The Problem with RSS

RSS is the lifeblood of bloggers. It is the means to unspeakable content distribution to a wide variety of places. It is the means to an end that is widespread readership. Techcrunch has 461k readers who read the content via readers such as Bloglines, Google Reader, mobile RSS readers such as the Viigo app we have launched for Blackberries as well as unknown other syndication deals.

RSS is the life blood of blogs and new media types.

However, that’s where it stops. The problem with RSS is that that simple three letter acronym strikes fear and trembling into the masses. People like my father don’t know how to read my content in any other way other than using his web browser to surf on by – if he remembers. Most people still don’t subscribe to podcasts – they listen to them in flash players or by direct download from the web.

This is the barrier to Web 3.0 and so far no one has figured out how to hurdle that barrier.

While RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, outside of tech circles, people have no clue how to even use Internet Explorer 7 to subscribe – and more importantly follow and consume – syndicated content. Even the good folks at FeedBurner Google dump a nice front end on the front of RSS pages (click here to see mine) but then what does the average user do with that? There is a gap of education missing.

Maybe the gap of education isn’t missing but the format is lacking?

Web 3.0, in my eye, is a departure from standard modes of interaction with computers and the internet. It is the removal of the need for keyboards, mice and screen; an expansion beyond the limitations of the screen. It is mobile and distributed content. It is distributed content.

Twitter is early Web 3.0 as the need for the computer and interaction from the standard web browser is removed in place of the interaction of text messaging. That is just the beginning.

It seems clear to me that the person who figures out how to bridge the distributed content gap from low mainstream adoption to critical mass, will be the winner of the race to Web 3.0 and will likely be a very rich person for life.

7 Replies to “The Problem with RSS”

  1. I agree that RSS is a surprisingly difficult concept to explain to the general public. The fact that it has to be “explained” at all is a barrier. The mere mention of RSS causes eyes to glaze over.

    Wouldn’t the answer be to integrate RSS with bookmarking or favouriting.

    People using the internet generally know how to bookmark a site. Perhaps the very act of bookmarking/favouriting a site could incorporate notification of updates/new content. There could be the option of having your browser start page be a list of updates that every bookmarked site has made over the past 24 hrs (or however long). Or a pop-up when the browser is fired up. A system which happened automatically so that nothing would need to be explained.

    If this is a remarkable new idea that garners multi-millions of revenue, then I at least want a mention!

  2. I’ve been calling it “Live Bookmarking” more and more recently, after the name it’s given by Firefox-based browsers. I think one of the main barriers is the terrible support in MSIE for it, so there’s two ways around it: persuade people to install other browsers; wait for MS to wake up.

  3. This has been the TOUGHEST transition for me to move my readership from myspace to my website. RSS is something totally foreign to them, which makes me have to post a link every single day in my myspace blog to my website because at least 2000 people get all confused when you bring up RSS.

    I started using the e-mail subscription function through feedburner to compliment the feed and people have responded well to that but I might as well be speaking in Spanish when I say RSS.

    I hope the bridge is gapped, I just wonder how it can be done.

  4. If you want one possible solution, go download and install Google Desktop. Then go about your day for a while. Later, check back on it, and you will find it has subscribed itself to all the RSS feeds it could find while you were browsing and is now showing you headlines from those sites.

  5. RSS needs a friendlier name and a good reader app. Right now it mostly gets lumped in with web browsers and mail clients and I’m not sure either of those approaches are really right. Why should I subscribe to a feed in firefox for example when I can just bookmark the site and check back?

    I think desktop-level integration (Dashboard, Vista sidebar etc) is a good way to go for RSS. I know I’d visit more sites if a growl notification popped up as feeds updated for example (but do it in something that’s not a separate download, so any average joe can do it easily and often).

  6. I can’t agree more with your observations on RSS and the masses. Outside of the technically savvy, RSS is generally a mystery. As a blogger, I constantly come across articles about the importance of increasing RSS subscriptions but most of the blogs talking this up are about technology, SEO, marketing, etc. Fortunately, I’m an IT person so I understand. However, my guitar blog and countless other blogs, have nothing to do with these subjects and typically don’t attract folks who are knowledgeable about technologies like RSS. Personally, I think the divide is greater than many realize…

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