Why You Need RSS PDQ
by Paul Gillin
RSS is the best technology
you’re probably not using. Don’t feel ashamed: fewer than 30 percent of
Internet denizens use RSS. It’s an extremely powerful but somewhat clumsy
technology that is central to the blogging movement.
Basically, RSS is a personal
newswire service. People who create content can use RSS to notify their worlds
automatically when they have added information to their blogs or sites. If you
publish something to a standard Web site, you may have to wait days or even
weeks for a search engine to come by and index it. RSS goes out and tells the
search engines, “Hey, there’s something new here. Come look right now.”
But that’s not all. When a site is
updated, the RSS reader grabs the latest content and delivers it to
subscribers. That content can be displayed in an email message, a Web page, a
specialized reader, or any one of a number of other formats. RSS feeds can even
be delivered via messages to a cell phone.
Subscribers get RSS feeds by
plugging the feed URL into a specialized Web service or software program. The
subscription process has historically been somewhat convoluted, but new
services like Bloglines and the Google toolbar are relatively easy to use.
Content providers can customize
their RSS feeds. For example, I could choose to offer a feed that includes
everything I post on my blog about small business. A subscriber to that feed
would then receive only my thoughts on that topic. And the subscriber wouldn’t
even have to go to my Web site; most bloggers deliver the full text of their
entries in their feeds.
On Balance, the Benefits
RSS has gotten a bad rap because
early versions were fairly difficult to use. They tended to deliver a page full
of program code, which was enough to send the average PC user running for the
exits. Now, though, new services have sprung up that make RSS considerably
cleaner and more transparent, and new operating systems from Microsoft and
Apple integrate RSS much more tightly than they did before.
There are drawbacks to RSS, the
biggest one being that actual readership can be difficult to track. RSS can
tell you how many people are subscribing to your content, but there’s no way to
tell—other than by click-throughs to your site—whether subscribers
are actually paying attention.
Some commercial services,
including EvolvePoint’s Feedback and SyndicateIQ, provide enhanced reporting
and analysis that can give you insight into who’s reading you.
Why should you care? Some
visionaries believe that RSS will all but replace email and become an intrinsic
part of the way people send and receive information. Leading bloggers like
Steve Rubel and Dan Gillmor have publicly said that they won’t read press
releases any more unless they’re delivered in RSS format. While their positions
may be a little extreme, the message is that marketers need to get on board
with this technology.
There’s no good reason not to
enable your corporate Web site with RSS right now. All blogging services and
most Internet service providers support the capability, and free software is
widely available on the Web to integrate RSS into any standard Web site. Why
hope that customers and influencers will come find you when you have something
new to announce? With RSS, you can turn them into subscribers who actively
choose to receive new information from you. RSS delivery should be an option on
all company press releases.
You should be familiar with RSS as
a reader, too. Hundreds of sites may influence activity in your market. There
is simply no way to keep tabs on that much activity unless you use RSS
subscriptions to have notifications of new postings sent directly to you.
Most blog-search services also let
you save your search terms as RSS feeds. This is the equivalent of having a
standing search in place. Any time a new blog entry or podcast is posted with
your keywords, you’re automatically notified. That way you never have to miss
out on a conversation that could make a difference.
Paul Gillin has been
reporting on the impacts of technology and media for 25 tears. Previously
editor-in-chief of TechTarget
he now advises marketing executives and CEOs on taking advantage of social
This article is derived
from his book The New
Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media, just out
from Quill Driver Books, which is offering PMA members a special discount at
newinfluencers.com; click on the cover image at the bottom of the page where it
says “best price on the web.”