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Email is dead: long live RSS!

mike butcher
"RSS may be to the web what PVRs (personal video recorders such as TiVo or Sky Plus) were to digital TV," said Mike Butcher, online journalist and editor of Netimperative.com, introducing today's AOP forum, 'Making a success of RSS'.

Forty publishers met to hear from a panel of experts including Drew Cullen, editor of tech news site The Register, Angus Bankes, founder of Moreover Technologies, and Simon Brock from Wide Area Communications (the latter both providers of RSS feed solutions) on the relevance of RSS for publishers and the opportunities for reaching news audiences and increasing revenue.

RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary, or the rather friendlier Really Simple Syndication, has grown in profile over the past year though it has actually existed for about four years. This largely because it has moved out of the realm of the geek and into the mainstream, with the BBC, Guardian, and many other general sites using RSS feeds as well as the naturally-suited technology websites, and because of the availability and choice of RSS readers that sit on the client side and gather in the feeds for display on a user's desktop.

"Email has been downgraded as a publishing medium: spam has killed it off," said Drew Cullen. RSS has become the preferred method of receiving content from websites. Rather than go to 20 favourite sites on a daily basis, RSS allows users to get all the headlines delivered together in one view, with the option to click through to the destination site if desired.

angus bankes2
Yet more sophisticated RSS readers, such as those powering 'My Yahoo', allow entire web pages to be syndicated. "More and more RSS traffic will come via the portals", explained Angus Bankes.

"Since I started using an RSS reader my web usage habits have completely changed," said Cullen, "I now look at fewer web pages, so as a page impression, I've been lost. But I look at many more stories." He went on to explain that, though The Register's page impressions per user have actually decreased since introducing RSS, the site has actually attracted an extra 800,000 users per month.

"Links are the commodity now, home pages are things of the past," confirmed Bankes, "Every story is now a home page."

Though it's easy to set up, it's true to say that many publishers just don't 'get' RSS. The speakers disagreed over the potential to commercialise RSS. "Publishers and advertisers keep degrading the users' experience by adding clutter; the beauty of RSS has been that it's text only, totally on the users' terms."

"It's important to realise that RSS readers are loyal, and are potentially of higher value," said Simon Brook.

Angus Bankes agreed: "An RSS audience is committed? but there's no point offering RSS feeds if your content is registered or on a paid for model, as it will defeat the point for the user if at every point they are confronted with a demand to subscribe."

Brook disagreed, however, saying that it's possible to offer RSS feeds to paid-for subscribers or registered users; it just depends how you do it.

All the speakers agreed on the critical importance of RSS for the digital media industry. Bankes argued that RSS readers will become everyday, and will actually replace a lot of the activity that is currently done through search engines. "By 2006 all sites will have RSS feeds," was the warning the delegates were left with, "Don't get left behind."

[view presentations]

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