Edinburgh Web Development

Is RSS dead or returned to life?

RSS makes a comeback

by Iain Wilson

2 October 2012

A couple of years ago, aeons in web life I suppose, RSS was the hot new thing.  A fantastic way to aggregate news content and read it from one place.  So where is it now? Ailing and dying or are rumours of its demise exaggerated? 

For those of you not familiar with RSS, it stands for Really Simple Syndication and it's a way of sending web content/pages to subscribers of your RSS 'feed'.  So instead of them going to the webpage, the feed 'sends' the page details to them in a summarised form.  

The summary is sent in a standardised text format which all feeds adhere to and makes them all readable in the same way.  The downside to this is that a special RSS reader is needed to view the feed.  

A RSS reader is just a software program that interprets the text format and presents the page summaries in a readable format.

The key advantage of RSS was/is that you can nominate all the information sources you are interested in and have the latest information automatically sent to you.

The original theory was great but the problem was needing the reader.  You could buy a special reader for your computer or handheld, or there were free ones (Google Reader being a good example), but the whole thing was 'techy' and non-friendly and, without your reader, you were sunk.

So things moved on, RSS aficionados loving it but the mainstream remaining at best unconvinced or worse, nonplussed.

What's changed

Two important trends have changed the way we use RSS: company social networking and apps

These two things are paradigm shifts in the way individuals and companies react on the Internet.  

Social networking is a mainstream facet of everyday life. For many people, they  use it without thinking about it, first thing when they get up and regularly throughout the day.

For company marketers, social networking represents a fantastic potential audience, an opportunity they have never had before.  Getting people to subscribe to a blog RSS feed was hard work, but getting them to like or follow your company or organisation is much easier because it is so much more accessible.

That said, companies now have a never ending need for good content they can publish on Twitter, Facebook et al as part of their content marketing strategy.

In addition to their own content, they need to monitor what is going on in their industry.  They need the content fast and they need to be able to publish fast and that is where RSS can really help.

Most publications, blogs and content sites have an RSS feed.  Check out publications like Entrepreneur magazine, INC.com, Mashable, daily newspapers etc.  

Marketing managers can use RSS to collect the content from these disparate sources and distribute appropriate information to their social network using RSS.

The apps revolution

The original RSS readers were, in general, pretty clumsy and slow and kind of focused on RSS rather than the content.  The era of apps has brought a completely different approach.  They are mainstream, easy to use and focused on content.

Take the iPhone/iPad Newsify app (pictured).  It presents the RSS stories in a newspaper like format, with columns and pictures.  It is so easy to use, the stories are laid out in an intuitive, obvious way and there is no evidence of RSS (and neither should there be).  It's easy to read the headlines and stories, and on finding one that would be interesting to your audience, publish it to the social networks of your choice, adding your own comments when doing so.

The Hootsuite app is primarily an application for monitoring your social networks of choice and engaging and interacting with your audience.  But it also can aggregate your chosen RSS feeds so that you can filter and publish stories to your network.  It is also capable of monitoring your email marketing campaigns, so you can view social networks, RSS feeds and email marketing all from one place.

These are just a couple of the apps out there.  There are hundreds, from the small to the corporate. 

What about my RSS?

If your company has a blog or news section, chances are it will probably generate an RSS feed.  Wordpress is a classic example.  Everytime you publish a new post, it will update your feed.  It always did, but unless you had an audience of informed RSS readers, the feed was inconsequential. 

What is different now is that each time you publish a new post or story, you can get it to your social network audience automatically.  

A service like dlvr.it will monitor your RSS feed and each time a new story appears will send the story out in a tweet or status update to your networks - you don't need to do anything or know anything.

It's alive!

So there you have it.  RSS hasn't died yet.  In fact, it is returned to life.  It's there to help you get your messages out to your audience quickly and elegantly without knowing RSS at all.



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