It’s absolutely amazing just how quickly some of these new technologies (and new advertising mediums) are developing. It was only a little more than a year ago that RSS popped onto the scene. Most people in the mainstream, including myself, didn’t think much of it then beyond a way to simplify email newsletter distribution and avoid spam blacklisting. It was probably because most people don’t understand the nuts and bolts of how RSS works, and how it’s simply a specialized form of XML. After all, what are we, developers? If you didn’t know anything about enclosures, how could you have predicted the podcasting boom?
What’s obvious to me now about RSS, even though it has gotten more and more exposure in both blogs and mainstream media, is its marketing value lies more in what it can provide as a way to deliver to or from other forms of media–rather than in being an independent media itself. Podcasts would not be possible without RSS, nor would the level of content-sharing that happens between blogs and services that rely on blogs. I would guess that RSS is probably used more often to deliver content to automated online and re-syndication sources than it is to deliver content to people’s desktops.
Earlier this month, PQ Media released a study of advertising in blogs, podcasts, and RSS feeds, and as a result, they calculated nearly 200% growth in all three mediums combined. Blog advertising is the granddaddy of the three, and weighed in first with 81.4% of total blog, podcast, and RSS advertising spending, but PQ expects podcast advertising to blow everything else away and grow by 154.4% through the end of 2010. In 2005, PQ noted that RSS ad spending was only $650,000 compared to blogs and podcasts, whose numbers were in the multimillion dollar range.
I can’t help but note though that while RSS seems to be left in the dust when it comes to ad spending (though it is growing), RSS as a tool is absolutely essential to the more lucrative blogs and podcasts. RSS is the way blogs can syndicate content not only to readers, but also–more than often–to automated tools set up by either the blogger, or an online service like a blog search engine. And the very nature of podcasting requires RSS. Without it, a podcast is just a collection of mp3 files sitting on a server somewhere.
It’s important that people realize the important role that little ‘ol RSS plays in online media and publishing. It’s actually pretty easy to forget about in a world of flashy rich media banners, blog buzz, and podcast hype. The average person on the street still has no idea what you’re talking about when you ask them about RSS. Only a handful of companies so far have come out with easy-to-use RSS-centric advertising systems, and Windows Vista’s long-promised RSS integration (something that could herald more widespread RSS use) is caught in release-delay limbo.
I don’t want people to neglect RSS as a direct-to-reader publishing medium either. Even though its use as a tool to bolster other media outweighs its use as a publishing platform, people still subscribe to and read RSS feeds. That readership can only increase over time. But it’s important to know the roles that each new technology plays when planning out your marketing strategy. Or at least in my case, wake up to them.