RSS: The next big thing

RSS: The next big thing or what?
: I finally got off my duff and started using RSS feeds in an aggregator (NewzCrawler) and unless I’m missing something — which, if I am, I know it will be pointed out to me in 10,9,8… — it’s neat but it’s not yet the Next Big Thing. Emphasis on “yet.” Observations:

: I find it terribly handy to know whether and when my favorite blogs have been updated. RSS enables that. But as others have pointed out, that functionality could and should be part of my browser: I should be able to look at my bookmarks and see which sites have been updated since my last visit (or today, or this hour, my option). A few versions ago, Internet Explorer was going to do that for us — allowing you to “subscribe” to a site and see whether it has been updated and read it offline as well — but that was, unfortunately, one of those Microsoft functions that hadn’t reached version 3.0 yet (that is, it didn’t really happen). In any case, I shouldn’t need to a separate application to do this; the browser should be able to sniff my favorites all day long.

: As many have complained, RSS feeds are of quite inconsistent quality. Some have only a line; some have not quite enough; some have too much; some have graphics; some don’t. So reading sites via RSS is frustrating and sloppy. That, again, is why I tend to use the aggregator just to see what’s new and then I open the site in my browser.

: As a reader, I think you miss a lot not seeing weblogs in the context of their design and links and other recent items. Browsers are a superior way to view this content.

: As a web publisher, I would fear losing page views — and thus ad impressions and revenue — and also losing data (traffic, behavior, cookied data, targeting, etc.) if people read my sites in RSS instead of HTML. The way to solve that is to serve up only headlines, but then we’re back to the second bullet, above.

: I now find that I miss reading many of my favorite weblogs because they don’t offer RSS/XML feeds and thus I don’t see them in my aggregator and need to go back and look at them in the browser (thus I missed Ken Layne’s great shuttle post until everyone else had read it).

: I wish it were easier to subscribe to sites. Now, I have to find that XML button (I turned out the aggregator’s autosniffing because it was irritating me like a lovestarved cat) and do a lot of clicking. Oh, how I wish I could take (1) my blogroll and (2) any folder of favorites and tell the application to just subscribe for me, all at once.

: Most important, it’s obvious that the use and potential of RSS and XML are only in their baby stages. Simply telling me whether a site has been updated or giving me a list of recent headlines is chickenfeed; again, any browser should be able to do that. No, what’s really enticing about XML — as far, far smarter people than me are exploring — is that it can yield dynamic directories of data and content, 3-D searches of the web: Show me all the people who’ve said good or bad things about Dell… Show me all the latest posts on RSS among my favorite sites… Show me who all linked to this article I liked… That is when XML gets rich and meaty. That day is coming — that’s why it’s worth playing with XML and learning it now — but that’s why some people are, I think, underwhelmed at the present state of the art.