When Will RSS Get Some Love?

Over at the BIA Perspectives blog, Terence Thomas examines RSS adoption. It’s an important time to take a look at RSS, as more readers flock online to get their news and as more consumers adopt a mind-set of empowerment for all types of media.

RSS falls in line with these trends and can be a great tool for customizing and managing your daily consumption of news, weather, sports, classifieds, etc. It’s like an e-mail alert but better because it cycles in new headlines and pushes out older ones within your RSS reader (rather than clogging your inbox).

Some of the more innovative RSS readers to be developed over the past few years include Netvibes, Pageflakes and My Yahoo. Google also put RSS on the map through its acquisition of FeedBurner last year. Meanwhile, lots of media companies have followed suit by making RSS feeds readily available — not only for main headlines, but also for different categories, sections or vertical areas of interest.

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times have been ahead of the curve here with lots of RSS feeds for individual authors, columns and sections. My favorite RSS feed, however, isn’t even news: Craigslist offers a feed for any search you can think of. Do a search for “used Nintendo Wii” in San Francisco, and an RSS feed is automatically generated for you to plug into your RSS reader to see updates whenever new items appear that match those criteria.

Google News does the same thing. This is related to Google News alerts that send you an e-mail for new news items that contain a specified keyword. It similarly lets you set up an RSS feed for any keyword. Again, this is just a delivery option that lets you get headlines in your RSS reader instead of your inbox. If you’re like me, you like to separate your worlds and this is a nice way to do it.

BUT …

But that’s exactly the challenge with RSS — not everyone is like me. RSS adoption is still relatively low, as Thomas points out. Steve Rubel likewise riffed on some Forrester data last week showing that RSS adoption is slowly rising but still nowhere near mainstream levels.

This results from a few factors. Setting up an RSS reader with a number of personalized feeds can be a small chore, but a chore nonetheless. As we’ve learned, online product adoption has to be frictionless to be mainstream friendly. Even though RSS is mostly “set it and forget it,” even the “setting it” part can impede adoption.

To make matters worse, RSS has branding issues. The term RSS is yet another three-letter tech acronym to join the alphabet soup of Internet products that confuse the online masses. This is one of the reasons Yahoo has been the most successful at signing up people with RSS (the other reason being the size of its user base). My Yahoo is the biggest RSS provider out there, and it reached this level without ever mentioning the term RSS.

We think RSS will get its due, but it could take a few more years. In the meantime, as Thomas points out, it’s a good idea for traditional media companies to do all they can with RSS and be positioned for the medium’s adoption increases over the coming years. As we mentioned last week, RSS and alerts can be a strong proxy for user intent, which can apply to products and services in addition to news content.

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Aside: Interested in getting into RSS? Start by getting a free account at one of the providers mentioned above (I like Netvibes) and then follow the link on the right column of this page to add the Kelsey feed to your new page ;).

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