Can RSS Relieve Information Overload?

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Delivering Information to Those Who Need It
Programmers have been using RSS technology for years as a way to keep development groups up-to-date on changes. Suppose you could use RSS to let your employees know when you updated the human resources Web site, rather than sending out a company-wide email. Some companies use RSS internally in just this fashion, reducing email in the process. Phil Gomes, senior manager of technology programs at Dryden Marketing Group (formerly the G2B Group) and author of the white paper, Using RSS for Corporate Commu-nications, says, "I'm always fascinated by companies taking RSS and using it in the kinds of communications that tend to get blasted out in the bcc fields of emails."

Using RSS, you can update those who need to know in a much less intrusive way than email. UserLand's Savin points out that with RSS, only people who need to see a piece of information (those subscribed to a given feed) have to view it. "You don't have to send a company-wide email that people aren't going to read anyway," Savin says.

Klyse at Patton Boggs has found a way to update her project team any time their SharePoint (Microsoft's collaboration software that provides an online meeting place) work space is updated. She says that, when the applications group where she works was setting up a SharePoint workspace, she suggested they use NewsGator (her Outlook-based news aggregator) to send members updates as they happened.

Klyse says that SharePoint doesn't have a native syndication support, but she found a Web site called DevHawk, where programmer Harry Pierson posted free code for syndicating SharePoint sites. Now, members of her group subscribe to their SharePoint site in the same way as from any syndicated site. "You have a SharePoint Web site out there and that's great, but it's a separate place that you have to remember to go and look, and what this does is bring it straight into the news aggregator," Klyse says.

Fighting Empty Portal Syndrome
You can also use RSS in conjunction with keyword searches to help keep your portals stocked with fresh, relevant news. Portals have become commonplace inside large organizations, but many still suffer from "Empty Portal Syndrome" where a lack of fresh content discourages employees from using the portal.

Pino Calzo from NewsKnowledge says his company (a spin-off of the popular NewsIsFree site) came about because companies began making requests for specific feeds to provide portal content. "We got calls from customers who wanted to sign up for commercial services to provide something like headline news feeds," Calzo says. Their typical customer is a company that wants to supply headlines to knowledge workers in a portal on specific keywords. Companies can work with the NewsKnowledge team to create the feed such as a brand watch (all information about your brand) or a competitor watch, or companies can create custom feeds themselves using NewsKnowledge's online Feed Configurator tool. The feeds can come through in a variety of languages.

One company using NewsKnowledge is China-based BDL Media. According to Daniel Levinson, managing partner of BDL, they operate several English and Chinese language news sites and use the Feed Configurator to gather China/Asia news for their news portals, then add value to NewsKnowledge's feed by providing other services such as full text search and news analysis.

Answering Email Overload
RSS is clearly a powerful tool for knowledge workers to gather information inside the firewall, but because of its simplicity, it also provides a way for organizations to replace other subscription models, such as email newsletters, and distribute information to interested parties outside the firewall. Lockergnome's Pirillo says bluntly, "Email is dead." Death, in his estimation, has resulted from email becoming so pervasive that—between emails from legitimate sources, bcc/Reply-All overload, automatic notifications, and the glut of spam—it has ceased to be a reasonable delivery medium. "When you have to tell people that you're not a spammer, that's a problem," Pirillo says. As a result, he has made all his Lockergnome newsletters available as both email and RSS subscriptions and encourages subscribers to move away from the email distribution channel.

RSS has the added benefit of providing a clean, clear way to subscribe and unsubscribe, something that is not always true with email newsletters. Dryden Marketing Group's Gomes says, "RSS is incorruptibly opt-in. No one can force an RSS feed down my throat. I'll simply unsubscribe," he says. The RSS model puts the subscriber in complete control of the subscription process. You only subscribe to the feeds you want, then you can unsubscribe by simply deleting the feed in your news aggregator.


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