Just yesterday, VNU's European arm announced a deal with NewsGator to distribute a bundled offering of the NewsGator RSS reader and VNU's business content covering the information technology industry.
Why is this significant? Because I think RSS feeds are potentially very important, and very good news for business publishers, including data publishers. RSS feeds are simply content sent by publishers in a standard XML format to users. Users read RSS feeds with newsreader software such as the product offered by NewsGator. RSS feeds are commonly associated with blogs. There are two ways to view a blog. You can visit the blog just as you would any other Web site, or you can have new blog entries sent to you as RSS feeds. Every time the blog is updated, the new information is automatically sent to your newsreader and you are alerted.
What excites me is not the technology, which conceptually speaking is quite mundane. Rather, it's the potential of RSS as a new and powerful distribution channel. RSS feeds allow publishers to push content directly to the user's desktop, bypassing spam filters and a whole host of other hassles and delivery impediments.
That's why I have begun to think of RSS feeds as "trusted feeds." Users subscribing to RSS feeds are saying to publishers that they value, trust, and want or need this specific content, and they will pay attention to it upon arrival.
And dare I say it, the other reason RSS feeds are so powerful is that they represent push technology. Push technology has been discredited in the eyes of many because it has been so badly over-hyped in the past. But I increasingly believe the successful publishers of tomorrow must have a push aspect to their product. It's simply the only way to engage your attention-deprived users in a value-added way that doesn't offend. I would even go so far as to say that the surprising resiliency of print publications is due largely to the fact they push content to users, a different form of trusted feed if you will. RSS feeds aren't only for blogs and news stories. They are equally adaptable to pushing out new listings and other event-driven data. This kind of continuous customer connection is crucial these days as more and more publishers find that it's actually easier to sell a subscription than it is to get a subscriber to use a subscription. And if they don't use it, they won't renew it. Staying visible with your subscribers is essential. RSS feeds provide a low-cost and increasingly popular way to do this. With RSS feeds, the medium is very much the message.