Will RSS wither and die?

I’m getting a bald spot on the area of my scalp I keep scratching trying to figure out how RSS will remain viable for those trying to monetize content and drive people to their respective sites.

Steve Rubel at MicroPersuasion — in a post today entitled, “Why Yahoo is Backing Away from RSS” — examines some recent moves by Yahoo deemphasizing RSS feeds and asks one pertinent question along these lines: “Could this be the beginning of a larger trend?

I think it is.

In the last year I’ve seen data that 1% — and as many as 6% — of internet users read through RSS readers. I’d agree that reading feeds is still in the early adopter, technoweenie stage and few people may even be aware that they’re using RSS when reading feeds in a personal portal, on a web page or on someone’s blog where content syndicated feeds can be displayed.

We’ve seen few copyright problems yet though I’ve been expecting some media company to go after smaller players that display the former’s RSS-fed content on the latter’s site as though it was their own. I’ve also not seen much push-back from companies who’d be much better off to have all internet users appear at their Web offering instead of having their content appear elsewhere (so as to sell advertisers on unique visitors/pageviews, etc.). RSS is still too new and underutilized and it seems as though everyone is still trying to figure out how to build an audience that is sustainable, so it’s all offense right now…but the defense (like lawsuits) will come.

Even though ad insertions have been filtering into RSS feeds, they’re few-n-far between and most content companies are ad-funded. I’m also very aware that — when I read RSS-fed articles in my preferred reader — all content is equal. They all look the same and I sometimes find myself having to look to see where the feed has come from in order to have some context. This is a bad thing for media companies or anyone else trying to build a brand, a customer experience or momentum as a destination for online participants.

I’m going to bet we’ll see more and more companies controlling their RSS feeds to make 100% certain that anything offered has a compelling reason to click-through. Fast Company magazine does this with intriguing article headers and a one sentence abstract. 90% of the time I’m interested enough to click through and read some of the articles they offer. I end up seeing the context of the article, photos and, of course, all the ads that surround it.

So maybe this will lead to better content as media companies, bloggers and others invest in better-n-better content? Maybe. Could also end up like Digg right now where it seems *everyone* is creating provocative, compelling headlines that lead to almost always disappointing content…but the goal is to get people to click on a submitted article and get it promoted to the home page.

The marketplace will find a sweet spot where people like me can read FAST by aggregating hundreds of feeds into an RSS reader yet still snag me frequently so I click-through and receive ads. Better ad insertion technology will appear. I’ll bet too that there will be good technology fixes like web bugs that will help identify, track and measure RSS-feed-to-click-through so everyone will be happy and content can be monetized.


  1. Sumocat on November 30, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    “I’m also very aware that — when I read RSS-fed articles in my preferred reader — all content is equal.”
    I doubt that would be true with the content of my blog even if rendered in plain text. Probably wouldn’t reverse the opinion of RSS though.

  2. bex on November 30, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    Great post! I’ve said similar things about RSS in the past:


    I believe that people who do not value (or care to value) their ideas will continue to publish content as RSS. Bigger sites will find ways to ‘sneak’ in ads to their RSS feeds, like CIO.com, and Lifehacker.com

    The future? Probably something similar to (tho not necesarilly) Dapper:


    Gives the content creator limited contol of the re-use of content…

  3. Steve Borsch on November 30, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    sumocat — very clever rendering of your articles. you really made my point about reader experience and the need to be on a site often to get the full effect.


    Both *very* good posts. The Dapper one made me think about my time at Vignette after we’d purchased OnDisplay. They had screen scraping technology that was phenomenal…and this was in 2000. It was less efficient than a direct relationship with a site owner, but one of our customers (Travelocity) used it to great effect scraping hotel site pictures and other data before they had a partnership with them. So it can be done…and well!

  4. David Mastio on December 7, 2006 at 6:07 pm

    Your comment: “The marketplace will find a sweet spot where people like me can read FAST by aggregating hundreds of feeds into an RSS reader yet still snag me frequently so I click-through and receive ads.” attracted my attention.

    We’re working on a site that uses RSS feeds to aggregate similar blogs and build new features out of the combined data in the feeds. You can see the first one we launched in July here: http://www.blognetnews.com/virginia. The site is designed to get people to click through. Every post excerpt we pick up on our front page is linked twice back to the source. Once in the headline and once at the end of the excerpt. With few exceptions, bloggers have greated the site with open arms.

  5. Steve Borsch on December 8, 2006 at 11:05 am

    David — Very interesting model and love the tagline “Front Page of the Blogosphere”.

    Lots of other attempts I’ve witnessed and experienced in trying to make some sense of the tsunami of content spewing forth from we citizen journalists (and, in my case, I use that term VERY loosely!). Memetrackers have been interesting; social promotion like Newsvine and Digg more so; and yet I still find myself slogging through hundreds of blogs myself to make sure I’m on top of stuff.


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