Thursday, March 3, 2005

RSS: Real Simple Syndication or Really Saturated Space?

As companies awaken to the revenue opportunities of RSS services and technology (think advertising!), players proliferate and the race to differentiate is on.

Lately I’ve been suffering from burnout… RSS (Really Simple Syndication) burnout. I feel like Darryl Dawkins, former NBA player “Chocolate Thunder,” when he was describing how he had nightmares after playing a game against the Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “All I saw were skyhooks the whole game and he was making every one of them, so that evening I had nightmares (closing his eyes and shaking)… skyhook, skyhook, skyhook, skyhook…”

RSS, RSS, RSS, NewsGator, FeedDemon, Bloglines, Rojo, Pluck, Onfolio, Feedview, CNet’s Newsburst, MyYahoo!, and hundreds more to come. Some of these are separate applications, some are plugins into your browser, some are web-based, and some provide multiple options. For an information junkie like me, RSS aggregators (or reader) are awesome. They save you time and allow you to efficiently scroll through hundreds of headlines and summaries to find interesting content and fresh ideas.

If you haven’t tried using a RSS aggregator yet, I would suggest Bloglines, NewsGator, or Pluck. Bloglines is my favorite. I like the user interface and intuitive design. NewsGator is good. Pluck has been given some good reviews, but I’m not that fond of the user interface (personal preference). I actually like FeedDemon, but they want to charge me after their trial period is over. Who would pay for something Bloglines, MyYahoo! and others are providing for free? Rojo positions itself as a RSS aggregator and social network, but I really don’t see the social networking factor pulling me towards their service especially since almost everyone else has started to provide some type of feed sharing function already, and their approach has left me in limbo. I can’t access other people’s feed list freely and I have to know them, so I’m forced to invite people to Rojo and wait until they have a list of feeds that I can choose from. It’s limbo because I don’t want to invite people just to look at their list of feeds. A bit tedious process for something I assume they wanted to virally spread. MyYahoo! is supposedly the largest RSS aggregator, but much of these numbers are puffed up since any MyYahoo! user knowingly or unknowingly uses RSS feeds for their regular content updates from Reuters, AP, or whomever. Even personalized MyYahoo! page some more by adding a couple feeds from some of my favorite political blogs, but I never read them. Bloglines is the way to go for me. AskJeeves made a great move to acquire Bloglines, but for me it would be been a better fit for Google. Imagine that blogosphere juggernaut!

From startup to major media companies, RSS is the way to distribute content quickly and efficiently and a new channel for branding or advertising. Nick Denton, founder of Gawker and other blogs, and Jason Calacanis, founder of Weblogs, have integrated advertising into their blogs' RSS feeds. Soon many RSS feeds will have advertising integrated and almost every media company and smalltown newspaper will have RSS feeds for the world to read. It seems RSS might disrupt traditional Internet advertising a bit. Within a few years, RSS advertising could become the focal point of marketing dollars versus banner and text ads. I hope Google is building Adwords and Adsense for RSS.

While the growth of blogging pushed the rapid development of RSS, it is still early for both segments of the online world. Where is this heading? First, I see many of the players from now and over the next few years dying off. A few will be acquired by larger companies… Google? Microsoft? A couple will become stand-alone entities that successfully captured the advertising opportunities in RSS and transitional into enterprise solutions.

Since RSS is just a way to move content across the Internet, we will see an increase in sound and video, which has already begun. One area I see potential is in IPTV (Internet Protocol TV). I’m a believer of cable and video-on-demand (first startup in this space), but the cable industry has just been too slow and deserves a whooping. With Microsoft’s recent deal with SBC, IPTV has gotten a boost. I’ve seen systems back in 1999 that hook up a PC to a set-top box and run content from the PC to the TV. I raised my brow and use to laugh at such systems, but they have been in the market in Japan and Korea over the past few years and cable operators worldwide have not delivered on the promise of interactive TV. I believe RSS should be integrated into such systems where users can request multimedia content into their set-top box with a harddrive, store it, and play whenever they want.

RSS feeds into iPods and MP3 players. Feeds for daily homework from your teacher. Feeds from your corporate team. Feeds your dentist. Feeds from your grocers. Ughhh… I’m getting those RSS nightmares again.

UPDATE: Since the old AlwaysOn site was taken down and posts were not properly transferred, I pasted the original article here.

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