Why News Feed Is Growing While RSS Has Stalled: Peers

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

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Nothing is more humbling for a columnist than revisiting old writings and discovering how things change.

Anticipating an uptake in really simple syndication -- or RSS -- adoption, in June 2006 I urged media companies to offer full-text feeds. (Most sites offer only summaries.) My theory was that they would offset lost ad impressions via emerging RSS advertising platforms.

Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP-director of insights at Edelman Digital.
It took a while, but last month the U.K.'s Guardian became the first major newspaper to offer full-text feeds. They should be lauded. Unfortunately, the move comes just as there are signs that RSS won't reach critical mass anytime soon.

On Oct. 20 Forrester Research issued a report on RSS-feed adoption. Its survey found that 11% of consumers subscribe to feeds. This is up dramatically from 2% in 2005. However, 40% of the remaining 89% of consumers remain uninterested.

Forrester put the ball in your court to give feeds a push. "Unless marketers make a move to hook them -- and try to convert their apathetic counterparts -- RSS will never be more than a niche technology," the Forrester analysts wrote.

RSS is easy and relatively cheap to adopt, so there's no reason for marketers to avoid it -- but I don't see it growing rapidly. However, there is another form of syndication that is worth a deeper look, because it's on fire -- and that's the news feed.

The news feed is a staple of virtually every major social network, be it Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed or others. These "rivers of news" carry not just status updates but links to news stories and, yes, marketing messages. Unlike RSS, the news feed is powered by the most trusted source of information: peers.

According to a Cone Communications study, 34% of consumers want companies not only to have a presence in social media but to also actively engage. The news feed could become a venue in which to do that, though it won't be through ads. We will demand that actual employees engage us.

News feeds, unlike RSS, are not geeky. They're just there, and they probably hold a lot more potential than RSS feeds. Check back with me in two years to see if my crystal ball is more accurate this time.
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