Can RSS Be Monetized?

NEW YORK —- The most common discussion at the Syndicate Conference here is how syndicated news feeds via RSS  technology have changed how we get our Web-based information.

The second-most popular discussion topic: whether anyone is making any money from RSS deployments.

The first step to a business model behind RSS, said Mobius venture capitalist Seth Levine, is getting past just talking about RSS itself.

“I feel like I’m at RSS Con,” Levine snorted. “The context is broader than RSS.”

During a panel discussion called “Grokking the Big Picture” about the impact of RSS syndication on media and Web publishing, David Geller of e-mail marketing firm WhatCounts agreed.

He said RSS won’t be monetized and mainstream until people start thinking of the technology the way they think of electrical connections or plumbing.

Construction companies make money installing wiring and plumbing because they are crucial solutions to crucial problems.

People need running water and electricity to keep warm, to preserve their food, to keep clean.

By extention, think of a need RSS syndication technology answers, such as time management, said David Sifry, CEO and founder of Technorati, a popular blog search engine.

“What’s really scarce is people’s time,” he said. “When we’re living in a world of 40 million bloggers and everybody and their sister trying to bombard you with stuff, those technologies that help me manage time are where real value is.”

Which brings us to another conversation that bubbled up at the conference: RSS can be monetized as it helps consumers decide how and where to divide their attention.

It’s called the “economy of attention.”

Levine said so far, he just hasn’t seen many solutions likely to turn profits in an “economy of attention.”

“I sat down with someone the other day who told me there were four different ways to make money off of attention and they all sucked,” Levine said. For example, he said he rejected a membership service and an ad-supported model for an RSS publishing venture.

Paul Gillen, a technology journalist and entrepreneur who helped found, argued that it’s just a matter of time before consumers discover the need for technologies to manage their attention.

“I think giving people something they want is the first part of the battle. I think letting them know they want it is the second part.” he said. “I didn’t think I wanted TiVo till I saw it at a friend’s house.”

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