The RSS Imperative

There’s been a huge amount of discussion about America Online and Yahoo’s plans to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to email messages from companies that pay for delivery. As is typical, there are arguments both for and against the idea of “email postage.”

Some of the arguments “against” may be missing the point.

One of the “against” camps says spammers will simply pay to reach us, like direct marketers do with snail mail. This is wrong because the proposed “pay for guaranteed delivery” offered by Goodmail is for opt-in email only.

Another “against” camp says that personal email will now not get through. However, email servers are good at discriminating between bulk mail with commercial text versus personal communication, and address book “white lists” help. Email servers are not always good at recognizing bulk email that the user has actually requested, which the Goodmail scheme hopes to correct.

The most interesting objection relates to spammers learning to create fake stamps. I wouldn’t put it past them.

Personally, I’m not in either the “for” or “against” camp. I simply don’t care.

More on that in a minute.

Seth Godin, who originated permission-based email marketing at Yoyodyne (acquired by Yahoo in 1998), has been advocating this type of thing for years. In his first post on the news of the quarter-cent per email plans, he says “If you can’t cost-justify that, you shouldn’t be writing to me.”

At first that rubbed me the wrong way. There are a lot of solo entrepreneurs and small businesses to whom this is likely a slap in the face. It’s hard enough to build an opt-in list. Now you will be required to pay to reach that list, after the sweat and toil required to build it.

But then I did the math, and realized Seth is right. It’s not that big an expense, based on the proposed per-email charge. And I should probably get behind this pay-for-play idea so that people will understand just how important good copy is to communicating with prospects.

Here’s the rub, though. I’ve never met a publicly-traded corporation that didn’t crave more of a good thing, and that good thing is money. When you dance with the devil, he always gets to lead… and this per-email charge will increase as fast as the market will allow.

I’ve never enjoyed corporations of any size telling me what to do. So I usually find an end around.

Have you figured out yet why I don’t care about email postage? That’s right – because in this case, the “end around” is superior to the problem.

For content delivery and opt-in marketing, RSS is simply better. And no one can ever charge you or interfere with this direct, opt-in channel to your readers and prospects.

I discussed the email postage issue over the weekend with Raj Dash of the RSS Cases blog. With regard to the control issue, he put it this way:

As long as the “little guy” has a text editor, he can create a web feed. As long as Internet users can find a (free or paid) RSS/ Atom feed reader, they can read your feed.

Now of course this leads right back into the argument that “RSS is not ready for primetime”, and “we still need email to reach the masses.” Of course, this argument is correct.

For now.

My challenge to you is to quit being complacent regarding the speed of RSS adoption. Start educating your readers about the benefits of RSS over email subscriptions. Steal my RSS tutorial if you want, but take matters into your own hands.

If you feel like global corporations will necessarily determine your destiny, you fail to grasp how empowering the Internet currently is. This won’t be the last time large corporations try to exert control over this medium. There’s a lot more coming.

Don’t let big companies extort money from you to reach people who have already asked to hear from you. Use RSS.

Let’s not wait for Microsoft to educate the masses about RSS. Let’s do it ourselves.

Who’s writing this script? Us, or the Fortune 500?

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Reader Comments (8)

  1. says

    Who is going to police “Goodmail” to make sure recipients have indeed completed an opt-in process before receiving the email.

    We have all kinds of laws trying to enforce this at the moment, and I don’t see the spam I receive decreasing any. So I have trouble believing Yahoo/AOL are going to do any better.

  2. says

    Well, that’s a good point. But again, in an RSS content delivery world (and it will get here) this problem is solved. The arguments in favor of RSS are too compelling for the subscriber — they’ll never have to opt-in via email again. Then ISPs can simply ban ALL bulk email and be done with SPAM.

    And yes, I know the spammers will get around even that… but that doesn’t refute the main point of this post.

  3. says

    I totally agree on the point that I’d like to see it all get shifted to RSS, because of exactly what you say regarding the fact it’s totally opt-in.

    But it seems in your post that you think GoodMail will work, at least for awhile, which … I have to say I totally disagree with. But you already know that since you linked to me regarding it 😉

  4. says

    Just to clarify… It’s not that I think Goodmail will “work.” For the short term, I don’t *care* if Goodmail works.

    I think Goodmail will eventually help spell the end of email marketing. It’ll take a bit, but it will happen. Steve Rubel pronouncing email marketing dead was premature, not wrong.

    My only issue with the many reasons given “against” Goodmail is that the arguments debate the merits of the program itself, without realizing that consumers will someday find no reason at all to divulge their email addresses for marketing, or even to receive order confirmations or other one-way communications that marketers rely on to keep “selling to the list.”

    The “list” – which is the Holy Grail of direct marketing – will be at the other end of a feed. So you had better treat it right.

    In that regard, Goodmail is one of the best things that could happen to speed things along to RSS, together with the coming IE and Outlook RSS capabilities. Why, because Goodmail alienates *publishers* and smaller *marketers*, the very people who are holding on to email tighter than any consumer will ever want to, once understanding the choice.

    I like to sell stuff as much or more than anyone. But for me, I’m embracing this, rather than fighting it, because it WILL happen.

  5. says

    Or maybe to say it better (as I perhaps should have in the post):

    “Corporate thinks they can save email marketing by throwing money at it, but they are only speeding its demise.”

  6. says

    Brian, I don’t know what anyone else has to say, but I’ve already noticed problems with my free Yahoo account. Even those addresses whose email I’ve tagged as being “not spam” are still ending up in my bulk mail folder on a daily basis. This started happening about 2-3 weeks ago and it’s frustrating and time consuming.

    The Internet has made it difficult for businesses to decide what they should charge for and what they should give away for free. While I do not like this idea of charging for email delivery, I suppose I wouldn’t expect the Post Office to deliver my snail mail free of charge.

    However, as you quoted me saying, the “little guy” [who doesn’t have much of a budget] can create an RSS feed. I recommend that new businesses learn all they can about the benefits of RSS, and bootstrap their way to an RSS subscriber base by educating their site visitors as well. This is absolutely essential, since the technology is still in the early-adopter stage.

    No doubt, there’ll be companies offering RSS-based marketing services – even as early as Q2-Q3 this year. (My prediction.) In fact, I’m setting up some free services (supplemented by paid services). I think that now is the time for every one who has some sort of stake or interest in RSS/ Atom to become as much of an evangelist as time and resources will allow.

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