Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 27, 200812:46 PM

The Feeding Frenzy Has Just Begun

When Facebook introduced the News Feed, they changed the way we use the Internet forever... and this is also why RSS has not yet peaked.

On October 20th, 2008 Forrester Research released a report titled, What's Holding RSS Back? - Consumers Still Don't Understand This Really Simple Technology, by Julie M. Katz. Here's what Steve Rubel over at Micro Persuasion says about it in his Blog post, RSS Adoption at 11% and it May Be Peaking, Forrester Says:

"... nearly half of marketers have moved to add feeds to their web sites. Further, RSS adoption among consumers is at 11% up from just 2% of users three years ago. RSS feeds usage is more dominant among men.

Here's the kicker, though. That might be all she wrote for RSS' growth track.

According to the research, of the 89% of those who don't use feeds only 17% say they're interested in using them. In fact Forrester spends much of the report helping marketers better explain the benefits of RSS to their customers. 'Unless marketers make a move to hook them — and try to convert their apathetic counterparts — RSS will never be more than a niche technology,' the analysts (who include Jeremiah Owyang) wrote."

While this Blog post has me feeling a little bit like I am driving with a blindfold on (as I have not read the Forrester Report myself), I'm wondering if this survey also included people using tools like iGoogle or their Facebook News Feed? What about some of that base RSS functionality we're seeing built into most web browser for news? Is Forrester really just talking about consumers clicking on the RSS feed button?

People are probably using tons of RSS, but simply don't know that it's called that. For the most part, the average consumer doesn't know if what they are reading is a Blog or website as well. Take a look through the comment section on this Blog and you'll see that most people think I am writing articles here.

Brave New World of Digital Intimacy was a great article from The New York Times (September 7th, 2008) written by Clive Thompson. Before reading the following quote from the article, think about how the News Feed page of Facebook is really a RSS feed of your social network:

"In essence, Facebook users didn’t think they wanted constant, up-to-the-minute updates on what other people are doing. Yet when they experienced this sort of omnipresent knowledge, they found it intriguing and addictive. Why? Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it 'ambient awareness.' It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye."

You can see how this filters for news, Blogs and other online properties that are using and leveraging RSS. RSS enables you to not only have ambient awareness of people, but of information as well. Doesn't it feel good to know you're up to date on the news that matters most to you?

Is RSS still clumsy?

Yes.

Clicking on the button and choosing your news reader is all pretty geeky stuff still. Will it be just as geeky when it crosses the threshold like Facebook did by adding in News Feed?

Not a chance.

Name me one person you know who likes clicking on their bookmarks and trying to figure out what is new (and where) on their favourite sites? Name me one person you know who would not love to have all of their favourites centralized in one location and they are notified (in real-time) when all of those sites are updated? It's doubtful that RSS adoption is peaking, maybe what is peaking is the tired and clunky way we have to set it up.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Alan Bristow
    Mitch Joel

    I have long wondered if/when RSS will become a tool of the masses. For me, a step toward it's adoption was the abundance on RSS at bbc.co.uk.

    I am sure it will indeed take off once it becomes brilliantly simple for the masses.

    Reply
  • Posted by Lynn Crymble
    Mitch Joel

    I'm with you Mitch. I believe the issue with RSS 'peaking' is really in the perception of what it is and how it is used when visible (vs. invisible with Facebook).
    Even something as simplistic as saying "RSS" to someone who is not web-savvy makes them nervous. Another acronym, another thing to learn etc.
    If it was packaged and marketed differently, RSS would definitely reach a wider audience IMO.

    Reply
  • Posted by Brad Grier
    Mitch Joel

    One thought. Ambient Awareness (in my case) is more applicable to Twitter than an RSS feed.

    As you mention, blog readers and subscriptions are pretty clunky. RSS is great at making sure the content gets delivered, once you've overcome the hurdle of understanding the process.

    Microcontent (Twitter) on the otherhand is simpler. Especially with 3rd party tools such as TweetDeck or Twhirl.

    It's much easier to 'sense the mood in the room' with Twitter then it is to scan a list of hundreds of blog posts.

    For detail, yes, the article / post delivered by RSS is better, but for 'ambient awareness', Twitter (Yammer, etc) is the tool of choice for me.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jeni Armstrong
    Mitch Joel

    I can name one person I know who likes clicking on her bookmarks and trying to figure out what is new (and where) on her favourite sites: Me, Jeni Armstrong.

    This is not true of about 80% of the sites I visit, and is never true of "pure news" sites, newswires, etc. But for that other 20%, the sites I think of as "treats" to sprinkle throughout my day, I do very much prefer to visit the actual sites.

    Sometimes there *is* new content, and that's exciting ... and sometimes there's no new material, and there's a faint sense of disappointment -- but even that disappointment involves engagement, because in that moment I am wishing that the content provider had posted or provided something new.

    I'm willing to accept that these browsing preferences might not be the norm, but hey ... I spent 20% of my time online wondering if Internet Santa brought me a present. I kind of like it that way.

    -- J

    Reply
  • Posted by sean power
    Mitch Joel

    RSS information overload is also a critical issue that must be addressed for widespread adoption of RSS to take place.

    Many times, I stumble upon a site with an extremely interesting post and RSSify. Doing this simply increases my reader inbox spam. Since most blog posters write about a variety of topics, I still need to filter feeds for things that are interesting to me.

    Many times, it's not the author or source that I care about, it's the content of the post. Therefore, I can do one of two things: follow a few feeds very closely, or follow many feeds superficially. This is the difference between reading 20 articles a day, or reading the first few sentences of 200, until I find 2-3 that are interesting to me.

    In my opinion, the usefulness of RSS lay in its ability to let us choose where we want our information to come from. I often equate this to the fictitious ability to choose every single TV station of interest in your cable package.

    The "missing piece" to this puzzle is a sophisticated prospective search engine that can roll up posts that have a higher propensity of being interesting to us based on information that it has gathered from us.

    Sort of like a TV guide with intelligence.

    The coupling of these two technologies will undoubtedly bring a new level of adoption to them.

    Reply
  • Posted by Carmi
    Mitch Joel

    Amen to that! RSS is like fuel injection. No one outside the community of early adopters and geekheads really understands what it is, how it works or why it matters. But when you explain to them that it ensures their car starts when it's 40 below, uses less fuel, pollutes less and will never flood, they get it.

    RSS in its basic-technology form certainly fails the mother-in-law test. But as you've so aptly put it, creative services baking it into their user-friendly interfaces will ensure its penetration trends toward 100% just like basic web surfing, e-mailing, IMing (etc.) have done since the dawn of the Internet Age.

    Whether my mother-in-law is even aware of what's going on beneath the hood is irrelevant. That it gets the job for her certainly is.

    Thanks for wording it so clearly. This is the best perspective on RSS I've seen in....well, ever.

    Reply
  • Posted by Lorenzo
    Mitch Joel

    Looking at different RSS examples with my personal outcome:

    BusinessWeek: since a couple of months their RSS (in iGoogle or Google Reader) doesn't provide any description of their articles. Since that time my reading stats for their articles dropped near to 0% (compared to 10% before).
    Outcome: Failure to understand that RSS is important and failure to adapt to it. (see below RWW)

    International Herald Tribune: They post the same article via RSS about 4-5 times with different titles. Standard header for each article and read more link.
    Outcome: Overfilled RSS folder with their article, I often click on "mark all as read". Interest rate drops.

    ReadWriteWeb: Their RSS gives the full article text with images, ads and videos.
    Outcome: Understood that you may want to read the article immediately and adapted to it successfully.

    I have always considered RSS as a "distribution channel", why going to look for something when you can have it delivered?

    While the "standard" format is Title, Introduction and Read more link, we have some examples of increased value delivery (and ads display) as for RWW.

    As for the Facebook example, the "ambient awareness" is most probably facilitated by the personal relationship between the users which raise interest in the tool.

    This could be more difficult for other types of relationships (CtoC, BtoC and BtoB) or other environments where interests in certain sources may be limited to some aspects.

    Facebook can centralize the information it provides you and have them sorted according to your requirements/tastes (More news like this), hence providing a more personalized environment.

    When dealing with multiple sources, there will be probably some difficulties in achieving this. Google Reader has some advised RSS you can subscribe to, still, I find it quite general.

    RSS is extremely valuable to deliver content but it can quickly become overwhelming (IHT example) and have the opposite effect.

    Combining RSS with Google Alerts or keyword restriction could be a great example to provide relevant content from a number of sources without overwhelming the reader.

    My final remark for this long comment is that RSS is not yet exploited, there are a number of different applications that can benefit from the same technology /concept such as:
    - a sales manager receives a notification when a daily sales quota is achieved;
    - a community manager receives a notification when a certain action is performed;
    - notifications in supply chain or manufacturing industry.

    We are far away from the peak usage, think at the mobile market, RSS will play a great role to deliver content without layout. (shorter loading times), it is also easier to display.

    Reply
  • Posted by JP
    Mitch Joel

    I have had this beef about RSS (and "blogs") for a long time. The industry has tried to brand each term and hope the consumer salivates for the next available feed or blog post. No.

    What they will use is the technology RSS allows, if spoon fed, and the content from blogs. We throw those terms around websites like people are dying to click on them ("put Blogs in the nav; make sure there's a RSS button on any section; etc.). That's fine for the advanced users. But like you said, most users don't know if it's an article, a column, or a blog, so just putting it there won't create adoption. They click on the content. As for RSS, Facebook is one (if not the only) site out there to make it truly simple for the non-webbie to use and love (and they don't even know it).

    If it can be made easy, well, then RSS will be used all over, yes. But in it's current state, I feel it probably is close to peaking. I do think someone will get it right eventually, but the little orange RSS will not be what tips it; it will be the site/functionality that makes it ultra user friendly that to use.

    Reply
  • Posted by Liz Hover
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with many of the comments above. I've long wondered why RSS hasn't really caught on. No-one in my office was using a feed reader until I introduced the idea and now see how useful they can be. I think in the work place there is still a reluctance to invite more information into our already overflowing lives and inboxes especially if folks are required to learn about the technology.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mike Kujawski
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, you raised a good point, which I always try to emphasize before presenting statistics on RSS usage. Questions such as "Do you use RSS?" and "Do you use an RSS reader"? do not capture the plethora of people that actually use RSS feeds unknowingly (even when RSS is explained to them).

    iGoogle, desktop widgets, social networking sites, and pretty much every new app out there has built-in functionalioty that relies on rss feeds.

    When this is taken into account, I have seen stats that show around 40% regular rss usage. I often present this number accompanied by an explanation.

    The 11% statistic will likely never change much because it is simply a reflection of the proportion of people that like to receive data from multiple sources and filter out biases on their own (same percentage likely existed before the internet). As you and I have discussed many times before, some people like to be spoon fed information, often from one source. Which means they don't actually need an rss reader, since they always go to the same one or two websites to get their information.

    A reader makes sense for people like us that are inherently interested in learning and analyzing info from multiple sources (i.e perspectives).

    I'd love to see the 11% rise in the coming years, not for RSS's sake, but rather for the intelligence level of future generations. It is becoming more and more crucial each day for kids to be able to sort through digital info, and formulate their own educated opinions. I am shocked that these kind of courses have not yet been added to our education systems curriculum. However, that's part of a bigger discussion for another day...

    Cheers,

    MK

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Wilson
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with Lynn. It's just a matter of us changing the way that we use RSS.

    Reading RSS feeds in a feed reader just isn't for everyone. Pulling in the same information into a social network is a lot more appealing to some.

    Reply
  • Posted by Michelle Flynn
    Mitch Joel

    "It's doubtful that RSS adoption is peaking, maybe what is peaking is the tired and clunky way we have to set it up." - Amen to that! I would love to use RSS but I don't like the way it works. Having all one's favourite sites in one place that notifies you of an update would be a perfect feed for me.

    Reply
  • Posted by Rick Liebling
    Mitch Joel

    As Brad mentioned above, I think you can put Twitter into the RSS camp as well, especially as it is used by people like Chris Brogan for example.

    Reply
  • Posted by Randy Belham
    Mitch Joel

    I agree that RSS has been around for a long time. But its application is still not all that known. I usually explain it as similar to opt-in email. Where the website that you have a feed from pumps information to you. Its a great tool to have if you want your peeps to remain up-to-date. But one comment brought up is the sheer amount of information that can be pumped out to you is at times overwhelming.

    Reply
  • Posted by Praveen
    Praveen

    Wow, I cant wait for orkut to integrate your feeds!

    Reply
  • Posted by Lisa K
    Mitch Joel

    I think it used to be perceived as a geekish thing but not anymore.

    Reply
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