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You are here: Home » The Marketing Diary » Column: Direct-to-Desktop Marketing » RSS as a Change Agent: The Macroview

October 13, 2004

RSS as a Change Agent: The Macroview

Before implementing RSS it's also good to at least basically understand the larger implications of RSS.

Simply put, RSS is not only a content delivery channel or technology, but also something more. It's actually an agent of change that's, in a way, changing the way companies and individuals deliver and consume content.

To better understand this let's first remember how content is "traditionally" delivered.

People subscribe to e-mail newsletters or "update services" to get content delivered directly to their inboxes. It's (or better yet, was) convinient, easy and simple.

But, in order to get content delivered to their inboxes, they must first reveal their e-mail addresses, which are basically ID numbers that allow anyone who knows them send whatever they like to these ID numbers.

In a perfect world we would only receive the content that we requested and from the people that we wanted to hear from --> the people that can provide us with relevant information, specific to our interests and current situation.

Unfortunately we're not living in a perfect world.

Since our "ID number" allows anyone to contact us, we have very little control over who actualy does contact us and what information they send us.

In a way, it's a "perfect democracy" that just doesn't work. Because, in reality, we don't want to hear from everyone that thinks they have something to say to us.

In reality, we only want to hear from a very limited circle of people and receive very limited types of content categories.

But, for the sake of the argument, let's presume that we are actually getting information only from people that we want to hear from.

Unfortunatelly these people still have the power to send us whatever information they like, not just the information we want to receive from them. Basically, they have the power to push any kind of content to our e-mail inboxes.

We can either unsubscribe from their e-mail service or continue to receive their content as it is. One of the problems with this is that unsubscribing can be a rather tedious process, definetly not a two-click affair, and some people even doubt that the unsubscribe feature will work.

This is our reality.

We are, more or less, forced to receive content we mostly don't want to receive, and for the content that we do want to receive, we also have to put up with much information we don't want to get.

This is the "democtratic" nature of e-mail and many marketers and publishers have been abusing it for a long time. It's not the medium's fault of course, it's just that people are who we are.

And now enter RSS in to the picture, a "new" channel that users need to proactively add to their content consumption mix, including proactively "adding" content publishers they want to hear from, thus eliminating the "democracy" of e-mail (conversely, limiting our "content diet" only to the publishers we actually want to hear from).

But there's more.

One of this "strange" channel's characteristics is that it's unebelievably easy to remove content publishers you don't want to hear from.

Now, all of us have very limited time for online content consumption. It's always been this way, but with e-mail content consupmtion we usually don't even bother ourselves with unsubscribing from the content we don't want to receive, since we already receive hundreds of SPAM e-mails per day anyway, so why bother with unsubscribing from a few e-mail lists and the few additional e-mails we receive per week.

Most people don't even know anymore what they subscribe to since they have no unified view of all of their e-mail subscriptions.

However, this new channel, RSS, is quite different. Here you have an exact view of what you "subscribe" to. You see exactly which content publishers are on your "list" and you can remove any of them immediately, without even a second thought. It's quick, easy and comftorable.

Compare this with the relative difficulty of unsubscribing from e-mail lists, and even with the e-mail mindset where you just don't care to be bothered anymore with unsubscribing, since you don't have a view of what you subscribe to anyway.

This new channel takes the democracy right out of content delivery.

If RSS content publishers want to keep and grow their readership, they cannot afford to do the things they could have easily been doing with e-mail. Instantly, all the content needs to be highly relevant.

You can no longer afford to send out blatant advertising messages or too much content that is of little interest to your target audience. If you want to "survive" you need to tailor all of your content specifically to the needs of your target audience.

Sidenote: it is important to understand that e-mail publishers can get away with occasional irrelevant content (if most of their content is relevant) easier because e-mail subscribers are not as trigger happy. But it's just too easy to unsubscribe from an RSS feed that dissapoints you.

RSS content delivery must in nature be more relevant than content delivered by e-mail.

RSS content publishers know this and most are providing exactly this, very relevant content, usually more relevant than what most e-mail publishers are doing, since they are taking in to consideration the specific characteristics of the channel.

And there are more publishers like this every day.

And eventually, even those that use both e-mail and RSS to deliver content change the way they are delivering content using e-mail. Their entire content production becomes more relevant to the user's needs.

It's quite easy to imagine the larger-scale implications of this.

Since more and more publishers are starting to offer more relevant content, that also raises the bar for other content publishers, even those not using RSS.

Our expectations are increasing every day.

We are no longer content with mediocre content, we actually expect and even demand more relevancy.

And so the circle is completed.

Early RSS publishers have started raising our expectations of what to expect from internet content and have thus effected our internet content consumption habits. Users, in effect, are starting to demand more, which in turn forces other publishers to comply with the increased demands.

This process has just begun and still has a long way to go, but it has begun and will probably not stop.

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