Saturday, September 03, 2005

Recent Experiences - What the Heck Is RSS - Reprise

My brother and his business partner run an advertising agency that also does award-winning web design. I handle a lot of the technical aspects of their web site contracts. Recently, a client for whom we just site did a site redesign for asked about RSS and how it could help their business. They are a medium-sized recruiting agency that have clients from across North America. To give our client contact a run-down of what RSS was and how it could be used, I wrote up both a one page summary as well as a 4-page, more detailed description with a few workflow scenarios: I.e., how they would post their job listings so that they would minimize data entry. (They currently post their jobs to a third-party database server that they have a license to use. Depending on licensing terms, they may have had to enter job info twice if they set up an RSS feed.)

As this is their busy season, it took a few weeks for our client contact to get back to us, but when he did, my impression was that he was more confused than before. Let me clarify; our contact is an intelligent, friendly, open-minded guy. For some reason, he was under the impression that RSS was a push technology despite my summary indicating otherwise. What's more, when I told him that you could use a web browser to read RSS, but for a full experience, subscribers would want to download an install an RSS Reader, he made his decision. He was uncomfortable with having potential job candidates downloading yet another application, even though most RSS Readers resemble email readers such as MS-Outlook. He also had to make a choice between implementing RSS on his company's site, or listing jobs with a very large, popular Canadian job board (which incidentally actually offers its job postings in RSS). Their budget didn't allow for both.

Here's the lowdown: Our client is not alone in not understanding RSS. He seemed, however, to fully grasp its value, but not the how of it, which confused him in comparison to email usage. Recent research shows that while many "influential" people are using RSS, most people are not. What's more, of the people that are using RSS, many do not even know it. These statistics are confusing because they seem somewhat contradictory, but they are the result of different studies conducted by diferent groups. So there is no real consensus on usage of RSS. The net result is that RSS has a ways to go before it achieves popular acceptance.

RSS will, I strongly believe, achieve a larger user base, both by Internet content publishers and readers, whether it goes by the name RSS, or "web feeds" as Microsoft hopes, or whether RSS's cousin format, Atom takes hold. But it will take good online examples, easy-to-follow articles, and patience to educate users on "content syndication" . Consider how long it took for people to realize that they didn't need to understand HTML to know the value and use of a website. The same is true of RSS: don't get caught up in the technology; try to understand the functionality. As such, I'm hoping to present real RSS case studies in order to give readers a chance to understand the functionality and the many uses of content syndication for Internet marketing and publishing.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,