Question: Will RSS replace e-mail?

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Answer: It's easy to understand the appeal and rapid adoption of Really Simple Syndication, the technology known for distributing news headlines and content snippets from Web sites. By simply clicking a button on a Web site, Internet users can subscribe to content they want without having to divulge their personal information or e-mail addresses. And they can sever communications just as easily as they initiate them.

Now that the first commercial-grade, individualized RSS solutions are reaching the marketplace, subscribers are even able to receive messages tailored to their preferences or click-stream behavior while still retaining their anonymity. 

E-mail, on the other hand, is "an embattled communication medium," according to a JupiterResearch October report, "The Messaging Innovation Imperative." Its dependability and trustworthiness are challenged every day by spam, phishing, viruses and overly aggressive message filtering. Compared with the bright, fresh face of RSS, e-mail looks downright weathered and weary.

But RSS will never replace e-mail. Here’s why.

Recipients like e-mail. Despite concerns about spam and phishing, Internet users continue to opt-in for messages they want to receive, and e-mail house lists continue to grow at a healthy clip for marketers providing relevant content. The Pew Internet & American Life project reveals that fewer online consumers worry about spam than in the past.

Marketers like e-mail. E-mail marketing to a house list is cost-effective, immediate and measurable. With an ROI second only to telemarketing, according to the Direct Marketing Association, and conversion rates that continue to climb, according to MarketingSherpa research, companies are not likely to abandon e-mail anytime soon.

E-mail is turning the tide of the spam wars. CAN-SPAM legislation, high-profile prosecutions of spammers, advances in authentication and reputation systems, and a spreading awareness of e-mail best practices are all helping to thwart spam and enhance message deliverability. In September, e-mail defense provider MX Logic announced that the amount of spam reaching the inbox declined from 76% to 67% in the eight months of this year.

As e-mail keeps forging ahead, RSS continues to surge. According to an October report by Yahoo! and Ipsos Insight, more than one-quarter of all U.S. Internet users now subscribe to Internet content via RSS. And, in moves sure to be followed by other major in-box providers, Yahoo! and Google recently announced they are making RSS feeds available within their e-mail programs.

Again, RSS will never replace e-mail—it doesn't have to. Working alongside each other over time, RSS and e-mail each will be adopted according to user inclinations. It may be that certain kinds of content naturally gravitate toward one channel or the other in much the same way they do for e-mail and direct mail. Marketers who strive to be more relevant, more creative and more respectful of their audience are those that will realize the tremendous upside offered by both channels.

Elaine O'Gorman is VP-strategy for Silverpop ( ), a provider of e-mail marketing solutions.

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