The person that founded the Internet One Hundred Club, Bill McCloskey seems to be taking a lot of heat from a few posts he wrote a while back on claims folks have been making about the penetration of RSS feeds and their ability to replace email. I read Bill's original posts and while I was surprised by his wait and see approach, I did find his post very informative and included it as part of a project I was working on for a major financial services company.
For one thing, Bill was right when he talked about how people are reaching when they talk about the penetration of RSS and was also right to remind people regarding PointCast. Now, I don't believe RSS will replace email altogether, but I am working on a project to use Secure RSS feeds as a replacement for email to circumvent phishing concerns for this client who is NOT sending out email. I do think RSS will move website traffic because people can use RSS readers and not visit a site. That's how I pound through my feeds. Ok, before I lose you, here's what they are and why you should care about RSS.
WHAT IS RSS?
RSS stands for really simple syndication and was invented sometime ago by Netscape. In its simplest form, it is a news clipping service that provided a header and few lines of text. It has evolved however, to look, resemble, and act like email. Most major newsites (WSJ, NY Times, Yahoo, etc) allow you to tag a section and grab a RSS feed. That way instead of visiting the page you can grab a feed. For example, the RSS feeds on the right hand column of my site will allow you to get the RSS feeds of my recent posts and access them through your favorite reader (Yahoo, Google, Bloglines, etc). There are plenty of places to go to read more about RSS so, if you need help drop me a comment and I'll direct you.
In order to read a feed, you either need to have a web-based provider like MyYahoo or Bloglines, a desktop version that most-likely adds-on to Outlook, or use Firefox, IE 7.0 which is in beta or Safari for MAC. No busy executive should be without one. A screen shot of my Bloglines feeds are shown on the right. Since yesterday, I added about 6 more.
WHAT IS THE PENETRATION OF RSS
As reported by Bill in his MediaPost article, Yahoo and Ipsos ran a study that was released in 4Q'05 that showed that 4% of internet users are aware of RSS and that another 27% use it but are unaware. Huh, you are probably asking yourself, what does that mean? Yes, true believers, a lot of your added content onto MyYahoo is coming from RSS feeds, but you don't know it. So, the number from that study is 4% not 31%. I can't talk more about what I think the penetration is now, but let's just say I think it is probably closer to 8%. If you would like a copy of the study, make a request in the comment section and include your email.
WHY DOES IT MATTER TO MARKETERS? - PUBLISHER SIDE
Simple, it is another form of communication that makes it very easy to push out information to clients. Plus, it is very simple to create and simple for someone to opt-in to receive it. Now, the feeds themselves are not personalized so you theoretically don't have the 1:1 communication power of email, but there is nothing simpler than signing up for a feed and then accessing the feed.
As you can see from the image above, I have a lot of feeds set up. They have not decreased my email usage, but what they have done is decreased my site visits. For example, I set one up for a few ebay products that I like to watch, so instead of going to ebay and searching for them, I just access the feeds. RSS is also great for getting breaking news and staying on top of your favorite sites in a matter a minutes. Again, in this case think of them as a news clipping service.
So, if you own a site, you should start thinking about providing RSS feeds of frequently updates pages. Perhaps, news, research, PR releases, job searches, and etc. That way people can grab them and read them very quickly. There are other uses for marketers, but that is for another post.
Next time I post about RSS, I'll review how Secure RSS feeds can be an effective tool for communicating with clients, especially as a tool to combat phishing and what I think it will take to increase RSS penetration. Remember, if you want a copy of the Ipsos/Yahoo RSS study, drop me your email in the comment section.