Home Articles An excess of RSS

    An excess of RSS


    AA11-Aug-Sep-2005-mike_walsh1So what is all this fuss about feeds? RSS, affectionately known as “really simple syndication”, is everywhere. Microsoft are building it into Longhorn, RSS startups are getting cash thrown at them, and some Web 2.0 egomaniac is raising a US$100m fund just to invest in feed related companies. Before you write it off as just another Google bubble mini me, consider this. How will you be reading your news in five years time?

    There is more information out there than anyone can realistically handle. But ironically that is exactly what people want — more control over their media. While editorial decisions made by news organisations are still influential, they are but one perspective that is now competing with an army of bloggers whose highly focused domain expertise makes them ideal filters for determining the daily relevance of news stories. Forget client-heavy push content services, such as Pointcast. The news aggregators of today such as Bloglines and Newsgator collate RSS feeds and are entirely web based.

    Sure, the ability to put your own virtual newspaper together each morning is interesting, but the most compelling characteristic of the emerging syndication space are the network effects of consumption. When you are reading your feed of the New York Times in Bloglines, you can also see who else is subscribing to that feed, and all the other publications and weblogs they subscribe to.

    Similarly, users of the social bookmarking service del.icio.us, can track other people’s reading habits through the use of common tags. Throw in weblog search tools such as Technorati, which ranks websites based on the number of external references made to it by other blogs and a powerful realisation strikes you. The very reading habits of millions of users are working as a collaborative filter to reduce the complexity of navigating the volume of news sources on the web.

    If you think that sounds like a wake up call to the world’s incumbent media barons, you are right. While RSS advertising models are still in flux, the cards are on the table for a shift away from content destination sites to content aggregation services. Google are already trialling a beta program of Adsense for feeds which will insert content matched advertising into RSS readers. Meta classified search engines, such as Simply Hired, allow you to search across multiple employment classifi ed sites and monitor the results as an RSS feed. At the other end of the spectrum, traditional newspaper groups are considering partnering with white label technology providers to offer their audiences branded news aggregation software tools.

    As you might imagine, in a world where all content becomes available by feed, it may be feed aggregators and not content providers that have the best chance of turning eyeballs into revenue, while avoiding the costs of producing original material.

    Mass adoption is still a way off. Weblogs may have hit big time in terms of readership, but for the average consumer — news aggregators and social bookmark tools are still the domain of Slashdot geeks and open-source cultists. However if you look at the growth of Yahoo’s RSS reader, MSN’s RSS enabled designs for Internet Explorer 7, Ask Jeeves’ acquisition of Bloglines, and Google’s recent personalisation products, it is inevitable that RSS aggregation will form a core component of the consumer portal feature set.

    Like Pop, the web may ultimately eat itself. The blogosphere is becoming so self-referential, it at times threatens to collapse under its own weight. A world full of feeds is no guarantee that there will be any less amount of useless or just plain wrong information in circulation — if anything, there will be more compared to the belle époque of newspaper journalism. But like it or not, when it comes to content, the wisdom of crowds is likely to be the prevailing one.

    Mike Walsh is a commercial strategist in the media and entertainment sector.
    You can read his daily weblog at www.fourth-estate.com