Feed the Need: Surveying the Past, Present and Future of RSS

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Greg Reinacker, founder and CTO of NewsGator

1. What has the advent of RSS done for the Internet?

We’re really in the middle of a paradigm shift on the internet, towards the whole idea of subscription content.

We used to go to Google (or other search/portal site), and proactively search for things. We’d then click through to the parts we found interesting, and repeat the process. If I was interested in a particular topic, I might have a list of sites that I build up over time, and I’d visit these sites every day or so.

Now, things are changing. We’re getting familiar with the idea of subscribing to content, and having it come to us. So I go somewhere like newsgator.com, and define my interests by subscribing to feeds or topics. As new information is published in these feeds, I’ll see that new content automatically – on whatever device I happen to be using.

2. What does your company do different with RSS?

A few things:

a) We’re all about distributing content to users, on whatever device they’re using. That could be a PC, a Mac, a mobile phone or PDA, your email client, or even your TV. And with our sophisticated synchronization system, your subscriptions follow you wherever you go, and you never have to read the same thing twice. This is truly key to managing large amounts of relevant information, in today’s world of multiple devices and interfaces.

b) We’re the clear leader in enterprise RSS implementation, with our NewsGator Enterprise Server product. We’re finding that enterprise customers are really starting to adopt the power of RSS and subscription content, and are deploying it very quickly. The benefits of this kind of technology for business use are quite compelling, both for internal and external content.

c) Publishers are starting to embrace RSS technology, not just from a publishing standpoint, but from a user experience standpoint. Sites like sfgate.com and newsweek.com are integrating a complete RSS experience into their sites, with a number of benefits such as increased stickiness, higher brand loyalty, personalization, and incremental ad revenue. Systems like NewsGator’s private label solutions make this as simple or as flexible as is warranted.

3. How effective is advertising on RSS? What are some examples of ad successes and failures?

It depends what you’re trying to advertise. One needs to remember that users are already subscribed to the content being delivered via RSS, so they’re making a statement about their interests. That statement may indicate that they either are or are not going to respond to an ad that’s specifically tailored for the topic in that feed. The art is in figuring out which of those answers applies.

The other thing to be very aware of, I believe, is that a user can unsubscribe from your content very quickly. They don’t have to ask, they don’t have to email anyone…they just click the “unsubscribe” button. It’s very easy. So even testing an ad that might be considered obtrusive may have a real cost associated with it…know your audience.

4. What is missing with RSS currently and what will your company be doing to add value to this technology?

I’m not sure it’s about what’s “missing”, but more about what we can do with this technology. Some trends we see:

a) A dramatic increase in the delivery of media (both audio and video) via RSS. This trend, combined with evolving user experiences around consuming this content (such as media center devices, or rich phone interfaces), is leading to a sort of subscription-based audio/video delivery system, with end-user consumption on any device they choose. Very powerful and very cool.

b) Huge growth in enterprise RSS usage. Companies are waking up to the possibilities available to them with RSS, and the tools designed to make this efficient, and are increasingly starting to adopt this technology.

5. What do you think the future has in store for this technology in terms of advertising?

The fact that a user has subscribed to a feed, or subscribed to a search feed about a topic, really indicates a strong interest of some sort. That, combined with the knowledge of a user’s subscriptions in aggregate, opens up the possibility of micro-targeting ads and really delivering ads that are likely to perform well for an individual user. So I think the future for this is pretty bright – it’s just a matter of getting the right data, and applying it effectively and unobtrusively.

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