How to Sell RSS (Or Where the Feed Fanboys Drop the Ball)

I see these lists all the time, and they never cease to amaze me.

Steve Rubel offers us a post entitled “35 Ways You Can Use RSS Today.”

Here’s a few samples:

Get hotel deals from Marriott
Learn a new word every day using RSS
Track the latest sales with Dealcatcher
Subscribe to the Target circular
Subscribe to movie reviews

Go ahead and check out all 35 if you’d like.

Now, tell me — couldn’t you rewrite that headline to read:

“35 Ways People Used Email in 1998 (And Still Do Today)”

I mean, come on. Just as an obvious example, people have been learning a new word via email for forever. And heck, even I published an aggregated movie review ezine back in the 90s!

Worse, every single one of the 35 listed by Rubel can be done with email today. It’s not like opt-in content delivery originated with RSS feeds.

Here’s the point.

Recently released studies re-affirm that people love getting content by email, and don’t get why they should switch to RSS. Of course when you ask the question “Do you want to aggregate RSS feeds?” and get a negative response, it’s as if you had asked “Do you want to access Web pages with HTTP?” in 1995 (good one, Scott!).

Regardless, people simply don’t like change. And when you tout RSS on the basis that it does the exact same thing as email when it comes to content delivery, you’ll get nothing more than a shrug and a blank look.

The way to sell RSS is to tell people why it’s better than email for them.

Or, as Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog correctly commented, RSS “beats email all to heck.” Now, we just need to tell people why.

And I agree that we’ve got to stop calling it RSS. It’s just not going to fly with the masses.

I’m warming up to “content feed” myself. What do you think?

Please feel free to offer any brilliant feed branding ideas in the comments. :)

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Comments

  1. Content Feeds is a good term, though it gets the same quizzical look.

    Elevator Pitch: If Knowledge is Power and Time is Money, think of Content Feeds as a way to gain Knowledge without wasting Time.

    Porch Pitch: Gain Knowledge. Save Time.

  2. Nice!

  3. The term “Email” got quizzical looks in 1995.

  4. How many times have we said it…

    There are no new ideas, just new implementations/adaptations.

    Same song, new dude covering it.

    I did learn something, though….you have a great page you’re letting us steal ( RSS info ) and all we have to do is link back.

    I’m gonna steal the HTML, link back and then steal the idea of creating a page to let people steal for a link !

  5. I think it just has to do with the concept. It’s so geeky. We need to make RSS as simple as email. Or more simple. The nice thing about RSS is its spamless.

    The nice thing about email is its a concept everyone has already bought into.

  6. RSS is its name and it’s not going to change. Hell in ’96, I had no idea what the Internet or the WWW were. They sounded very geeky, something akin to some national security people working with connected computers.

    RSS will be common place when Microsoft gets its software out with RSS incorporated into its very core – outlook, IE, and word. That’ll start with IE 7 later this year.

    Until then RSS will be spread virally, even if it is slowly.

  7. Having worked for big media for the last 3+ years, and talking w/ users, I’ve come to understand that most ppl don’t use the word “content”–it’s very industry-specific.

    Plus, it’s somewhat redundant. Everything you get from an RSS feed is content.

    So… how about, simply, “feeds”?

  8. RSS is the delivery kid on the bike.

    An aggregator is the porch he throws your newspaper on.

    Too long, I know.

  9. Like email, but no spam.

    Maybe that is totally wrong, but I like it.

  10. “Fast Feed” or “Clean Feed”

    I think the word “content” in “content feed” is still too out there for the average user. Sell them on benefit (fast) while maintaining some semblence of originating terminology (feed).

  11. I’d agree that you shouldn’t use RSS to describe content feeds since that’s just the technology that enables it and it’s not the only one. For example, Blogger only provides Atom feeds by default.

    I like “content feeds”. I like the “no spam” pitch. But really, I don’t see why I would want to bother “selling RSS”.

    I subscribe to feeds because I get too much e-mail and too much spam and some of the content isn’t available otherwise (unless I visit the site directly which I’m not going to do) and I like aggregation.

    I don’t subscribe to feeds to get junk info that wastes my nearly non-existent free time.

  12. Great ideas and thoughts everyone. Kevin, you’re right… and I’ve written before about waiting for Microsoft to get it together and ship IE7 and Vista.

    It really annoys me to wait on MS though. :)

    Jason, the only reason you’d want to “sell RSS” is as a publisher.  Although people love getting content by email, they don’t trust all that many people with their email address.  That lack of trust can negatively impact subscription numbers, while RSS solves everyone’s problems.

  13. As a developer, the most compelling thing about RSS to me is the ability to pull a lot of stuff from a lot of disparate sources into one place, and then – since they’re in a standardized format – use them to my hearts content.
    One example you see fairly often is pulling the National Weather Service feed and creating an image representing the weather (see http://www.ljworld.com/).

    In other words, you can do a lot of cool stuff with it.

  14. What’s in a name? How can you sell something called RSS?

    Reminds me of ‘global warming’…sounds so ‘nice’ nobody gets upset, until they really find out what it means.

    Somebody please come up with a better name than RSS! Benefits oriented please.

  15. It’s ironic that we are discussing making RSS more user friendly when you consider what RSS actually stands for.

  16. I’ve seen the future of RSS. It’s a Web 2.0 (the real kind) interface that never uses the phrase RSS…but it is working it hard in the background. I’ve been asked to work on a testing team and it is amazing for the normal person. Geeks might not like it, but isn’t that the point, getting it to the regular people.

    I know that the team is going to release beta next Monday to their pre-registered users, so signup if you want to see it.

    Sorry to pitch it, not my product, but I haven’t been this amazed since…uh..email came out.

  17. Dude,
    RSS, Agreggators and stuff like that confuses the hell out of us regular folks.

    Instead of telling me why RSS is better than email, show me.

    Give me an example.

    The spam free comment someone made was good. But something tells me that may not be enough.

    And I have no idea what an agreggator is. Really.

  18. It’s not what’s better about RSS, it’s how I benefit from the difference.
    That’s what’s missing from the RSS sales pitch.

    The examples of use I’ve seen numerous places, Rubel’s post included, miss the point. It’s not that I can get an update on a hotel deal…if that’s all RSS gives me…why use it?

  19. Jim, exactly. That’s why my approach to an RSS tutorial started with the reader asking “Why should I care?”

    Chartreuse, I know you use an RSS aggregator.  It’s called My Yahoo.  Most popular one there is out there for “regular folks.”

    >>>Instead of telling me why RSS is better than email, show me.

    >>>Give me an example.

    Click through the links in the post (or above in this comment) and you’ll see I’ve tried to do just that.

    And you can remix it for free on your blog.

    Really. :)

  20. While I agree that the names of these things poses a problem for a lot of people (neither my dad nor my wife will ever get it), I have the feeling we’re sort of stuck with them. It’s too bad:”RSS” makes for a nice abbreviation, but it doesn’t read well.

    Although, just using “feeds” might be the eventual term that’s accepted into idiom. “Newsreader” and “Newsfeed,” even though they’re not wholly accurate terms, might also work. It’s not like its never happened before where the online world is concerned (eg. World Wide Web vs. Internet).

  21. Lets call it “Push Technology” ;)

  22. >>>Lets call it “Push Technology” ;)

    Just in case anyone’s confused, that’s a joke!

    What a complete blunder “push” was…

  23. I think “feed” works best and when pushing your content I think “subscribe” is the word to use. When someone decides they’d like to subscribe, then they have the option of choosing either the feed or by email.

    You’re right though, nobody says “send it to me by smtp” ;-)

  24. At the time email was coined, everyone knew what was meant by the term “mail”. Email, then, was mail sent electronically. The word is helpful because it used a word/concept that people were familiar with. Stick an “e” on the front and people began to understand that this was simply a different way to get “mail”.

    RSS has no base word to connect to the psyche of the masses. Feed is not such a word. Most people when they hear “feed” are going to think of a farm and pigs. “News feed” is redundant, plus “feed” is involved. One suggestion would be “enews”. Though that is too general a term. “Enews” could be a website, email or RSS. Similar terms could be “einfo”, “escoop”, “eessay”,”efeature”, “estory”.

  25. I saw the study a couple of days ago on Problogger.net and immediately changed the words ‘RSS’ feed on my blog to:

    “Use this RSS feed to send new stories on Lets Take Over to a feed reader like bloglines.com – its a simple way to get stories from lots of sites sent to the one place, instead of visiting lots of websites yourself.”

    Personally, I prefer the less intrusive nature of RSS feeds, compared to email. I wonder if that is one of the killer selling points you demand?

    Regards,

    David J

  26. David, that’s exactly the killer selling point (with a bit of elaboration of course).

  27. I would describe it as someone can “subscribe” to a “feed” and view it through a “feed reader”.

  28. Doug Cummings :

    It seems that the name RSS refers to an enabling technology, and the components of the RSS ecosystem will be broken apart and given names in their own right. Briscoe probably nails it when he says “feeds”, “readers”. As Feeds become more complex and able to do more than just transmit info, we’ll see more specialized names for these.

  29. Doug Cummings :

    One more thing; there are lots of differences between RSS and email. When you subscribe to a new feed, you also get access to all the Poster’s old posts, but when you subscribe to a new email, you only get future emails. RSS readers take care of organizing content based on who sent it, where email requires user intervention to do so. RSS feeds allow updating of information, whereas an email is an artifact once it is sent. RSS also allows community alteration of a message, where email suffers in this regard. And much more. I can actually see a future where RSS replaces email in ways beyond simply broadcasting information.

  30. >>One more thing; there are lots of differences between RSS and email.

    No argument there, Doug. Maybe someone should tell Steve Rubel. :)

  31. I think the point of the post was more about marketing than explaining what the terms mean. The difference?

    Would you go to the grocery store and buy something that was labeled “lycopersicon lycopersicum soup” or would you buy something called “tomato soup”?

    “RSS”, “feed”, “subscribe” are all terms of our technical field. They do not jive with beginners or the masses. While I’m not necessarily advocating dumbing down, one does need to find words that connect with potential users.

  32. RSS feeds need to become invisible to the user. This scenario already exists on iTunes for podcasts and vodcasts. Very few people understand what lies behind their favorite podcasts.

    Blogs present a problem, however. I just don’t see Microsoft building a searchable library of blogs into Outlook since Outlook is an enterprise product at heart. No other email program has a large enough installed base to make subscribing to text RSS feeds as widespread as subscribing to audio/video feeds in iTunes. And Web browsers don’t make good RSS readers.

    For this reason, I believe podcasts and vodcasts will surpass blogs in terms of audience size. Plus, most people prefer listening/watching to reading anyway. In short, a blog’s best friend will remain the search engine, not the RSS feed.

  33. I toss into the ring “email feed” or any similar name that builds off email since at least some of the functionality will be understood. That’s one foot in the door. And put the word under the icon until the two become melded & then you can ditch the email feed or other buzz bite words.

    Also a talking gecko to promote it…oh wait that’s already been done…

  34. Interesting perspective in your last paragraph Neil, with which I respectfully disagree (you must be listening to Anne Holland).

    It’s not that audio and video are not the next big thing, because they already are. It’s just incorrect cause-and-effect thinking that results in people declaring blogs and RSS as on the way out simply because audio and video are being deployed.

    Kinda like TV would kill radio, right?

    Look for a post very soon regarding my thoughts on this, and then you can tell me if I’m wrong. :)

    And Joseph, I love that gecko (even though I ditched Geico for Progressive).

  35. Today, RSS subscriber is often a stronger relationship than an e-mail newsletter recipient. If you get someone to subscribe to your feed, you are relevant to them. And you’re not likely to be lost in the clutter of their inbox.

  36. One problem with RSS is that if you haven’t determined that you have a need to pull content together – it’s irrelevant. Combine that with the fact that aggregation forces the average “content consumer” to have to go somewhere outside of their normal routine and you have another roadblock.

    I use a Google homepage – even though it’s NOW where I spend a lot of the day – it wasn’t 5 months ago. What made me change my ways? It was discovering quality blog content that I wanted to follow. So either give people the need to pull resources together so they look for a solution or wait until Outlook provides the aggregation platform (which is probably one way the “early/late majority” will discover blog content).

  37. I’m of the belief that “it’s not what you sell, it’s how you sell it.” Let’s push the term “RSS” into the background right next to HTML. Taking a cue from the commenter who talked about how the “e” was put in front of “mail” because “mail was a recognizable term, let’s call it “r-mail.” (No, you don’t want to call it “F-mail:-)

    I can see a tutorial: “Use e-mail when you want… Use r-mail when you want…”

  38. You’ve got a hell of a debate going Brian. But this has been debated between Dave Winer and Microsoft before. As Dave said, you don’t need to give something that already has a name a new name. It’s RSS.

    RSS already has orange buttons all over the net. If Yahoo believed for a minute that it would not be called RSS, they would not have changed their buttons’ text from ‘XML’ to RSS. Expect the New York Times to fall in place soon.

  39. Heh… Kevin, I don’t even think there’s an answer to be had. I just love hearing what everyone thinks. :)

  40. Very stimulating post and discussion. I don’t like ‘RSS’ but then who really likes ‘blog’ as a word?

    What I’m starting to find is that some people get overwhelmed by even the thought of trying to keep up with what’s appearing on various blogs and other websites. The ability to create their ‘own newspaper’ which actually picks up the stories and delivers or holds an exandable list of headlines and excerpts for them seems appealing. I ask, do you read everything in your daily paper or skim for what you are interested in? Same thing. As has been said here a few times, benefits not techtalk.

  41. Brian, you misunderstood my point. Blogs will continue to grow, not decline. It’s just that podcasts/vodcasts will likely grow faster (thanks in large part to iTunes). It’s kind of like the Mac’s market share slipping despite Apple selling more computers than ever before — the market for Windows PCs grows even faster.

    As for Anne Holland, I like her a lot and recently spoke at one of her conferences, but I’m quite capable of forming my own opinions about online media.

  42. Neil, gotcha. In that case, we agree completely.

    As people get more confortable with audio and video creation, the blog (which will return to being called a website) and RSS (which will be the behind the scenes subscription engine) will be the foundation and the launch pad for an entire array of multimedia interactions between author and audience.

  43. Hmm. Who said r-mail? I like that, but I think someone tried it last year.

    feedmail?
    webfeedmail
    newsfeed
    textfeed

    What I like, though, is that there are so many passionate people who want to see RSS succeed, regardless of its name.

    It’s dawning on me now that maybe in this case, due to the lack of a name the average (non-techy) Internet user can follow, publishers may simply have to sell the features of RSS.

    But don’t exclude the term “RSS” in promotions. The use of at least a common graphic (the orange button) will probably have to do for now for cueing readers that they can subscribe to a website.

  44. Anand Dhingra :

    Why not call it “Webcasting”?

  45. As someone that is on the other side of the coin – I love reading blogs, I love blogging and I know that RSS is by its name and design – SIMPLE but I prefer to subscribe to blogs via feedblitz because I like it to arrive in my email.

    The issue with that is the time delay and not getting the comments but I get an initial view like I’m on your blog.

    If I’m a hard sell when it comes to dealing with readers then yes – there has to be a much better reason to adapt to the technology. Bloglines is my first step closer to that.

    Great discussion. Tammy

  46. Personally, I just call it a subscription when discussing it with people who don’t get rss. “Feeds” is part of the hangup for them. Subscriptions, they understand. I explain that they can subscribe to something through email, which will clutter their email box if they read more than a few blogs or services (news, weather, whatever). This usually resonates with people who get overwhelmed by the volume of email they receive.

    Whereas, a newsreader of some sort will congregate their subs all in one place and can include things they can’t access via email. Sometimes, when I explain this in person, I can almost see the little lightbulb go off over their head.

  47. KayJay Shelley :

    I love communication riddles.

    I like the idea of -mail, because eMail is concise, familiar, memorable, and ubiquitous.

    Since email is the to and fro of static messages, couldn’t RSS feeds become synonymous with the to and fro of “dynamic” messages?

    I think it already does. It’s a simple but powerful distinction, yet allows the technology room to do (and mean) more to folks down the road – as long as it denotes dynamic rather than static content:

    zMail (z for zipper or xyZ dimensional)
    dMail (d for dynamic)
    tMail (t for ticker or time, time-based)

    Each rhymes with eMail too. I think phonetic similarity adds to recognition, memory, and resonance of meaning too.

  48. It is very unfair to Steve Rubel to attack for not going into the subject of email given that his post was about RSS. Besides, thanks to Rmail and FeedYes and similar tools, most everything that has an RSS feed can be turned into an email alert. Rubel is doing valuable work in publicizing the value of RSS.

    How about calling aggreating, “chunking”? “Whoa, I am behind on my chunks.” “I forwarded a great chunk to you today.” “Subscribe to this chunkalunk.” “Great text chunk. Is there a pod chunk one?”

  49. Hope, you’ve hopelessly missed the point (no pun intended). I certainly don’t want Rubel to talk about email… but by listing a bunch of non-revolutionary things that RSS can do, that’s what he essentially did. He told people that RSS does what email already does, without explaining why RSS is better than email, and therefore why anyone should care.

    Get it? :)

    I’m not even going to touch “chunking.”

  50. Brian: Thank you for your nice note. I can see your point better now except that I don’t think the services Rubel listed are offered in email form. Therefore, RSS is the gateway to utilizing them via email via Rmail and other tools. That is why RSS is so useful and that is what I think Rubel was getting at. And most people are not inclined to the revolutionary. They like the mundane and that is what Rubel is realistic about.

    But I am known for not getting the point and I appreciate your courteous elucidation of these things.

  51. Most, if not all, of the items on the list have been, or are still currently, delivered by email, either from the same source or some other source.

    And I hope I didn’t offend you… I was being very cheeky in my previous response, but I know I can come across the wrong way when I do that. :)

  52. Not offended. You are very sweet.

    Very interesting discussion. Wonderful blog.

  53. What is happening with RSS FEEDS?

    You are being fed with information…

    So, why not just call it “FEED ME”!!!

    Have a Good One*

  54. Great discussion.

    I think “feed”, “subscribe to feed” and “RSS” should continue to be used.

    When words like “email”, “www” and “website” (a web? that’s what spiders do, right?) appeared some years ago, they also sounded geekish.

    Now we can hear people saying, “hey!, why don’t you just visit double u, double u, double u, whatever dot com…” I mean, they even spell the three “w”, although we don’t need it anymore.

    Let’s keep telling our readers, friends, wife (mine still doesn’t get it) and everybody else about the benefits of RSS.

    Once they get it and start using feeds everyday, the terms will be just business as usual, like “fax”, “email”, “ipod” and “pda”.

    Trying to find, or invent, new fancy words would just add to the confusion.

    Besides, we can’t compare these days to the nineties. When email and the web arrived we had nothing to compare to.

    Now, the average Joe and Jane are a little more techie than last decade and their kids were born in the Internet era. I think they can get it easier. It’s just a matter of time.

  55. After I finally figured out how to use and read the thing, like e-mail, I do like the concept. And I do agree, that RSS needs another name…so here’s my two cents — Qik-mail or Q-mail, and oh yes, I like R-mail too.

    See ya.

  56. Observing trends — it doesn’t have to be descriptive just pronouncable: NASA, laser, modem. Make it rsyn, riss, or whatever — it will join the vernacular.