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RSS hasn't lived up to its promise. What will it take?


I had lunch the other day with a good friend and our conversation turned to RSS. He indicated that he'd finally started to follow a few feeds in IE7, but that feeds weren't organized in the way he wanted to see them or didn't contain what he was looking for, so he found himself often returning to more traditional web and off-line sources of information.

It dawned on me that RSS is nowhere near the mass-market penetration that was predicted a just a couple of years ago. "Real" people not only don't know what RSS is, they don't care. For them it represents yet another tool and yet another firehose of information on top of their email, the web and instant messaging.

So if "real" people aren't using RSS, why is it that it seems like every other website has one of a dozen different RSS related icons? Why is RSS everywhere?

Because geeks are using it.

With one exception RSS is still a leading edge technology. You and I, we're using RSS readers right and left. We're not afraid to install another tool, and we're using it as an alternative to those other content delivery mechanisms to organize our lives a little.

Perhaps a greater use of RSS is in the background. Websites are using it as a content delivery mechanism for Search Engine Optimization, for update notification to various directories and aggregation services, and even as a mechanism to drive old-style email notification.

But it's not yet a means to get to the general internet public.

With one exception. Podcasting.

Built on RSS, real people "get" podcasting. And yes, while many install an additional download tool, it's really the inclusion of podcasts in an existing and popular tool, iTunes, that has really allowed podcasting to go mainstream.

And therein, I think, lies the future of RSS. When it truly adds features or benefits that can't easily be gotten elsewhere, when it becomes integrated with existing tools, such as IE7 or Windows itself, when it truly becomes about the content and not the tools, then there's hope for "mainstreaming" RSS.

Until then, it'll be difficult to get RSS into the hands of the average user.

I'd love to hear what you think. Visit, and enter 9964 in the go to article number box. Leave a comment, I read them all.

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Article C2576 - March 2, 2006 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
March 9, 2006 11:36 AM

Guilty as charged! I'm one of your general public who doesn't use RSS feeds. Well, not until yesterday anyhow. That's when I installed a program to receive podcasts. My friends dragged me kicking and screaming into trying a couple of podcasts, and I do like yours very much. I'm still unclear as to the purpose and use of an RSS feed though and feel apathetic about installing another piece of software to do something that doesn't make sense to me. I'm sure I could learn about it with a little time and effort and will probably do so soon. Since I've read that rss will be included in IE 7, maybe the technology will catch on, especially if large companies use it to provide information for non-technical topics. An RSS feed for busy moms with a quick meal idea, some humor for frazzled nerves, and a homework helper for her kids might actually persuade her to pay attention. :)

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