The New Economy of RSS
Even if notions like "transitive advertising" and premium feeds don't pan out as direct revenue streams, it appears that RSS will have intriguing indirect effects both on the very structure of Web content and perhaps on its economy. For instance, so much of InfoWorld traffic is now coming directly to articles via RSS links rather than McAllister's home page that he has had to rethink how to optimize each article page to grab users with the brand while he has them. "You have to make it clear what the site is about from this article page. It's like jumping into a department store in the watches section. You have to show them what else is in the store."
More than a few publishers are afraid that many users will be satisfied with the headline and summary blurbs in an RSS feed and that these news junkies will never have to click into publishers' sites, where they'll be served real-revenue-making ads and promotions. Some publishers also worry that RSS feeds undermine current revenue models by giving too much content away and perhaps also dilute brands as the content will be viewed through RSS readers or at aggregated Web sites, which gather multiple feeds. Even RSS acolytes admit it is simply too early to tell whether having numerous syndication feeds can actually cannibalize a site's traffic. Reinacker reassures worried publishers that users who are satisfied reading only headlines in an RSS feed probably wouldn't be coming to the site anyway, and if the story interests them they probably will click through. "A lot of clicks you get that way are clicks you wouldn't get otherwise," he argues. Some editors are already crafting more provocative RSS headlines that are designed to entice a click rather than give away the story.
McAllister doesn't know either whether RSS ultimately will diminish his main site traffic and its more lucrative revenue streams. For now, however, site traffic is up, so spewing one's headlines and links so liberally throughout the Web seems only to encourage more clicks to his pages, not fewer. "There are more mentions of our content in the blogosphere," and the InfoWorld brand presence seems strong among competing publications. But of course he also feels that in his content vertical, RSS syndication is not a choice but a necessity. "If you don't have an RSS feed in the tech field, you're not a player."
Because RSS is simply a protocol, a method of exchanging information, we may not have begun to tap into the real potential of this feed yet. The information alert system MessageCast uses RSS in its back end, as a way of monitoring updates among its content partners so that it can send custom alerts to users. "As people save tons of time and money setting up notification systems, they will see how wonderful the RSS system is as a data trigger," says Royal Farros, CEO of MessageCast. Beyond that, RSS is such a simple way of updating information and pulling it onto a Web site, it is sure to be integrated with content management systems, perhaps making them much cheaper and simpler for anyone to implement. "Two years from now there will be ten other uses for it," says Farros. "That's the way general protocols work. It is a trigger device and we don't know yet what it will be used for."
Everyone attached to the RSS industry admits it is the early days, and that the methods of gathering and reading these feeds still needs to get de-geeked considerably before the platform truly goes mainstream. Nevertheless, those odd orange buttons are here to stay, and it is likely that they will become too powerful and no doubt lucrative for someone in the Web economy: click here to subscribe.
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