Friday, July 25, 2003

A look at recent user level activity in the RSS world

I've been an advocate of RSS and the less recognized value of the aggregator side of the blogging world for some time. There have been a whole series of recent examples of RSS applications worth noting. I thought I'd pull together a niumber of the items gracing my aggregator on the topic.

For example, we have technology analyst firms beginning to make their content available through RSS. Perhaps what's notable here is the shift in focus to actually thinking about increasing the value to customers.

Forrester gets RSS. [via Chad Dickerson of Infoworld]

In my post about Mr. Safe, RSS, and IT analysts, I criticized the analysts for not "getting it" on RSS.   I'm glad to report that I didn't have the full story on at least one of the analyst firms.  Ezra Ball, a senior web developer at Forrester, wrote to me and pointed out that while Forrester has not covered RSS heavily, they do produce RSS feeds themselves.  To me, actually doing RSS is a greater demonstration of "getting it" than only writing about it.  According to Ezra:

Forrester does provide a couple of RSS feeds: one for all research ( http://www.forrester.com/rss ), and one for "free" (requires guest registration) research ( http://www.forrester.com/rss/free ).  We've actually had these for about three years, but people are still only starting to wake up to how to consume RSS.

Jupiter Research gets RSS and weblogs. [via Chad Dickerson of Infoworld]

When posting about Mr. Safe, analyst firms, and RSS a couple of weeks ago, I criticized Gartner and Forrester/Giga for not covering RSS effectively.  Ezra Ball at Forrester let me know that they have RSS feeds, despite a lack of significant coverage of RSS in the research they offer.

Today, I got an e-mail from Michael Gartenberg, VP and Research Director at Jupiter Research (the inline links are mine):

Hi, just a quick note that Jupiter was the first research firm to have analyst weblogs (including RSS feeds). Our Microsoft Monitor research service also has a companion weblog with RSS as well. In addition, Jupiter ran the first business weblog conference this past spring and we will be doing a follow up to it on the West Coast this fall. We have covered the RSS issues extensively in our written research as well coverage of Weblog adoption both in terms of who is writing them and who is reading them. Other firms often do not cover trends like RSS until they become mainstream, Jupiter has a slightly different approach.

Jupiter certainly deserved a mention in my original post.  Their weblog conference was well-attended by folks in the community and  they have a substantial weblog presence.  Unlike Gartner's weblogs, all of Jupiter's weblogs have RSS feeds -- a weblog without an RSS feed is like a cheeseburger with only the bread.

We're also beginning to see other examples of RSS in use beyond the primary example of RSS to support weblogs. Of course, as you might expect, there's a certain amount of noise in the system as Vizard reflects in his remarks below. He invests a lot of energy in trying to convince himself that RSS can simply be grafted onto CRN's existing model of trying to drive traffic to their websites. This is whistling past the  cemetary in my view, but I don't mind as long as the experiments are being run. The market will twist the technology to its own purposes as always.

RSS for Publishers. [via EMERGIC.org]

CRN's Michael Vizard on RSS and its growing importance:


Web logs are interesting, but what's even more interesting is the RSS technology. Now, I've got a mechanism by which I can let people customize how they want to have information come to them. One of the things you've seen happening on CRN.com is that we're creating an RSS feed around storage. That's my first experiment with getting people to sign up for it. People can have a storage feed and get all the related headlines coming to them.

Once they get the headlines, they click on them and it takes them back to our site. It becomes a mechanism for driving traffic to the site that is phenomenal. It also is a beautiful thing for readers, because it allows them to customize content in accord with what they're looking for.

Right now, we're not shipping out whole stories via RSS. People want tight, limited summaries in an RSS feed, but will come to the site to read the stories. They use it as a digest and index to what's going on, but at the end of the day it will actually drive more traffic to the sites.

I think RSS means that people will move from the days of active Web surfing to passive Web surfing. By that I mean that people will no longer go on the site because it's fun, they'll only go when they have some specific thing that they care about. The RSS feed is a way to bring people back to sites for stuff that they care about it.

At the same time, people will find Web sites richer because they'll find them easier to navigate. I don't care whose site it is -- aggregating any site's content these days is a difficult chore because there's so much of it. RSS gives people a point of entry into the site for things they care about. I think that it will actually rejuvenate content on the Web. We could also have a much longer conversation about how RSS and e-mail will leverage and extend and improve each other.

Not surprisingly, Inforworld is beginning to use RSS feeds in several new ways and is providing more content in the feed instead of trying to force readers back to their site. They are also experimenting with embedding advertising in the stream.

New InfoWorld RSS feeds and changes. [via Chad Dickerson of Infoworld]

We just added a bunch of new RSS feeds here at InfoWorld. You can see the entire list on our homepageEach of our top-level Tech Index categories now has an RSS feed, and we also threw in a Test Center Reviews RSS feed so those of you with RSS readers can more easily keep up with the product reviews we are doing every week.

Responding to the suggestions of folks like Dwight Shih as I promised, we've also made our feeds less "parsimonious"(as Dwight put it). Instead of just using the "deck" (journalism jargon for what you might call the sub-headline) as the description, we're using the first paragraph of the story, which certainly makes the items a bit fuller.

On the advertising front (see pointers to earlier discussion here about ads for NewsGator), we are trying out a new way of advertising using an auction-based system (similar to Google) called Industry Brains.  We're already using Industry Brains on our site (see "InfoWorld Marketplace" at the bottom of our homepage, for example), but it will work in our RSS feeds like this:  Advertisers currently bid on links in our News section.  The top bidder will receive ad placement in our Top News RSS feed for the first feed of the day (i.e. not every time the feed is updated).  The ad link and copy will appear in the description of an entry after the editorial content and indicated by "ADVERTISEMENT" text.  As I said in our early trials of RSS-based advertising, we're experimenting and look forward to your feedback, either via e-mail or in your own weblog.  Matt McAlister, our director of online product development, is driving this effort, so feel free to e-mail him if you have questions or comments.

 Dickerson also has a nice post on a variety of business uses of RSS and some emerging cases studies in that area:

RSS and business -- what really matters.

As I've noted before, I had been swimming in the seas of RSS for a while as a producer of RSS content at media companies, but it wasn't until recently that I had my awakening as a consumer of RSS.  In a classic case of (possibly) bad timing, my personal RSS awakening converged with the recent Echo discussions.   Whether or not anything will change is to be determined, but my discussions with non-developers who use RSS indicate that they are pretty bored by the whole discussion and just don't want the rug pulled out from under them -- Technology Marketing writer Jonathan Angel represents this contingent well when he writes "Stop wanking and drive."  In any case, I'm reminded of an excerpt from Ellen Ullman's book Close to the Machine, a book which offers the best glimpse into the mindset of programming that I've ever read:

When the humans come back to talk changes, I can just run the program. Show them: Here. Look at this. See? This is not just talk. This runs. Whatever you might say, whatever the consequences, all you have are words and what I have is this, this thing I've built, this operational system. Talk all you want, but this thing here: it works.
(this quote is actually on page 2 of the Salon excerpt)

...[snip]....

The developer discussions aside, e-mail from my last column about RSS elicited some interested feedback from the business side of things, which is what really matters if RSS or RSS-like technologies are going to be ultimately successful.  Greg Reinacker pointed me to an RSS case study for his NewsGator product (full disclosure:  Greg advertises his product in InfoWorld's RSS feeds as I've discussed here).  While the case study obviously focuses on how Greg's product was leveraged in a business setting, the real story is how RSS met a defined business need, and met it well.  Yes, I know case studies are marketing tools, but I include NewsGator's marketing material here because it illustrates a coming-of-age of the RSS concept, i.e. material you can show non-technical people to help them "get it."  Also, everything in this case study rings true based on my experience with RSS. (a Google search for RSS and "case study" actually gives you the NewsGator case study as the first useful link -- if you know of any more RSS case studies, let me know):

Triple Point started with a simple goal: "The idea is to free some of our content, expose it via easily searchable XML and HTML via HTTP, and reduce the amount of information ‘hunt and peck’ that currently goes on, thus increasing productivity and improving the quality of our work," says Allie [Rogers, CIO of Triple Point Technology].

I also heard from Phil Gomes, the co-founder of PR agency G2B Group, which has a blog of its own and a whitepaper on RSS and corporate communications.  Jon Udell has already covered Phil's whitepaper well, but suffice it to say that it's refreshing to see that some people in the PR world are thinking about this and getting it.  I subscribed to the G2B RSS feed so I can stay up-to-speed with where they are headed in their thinking.  The great thing about weblogs/RSS is that I can afford time-wise to peek into the thinking of this world on a regular basis -- I'm subscribed to 31 different sources currently and have yet to feel overburdened by the amount of incoming information.

As a final note on business and RSS, Paul Beard references my previous post about RSS awareness at Gartner, Forrester, and Giga, pointing out that if I search for RDF on those sites, I would do a little better.  Thanks, Paul.  I'll let Mr. Safe know, but I have a feeling he's getting pretty tired of talking about this and is thinking about other things.

Dave Winer reports on a new RSS service from Wired News that lets you subscribe to a feed with the outputs of a search.  "Happiness is a new RSS application from Wired News."  Meanwhile, Scoble reports on another Microsoft RSS feed:

More RSS shows up at Microsoft. This time the Knowledge Base alerts are published as an RSS feed, says Kevin Dente.

As all this activity takes place, you start to see lots of smart people beginning to think about where RSS might be taking us. Among the examples worth taking a look at:

Hmmm. [via Steve Gillmor]

Rather than just inserting RSS into an email client paradigm as in Newsgator, it might be amusing to invert the solution and explore the usability issues of rethinking email as being just another form of feed served up to a reader, with plug-ins for creating & replying, etc. Hmm..

I just noticed Ray Ozzie's update to his Email/RSS musings, not through NetNewsWire, but via a Technorati cross-link to Collet's Weblog. Perhaps I reset the unread flag without noticing it (I am using an alpha version of NNW) but I can't be sure unless Ray does another silent update.

and this from Dave Sifry,

RSS as Infrastructure. [via Dave Sifry]

With the announcement yesterday of the assignment of the RSS 2.0 specification to Harvard University, along with a Creative Commons license and a new 3 person steering committee, RSS 2.0 has become more firmly cemented as an infrastructural element in the web publishing world.  This is a good thing.  It will help wary organizations to feel more comfortable using a syndication standard with the assurances that it is not going to be changed on a whim or hijacked by someone with a hidden agenda.  RSS 2.0 isn't perfect, and that's one of its best qualities.  It was designed with a "worse is better" mentality, what I like to call POGE - the Principle of Good Enough.  That means it is simple, easy to understand and to code.  It means that it doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, and it isn't a format for all things or all purposes.  It has a history, which means it has some bumps and warts, but IMHO, it does a pretty good job of doing what it sets out to do: Be a format for the syndication of published content.  This is not a knock on other efforts that attempt to achieve other goals.  My perspective is to use the best tool for the job at hand, and it is OK for different people to have different opinions on what that is. Kudos to Dave Winer, the folks at Berkman, and the Advisory Board for taking this positive step....

and from EMERGIC.org

Something New and Big is Brewing.

I tried an experiment over the past 10 days or so to get an idea of the utility of blogs. I get about 500-odd items from my 90+ feeds daily. I decided to delete the ones which I found not very useful, and see how many items would be left over a 10-day period. The answer: about 300. This means, that I getting about 30 good ideas / comments from bloggers daily. I cannot think of any other source which provides such a rich set of new inputs. Bloggers cook food for the brain, and RSS feeds are the delivery people.

With my Info Aggregator, I am now as excited as I've been about a new technology. RSS is undboutedly the HTML of today. The Info Aggregator (or more broadly, an RSS aggregator), is creating within me the same excitement that I felt using Mosaic in the fall of 1994.

Something big is underway. The pieces are slowly coming together. Blogs, Publish-Subscribe, RSS, Information Refinery, Dashboard, Web Services - its all very exciting. We all have an opportunity to be part of this new emerging world.

From Steve Gillmor again, who also notes the value of RSS in keeping tabs on whether someone you want to hear from has posted anything new lately, without your having to surf in their direction.

The Sound of Silence. [via Steve Gillmor]

Nothing sways me from the notion that RSS is a transcendent technology. As it continues to gain momentum, nothing seems to effectively slow it down. Name changes, name-calling, namespaces--they're more fodder for the Channel. RSS is a superset; it's inclusive of email, collaboration technology, sales force automation, iTunes, Hailstorm, IT, standards, portals, and especially weblogs.

Going beyond that, Gillmor argues in a later post that despite current experiments integrating RSS into email (e.g.,  Greg Reinacker's NewsGator), email will ultimately get folded into RSS feeds instead. Phil Wolff of a klog apart elaborates on Gillmor's hypothesis:

Steve Gilmore says email is a subset of RSS. You betcha..

Microcontent. It's a big big idea. Steve Gilmore, at last night's Jing Jing Blogger Dinner, had two comments on my email as syndication client post.

First, he thinks I have it backwards. RSS (and its decendents) won't fold into email. Email will fold into newsreader tools. This may be semantics, but I don't think so. Echo is extensible. You will see a wide variety of microcontent formats. Box scores. Supply chain orders. Cat pedigrees (it's a blogging world, after all). Each type with its own editing, display, and storage. So email is just an instance, a special case of microcontent syndication and management. 

Second, he sees Microsoft too entrenched in Outlook. So dug in, they can't reimagine it as a general microconent client, let alone completely re-engineer the plumbing. I'll trust him on this; Steve knows many more people at Microsoft than I do. He says that clicking on a link in an Outlook message shouldn't launch an external browser; it should stay in the reader context. If they got it, they'd be working with all forms of content internally.

Meanwhile, all the independent software developers are getting creative. Mail service providers jump at RSS to differentiate themselves. NewsReaders gain features people use to manage overflowing email. Portal makers flow RSS feeds in and out. Blog hosters bake RSS into default templates. Social network and digital ID elements are touching syndication, promising new value for getting messages via syndication server vs. email server.

But aren't InfoPath and the deep XMLization of Microsoft Office evidence of microcontent thinking? RSS/Echo is hot buzz at Microsoft developer conferences. Will Redmond politics amid the product silos fuel the reinvigoration of Outlook as a microcontent client before the third party world completely redefines microcontent messaging?

Maybe.

I think Steve just wants RSS feeds delivered to his Blackberry. For now.

And from Chad Dickerson at Infoworld one more time:

RSS killed the Infoglut Star.

It's "all RSS, all the time" this week in my weblog, and my weekly column for InfoWorld is no different.  In this week's installment, I write about how RSS has really changed the way I consume information for the better:

It's fairly common knowledge in pop-culture trivia circles that the first video to air on MTV was the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," a song with a title that proved prophetic in its bold announcement of a shift in the way music was consumed and marketed. Something similar but perhaps just as profound is happening with the delivery of information online with tools that leverage RSS [read the rest here]

It's truly amazing how something so simple -- almost dumb -- can make such a difference, but trust me, it does.

4:45:40 PM •  • comment  
RSS badges

badges. More RSS badges from Bryan Bell. Don Park adopts the new standard.   [Scripting News]

7:57:07 AM •  • comment  
Rory Perry summarizes emergence of weblogs as mainstream content platform.

For future reference: July 2003 shows continued emergence of weblogs as mainstream content platform.

There's been a wash of articles this month that appear to solidify weblogs as a solid online content platform for politics, business and public information. This continued level of acceptance will hopefully enable more conservative institutions (like courts) to embrace the platform more widely. Recent articles include:

[Rory Perry's Weblog]

One advantage of letting things pile up in your aggregator is that more efficient folks like Rory come along and organize stuff for you. I knew that eventually procrastination would become an important knowledge economy skill!

7:36:54 AM •  • comment