Why Full Feed RSS is the Only Way

the world of real timeIf you are one of those digital managers who believes that the page view and the CPM are THE revenue routes, then what follows won’t make a lick of sense to you. Likewise, if you’re one of those who believes that others using “your” content is stealing, you might as well quit reading this now. In fact, if you believe that the path to revenue is scarcity of content, don’t read on.

I have postulated many times that RSS suffers from an image problem, because professional media refuses to use it as it was intended. Remember that the tools for communicating via the Web were not created by legacy media geniuses; they were created by very smart nerds who wanted a better way to communicate. I’m talking about blogging, XML, RSS and anything else that makes a quality, back-end handshake with the Web. The Web wants to control content at the consumption end, not the transmission end, and this drives legacy media types crazy, because we make our money by bundling that transmission with advertising. Emphasis on the back end is why bloggers and others using new technology are so easily a problem for old media. They’ve simply created a better user experience, and rather than explore this, we’ve fought it and held with our beliefs that mass media concepts, like the page view and the CPM, were just fine for us.

This is the only thing that explains media’s reluctance to play in the full feed RSS world. We’re happy to send out a headline and maybe a sentence or two, but we use RSS like a tease, because users must return to our sites to get the goodies. That might not be so bad, if we didn’t insist on exploiting those eyeballs by breaking stories into six pages, or otherwise interrupting the experience to pay the bills.

The RSS feed is a part of the real time Web, but the bundled web site is not. As the Web continues its steady drift to real time streams and flows, that RSS feed will be the only thing that really matters, and we’d better start playing with ways to support ourselves in the unbundled world.

The beauty of RSS is in what can be done with it at the receiving end. The XML language in which it’s written separates the pure content from its formatting, allowing receiving software to display in a number of ways. Consumers of news don’t want interruptions. As Doc Searls says, “There is no market for unwanted messages.” This is why advertising is so problematic online. But what about those people who are actually looking for commercial messages, the people who would be interested to know that McDonald’s has a buy one, get one free deal on McRibs THIS lunch hour?

The real time merchandising world is just in its infancy, with innovations coming in the form of instantly switchable ads, ads in real time streams, and, my favorite, ads-as-items in an RSS feed. This, I believe, is the future of online commerce generation, because of what can be done with these items at the consumer end. Can you say search? It’s content for people looking for it. I think media companies (or anybody) can create a mechanism for commerce-only RSS feeds that will feed a broader search engine. These have actually been in existence for many years, but the marketplace hasn’t developed, primarily because media companies don’t realize what they really can do here.

But what is an “ad-as-item?” Firstly, it’s content, so it must have its own page on your website. A page of content as an ad? Why not? That gives it a permalink, which ads currently don’t have, that can be passed around like any other content. Let’s take that McRib deal. Who wouldn’t want to send that around to their friends via Facebook or Twitter? The content page is also worth a lot of money to the advertising partner in terms of SEO, and this cannot be overstated.

So these items can be delivered in their own RSS feed or mixed in with news items and tagged accordingly. Remember that our job is to put information out into the stream; what happens to it after that is up to the community. I feel strongly that the local business community should be a part of the real time stream, and that this is a natural fit for us in traditional media, potentially as a way to fund our journalism. The beauty of trusting the community to do something with information is that we can get in on that game, too.

Remember also that RSS is what’s fueling many great mobile apps, and mobile is the ideal place for real time.

Folks, we have fully entered the world of unbundled content, something about which I’ve been writing for years. We resist it at our own peril, and we’re going to be pressing this with clients in 2011.

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