RSS, RDF, XML and other geekie acronyms
As we have been predicting for some time, RSS syndication is heading out of the techno-geek ghetto and cruising into the mainstream. Microsoft will be building it into their next operating system (codenamed Longhorn) and version 7 of its browser Internet Explorer (out this summer) will be following rival Firefox by incorporating easy syndication functionality. Perhaps even more importantly, the merits of on-line syndication as a way of ‘creating your own newspaper’ are appearing in the non-technical media.
Syndication is one of those things that may appear to be just a small feature until you realise that things which enhances network effects usually have an impact far greater than expected. RSS is almost certainly going to be one of those things.
The name is RSS, sir. Despite proliferation of RSS feeds outside blogosphere, it is still difficult to explain to people what it is, which is probably one of the reasons most people regard it a geek thing. Well, here is a good description of RSS and its uses, aimed at journalists and written by Jonathan Dube for Poynter Online.
BusinessWeek online sums up the two powerful messages from the Business Blogging Summit that took place last month.
- Blog feeds are rapidly replacing email as a form of proactive marketing communications.
- Marketers wishing to post their own blogs should not approach the form as another one-way communications medium, but should plan for their blogs to offer two-way dialog.
Chris Pirillo, a vocal advocate of RSS as an alternative information delivery argues that spam, which is the 800-pound gorilla responsible for most enterprise email blacklists and whitelists, is impossible via RSS.
Because the user controls his or her subscription, RSS subscriptions imply confirmation that he or she wants to receive your message.
Pete Blackshaw, of Intelliseek stressed:
Blogging has become a new form of one-to-one marketing, but one not always dictated by brand. It has concentrated more power in (customer) ‘influencers,’ and thus requires a new targeting mindset.
See, we told you so. Well, I would not say that email is dead as a communication tool although I admit that it is considerably hamstrung by spam to be the medium of choice for PR and marketers in a corporate environment. For marketing, RSS is the best channel as it replaces the push (by the marketer) with pull (from the customer/reporter). I have stopped reading email newsletters from people in my ‘industry’ since if they do not know by now about blogs, that means they are rather behind. (And I do mean in my ‘industry’ i.e. online communication, self-publising, marketing, expertise building etc.)
That advertising professionals see pushing advertising at people as an inherently ‘good thing’ is hardly surprising. However I often think that whereas it is possible to measure the click-through and sales conversion rates from an on-line advert, how can you measure how many people are annoyed and antagonised by an unwanted advert that has been plopped in front of them? Obviously you cannot know if a person decides not to do business with you because they are annoyed by your intrusive advertising which is trying to distract them. Yet the notion that interruptive adverts are a net good (if you will excuse the pun) in pretty much all situations is accepted as an article of faith by most businesses. So much for the primacy of metrics, eh? Yet just because the irritation an advert might cause cannot be easily measured does not mean it does not therefore matter.
But it seems to me that yet again we need to remind ourselves that the job of an advertising agency is to sell advertising to companies, which is not quite the same thing as the company’s objective, which is to sell its products…
Which brings me to syndication and the bright idea to insert ‘contextual’ advertising into the RSS and Atom feeds. With the advent of a news aggregator built into Yahoo, syndication is starting to reach the mainstream. A certain amount of on-line advertising is tolerable and in some contexts adverts may even be welcomed, provided it is just banners or Google ads and not idiotic intrusive pop-ups or malware (the later of which is clearly quite literally criminal under EU data protection laws).
Yet stop for a moment and ask yourself why is it that many people use the various forms of XML syndication such as RSS or Atom. The reasons vary of course, but in a word, it is all about control. Power surfers like to be in control of what they see and where they will spend their valuable and finite eyeball time and news aggregators offer exactly that control, giving a lordly overview of their favourite sites which is spam and interruption marketing free.
And so how, exactly, do you think such a person will react to someone telling them that far from being in control of what advertising they will be subjected to, adverts will now be fed into the feeds they pull in regardless of their wishes?
Well let me tell you how I will react the first time I see an advert in an RSS feed I have flowing into my aggregator. A single word will do:
Of course in the long run this intrusion by the priests of push will just create a market for news aggregators which strip out the advert that the source of the feed has so ‘thoughtfully’ provided.
According to Mike Rende, a guest writer on SearchEngineWatch that also has a blog, blogs can have a dramatic effect on search engine positioning. Although this is not what makes us go weak in the knees when we talk about blogs, it may be just the kind of information that a blog-friendly CIO, COO or Marketing Director may be able to use to convince his more ‘conservative’ and metrics-oriented colleagues.
Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo! explains:
With blogs and RSS feeds, content is updated in real time,” said Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo! “And people who want to get the updated information can get them. It is changing the way that people get their information from search engines; it is aggregating information. Since feeds are machine readable, there is no guessing game with constructing pages.
It is the advantage that syndication gives to blogs - by removing the need to visit a specific web site regularly, blogs have increased their traffic. And most importantly:
The power to subscribe and unsubscribe lies solely with the visitor, rather than a service that may - or may not -unsubscribe you from an email subscription when you request it.
It is the inherent search engine friendly nature of blogs that gets the attention of search engine marketers.
Why should search engine marketers care about blogs? “Because they have a different relationship between the user and the content,” said Watlington. “If you think about pages sitting in an index, you are waiting for the search engine to come and query your data. On the other hand, because of the feed’s relationship, the user is right there getting the data almost as fast as you create it.”
“It is an active relationship (blog) vs. a passive relationship,” she continued. “Blogs provide faster access (to data) to an informed and interested audience.”
And that’s just blogs in search engine marketing! They also brighten your teeth while you sleep and remove ring around the collar…