take advantage of this technology to build that direct line of communication to multiple groups,
such as consumers, suppliers, investors, etc. Taking advantage of this direct line of communication can help a
company appear to be “in touch” and directly concerned with the readers.
On the other hand, this technology allows any consumer to be able to create an opinion site. If they have any
marketing savvy at all, they will be able to quickly accumulate an audience of like-minded peers to discuss the
company. This is a critical group for companies to target, as these are either a very dedicated group of consumers,
or a very disenfranchised group — both of which must be served.
The power is in individuals creating a larger voice than past communication channels. Prior to this, a
person could build a Web site and try to get attention. Now with RSS, a viral theme can be created, syndicated
and built with multiple viewpoints, authors and channels. RSS gives individuals who want a voice a louder voice,
and it gives anonymity to those who want to voice an opinion without being accountable.
Corporate public relations and alternative news and opinion outlets are the two industries that I see as being
the most affected. Also, consumer advocacy groups and personal marketing are quickly becoming popular uses for RSS.
Chris Pirillo, technology evangelist, LockerGnome
The potential is huge. I was talking about this two years ago. When I started proselytizing, people thought I
was crazy to find another way to publish and RSS was it, best hope for a future of online publishing.
It’s kind of evolved over time, to accommodate adoption, there’s probably, potential, honestly the sky is the limit.
It is easy to publish, easy to aggregate, easy to read, and it’s getting to the point where everyone will have a news
aggregator. Apple made a bold move building an RSS reader into the next generation of its Safari browser.
Microsoft is playing catch-up. I was telling Microsoft two years ago, but they move
slow and weren’t first to the fray.
RSS is a great way to stay up to date with your favorite resources without having to spend all day on it. Great
for people who love reading, great for people love scanning headlines.
People doing V Card translations to RSS. People have their calendar scheduled by RSS. I keep an eye on my Google
page rank with RSS. The marketing applications are endless. You just need to think of it, find a programmer, and
make it happen. It helps me to aggregate information.
Robert Scoble, Evangelist, Developer and Platform Evangelism, Microsoft Corp.
RSS opens up a few scenarios:
aggregator that wasn’t a browser; it alerted readers whenever there was news in the campaign.
and makes readability better.
I’ve found that I’m more productive reading sites in RSS than in a Web browser. Why? For one, I
only need to read sites that have actually published something new. Out of the 1,418 sites I’m currently reading,
only about 20 percent have published anything in the past 24 hours. So, while I’m reading a few hundred sites, you’d
need to look at 1,418 sites to get the same content that I’m getting. That includes feeds from Microsoft, CNET, the BBC, New York Times, other
companies in our industry, hundreds of webloggers, and more. I’m also using it internally at Microsoft to gather
information from webloggers and other resources.
RSS is going to become more important in the future, and we haven’t even started talking about services
like PubSub.com, Feedster.com, or Technorati.com.
RSS makes it more productive to read content than using a Web browser. People are figuring that out. The fact that
you don’t need to mix this content into your e-mail stream is just icing on the cake.
3. At-a-Glance Aggregators