RSS I: What RSS needs to make money… and grow

RSS I: What RSS needs to make money… and grow

: I joined in an RSS webcast the other day and ranted on what RSS needs to grow — which is also to say what it needs to make money, for if content creators can’t make money from it (or at least not lose money because of it), they won’t join in… but when they do join in, RSS will grow and become a new standard for delivering content across multiple media, clients, and devices. It goes hand-in-hand, or hand-in-pocket.

Especially since RSS will be read by multiple clients on multiple devices (see the next two posts), we need to set business standards — or at least establish business needs — now so that as it proliferates it prospers. But I do not see any means of getting those business needs into standards-setting discussion now. Here are my opening bids for business needs:

1. Unique users. If content creators cannot report unique users they cannot get advertising. Period. So RSS readers must set unique-user cookies. Period.

2. Traffic. RSS readers must allow content creators to count displays — versus just downloads — of RSS items.

3. Advertising. If content creators cannot put advertising on feeds, they will not give full content and will give only headlines to link back to their sites where they have the ads. But partial feeds are a pain, right? So there’s the carrot/stick: Give them ads, they will give you content. That’s the way the world works.

4. Brand. I’m adding this one. As a reader, I find it frustrating that I can’t see the brand of a feed unless I scroll up on FeedDemon and read the one line atop the the screen. Brand matters to the content creator, of course, but it also can matter to the reader: You want to know what you’re reading.

5. Navigation. I’m adding this one, too. But I know I’m not alone here: Like many RSS fans, I use the feeds to alert me that something is new and if it is of the slightest interest, I prefer to read the post on the web page with full functionality. It’s a pain to get to that web page now. The easy solution to Nos. 4 & 5 is to include a brand element that is also clickable to the creator’s web page.

Now I know some will accuse me of just turning feeds into HTML and I will agree that this can go too far real fast. But there is also good need to consider this functionality to make RSS prosper.

That’s precisely why we need some means of soliciting, discussing, and incorporating business needs into the future of RSS. There are a few ways that can happen. Dave Winer just left the RSS advisory board and they’re looking for a replacement; I suggest they get someone (no, not me) with a business outlook to join in. Or someone can put together an RSS business summit. Whatever. If someone does not take this bull by its horns, RSS will grow too slowly.

RSS II: Putting his mouth where is money is

: Brad Feld, a VC at Mobius, explains on his blog why he just invested in Newsgator. It’s a very good post but even more important, it’s an example of a new and more transparent world of investment.

RSS III: More on Newsgator

: By the way, regarding Newsgator… I said in an offhand remark when Brad invested in the company that I didn’t use Newsgator because I don’t want anything more cluttering my Outlook (it’s plenty cluttered already!). Brad answers that in detail on his post, explaining that Newsgator also has web and mobile versions. I didn’t mention it in my offhand remark but I’ve already used both. And they’re both very good. In fact, I would absolutely love it if I could sync my reading of RSS feeds across mobile and laptop, as Newsgator offers. The rub remains: I still prefer using a client to using a web service with less functionality (and no offline usage) and Newsgator’s non-web client uses Outlook and so I don’t use Newsgator as my core reader. I do use Newsgator on my Treo.

All of this is just transitional nitpicking on the way to the integration of RSS feeds into most every bit of software we use: It will be part of our browsers (see Safari); it will be on our mobile devices; it will feed the architecture of web sites (I’m working to rearchitect my day-job sites around news feeds); it will feed media of many sorts (it’s already being used to feed ESPN video and rich advertising); it will feed new devices not yet invented.

Feeding me — sending me any kind of content anytime anywhere on any device — is the promise of this medium in an ever-connected world and RSS will be at the core of that. This is just the beginning.

  • hugh macleod

    I keep on having the same conversation over and over again with people:
    “I know RSS is going to be huge, I just don’t know why or how.”

  • sbw

    Jaff: Advertising. If content creators cannot put advertising on feeds, they will not give full content and will give only headlines to link back to their sites where they have the ads. But partial feeds are a pain, right? So there’s the carrot/stick: Give them ads, they will give you content. That’s the way the world works.
    I see it differently. I don’t want the full content. I want the brief along with the ability to drill down to the detail, but only if I’m interested.
    And keep the advertising OFF THE RSS! If they can convince me to drill down, they’ve earned the right to pepper the screen with all the advertising they want… but not until then.

  • sbw: good point and that’s why this discussion is needed. based on what you say, i’d offer separate feeds: (1) the brief with no advertising and i’d better do a good job of enticing you to the site, (2) full content with advertising for people like me who want that.

  • I know we disagree on this, but I’m just not sure applying reach/frequency (read: mass market “push”) metrics is the way to go with RSS. I admire and respect what you’re trying to do, but I don’t think the salvation of blogging exists by applying a top-down value to it. By its nature, RSS is backwards when it comes to marketing, and I don’t think we’ve seen the workable financial model yet.
    I like the idea of branded readers in some circumstances, but even that flies in the face of common sense, because one of the appeals of RSS is the simplicity of its presentation.

  • Terry:
    At the end of the day, it’s just content delivery. If a content creator loses money by delivering it this way, they won’t deliver it. If they do make money by delivering it this way, they’ll help spread RSS and make it into a ubiquitous means of delivery, which will, in turn, bring in more content, which will, in turn, make RSS more valuable: virtuous (business) cycle.

  • Kim

    I’ve been following the conversation because I worked for a company that invested heavily in DAMS – digital asset management — heavy on cable, heavy on satellite and limited Internet. I made up a proposal for numerous ways to intertwine with blogs and rss feeds and so far the main thing that comes back is broadband speed and capability. Many people I have discussed this with come back with Artisia for writing and for what already exists in a limited way – they don’t quite get it. I have a company that has already done the work and very little writing remains to make it function as your “wish list” Jeff. My problem is communicating the needs of the blogsphere with something workable for this company. I would have no problem partnering them with another company my only question remains as to who? Technorati would be my first guess/wish as they have and have had a pulse on this from the start. I’ll keep watching for the conversation but it behooves me as I already have an incredible solution I just can’t translate it into a workable solution, yet. For a small disclosure this company has at the head of it much of what represents where Time Warner is today. Content delivery this company can do but I don’t know if their time has come or not. In the meantime I’m listening.

  • pb

    sbw, try FeedDemon. You get the summary and the full post. It’s much, much better. Also, agree with Jeff, Outlook’s already too cluttered to add RSS to it. The standalone app is far, far superior, at least for the experienced feed reader.

  • Jeff, I know you are going to laugh at all of us resisting the “logic” of advertising and content delivery, but I sincerely believe that we are in a different game than you think we are. It maybe that yours and my game are running in parallel, but there is certainly another, totally different universe that is being painted out there.
    I have posted my humble thoughts on this right here:
    What I want is an open discussion, that well includes this counterpoints and that allows the emerging news publishing authors to be true and ethical to their missions.
    Anyone on this front?

  • Jeff – interesting points, but I think Robin is right here. RSS Feeds are so popular because people can view them without having to wade through all of the ads. I do think that two feeds could be in order, though. A summary feed for free, and a full feed that is available for a fee or with ads inserted. RSS 2.0 would handle this already.
    I posted an article about advertising inside your RSS feeds about a month ago on my site, From the Crossroads. One main point that shaped the article is that RSS feeds are summaries – there apparently are some users who prefer to use them as the source for information, but in theory they were designed to send a portion of the story to the user and get people to the site to view the entire story. To focus your advertising dollars, a company should be using RSS feeds to drive traffic to their site where everything you’re wanting is available. To make this happen, RSS publishers need to focus more on the substance and wording of their feed’s content.
    I think it may just be a paradigm issue – think of RSS feeds as being mini advertisements for your site’s content. The idea is to drive traffic to your site via these mini-ads.