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Why content providers should care about RSS - March 24, 2004

Some comments on Dan Gillmor's eJournal got me thinking about how RSS can be useful to content providers. The standard criticism is something like "I want visitors to see my site the way I designed it, and I want them to visit often." Here was my response to that:

Having been experimenting with RSS readers of all shapes and sizes for several months now, I find that I am far *more* likely to visit the web sites of content providers whose content interests me. That is for really one reason: I am far, far more likely to *find* the content that interests me using an aggregator than random surfing.

The reason I, as a content provider, would be interested in publishing via RSS? If the aggregators are doing their jobs right, and the readers are using them intelligently, I would be able to find that perfect target reader more quickly. Instead of targeting via demographics I can now simply deliver valuable content and those who are looking for my content can find me. No more Google ads or direct mail or piggybacking on someone else's message. If your content is good and useful, you will get readers who care, pure and simple.

I think the onus is on aggregator writers to provide options that help the readers you are interested in find you, and most importantly, delivering the reader into an experience that most closely resembles the one the content provider designed. The two that come closest to being useful here are Shrook and Jyte uses keyword searches as an organizing principle. Equally important is delivering the message in full html with the same ads that are on the source. Sure, summaries should always be delivered without images or ads. Once a reader clicks the "more" or "read" button, that reader should be delivered to the content provider's site, or an extremely close facsimile thereof.

In Jyte, I have searches for things that matter to me: "headline:parenting" and "the apprentice" and "restaurant reviews" and "starbucks portland division" for news of the pros and cons of a new starbucks opening in my neighborhood. Thanks to these searches I discover content providers, often bloggers, I never would have found on Google news or my Yahoo!

The problem with most major news delivery models is that they are designed to emphasize the "most popular" and "most read" and "most emailed." So the only readers who are getting rich content are those who are extraordinarily normal, who care about only those things that "everyone else" cares about. I think most content providers are targeting the reader who has *niche* concerns. This can best be done through user-customized content delivery. That requires an aggregator with a rich set of features and a huge database. With all the energy being put into aggregators, both by my company and all the other individuals and companies out there who are interested in syndication, that has to be only weeks away.

Since posting the comment, and thinking about it in the context of the Wall Street Journal (which I've been missing since I've been so focused on reading my news in Jyte) I also began thinking about how Jyte could really make the world of RSS spin: to create a standard for delivering paid content via an aggregator. Taking the WSJ as an example, what if Jyte were to sell its articles for, say, $0.50 each through Jyte? As a long-time subscriber to the online Journal, I would love this option - I could just read the articles I wanted. I'd probably end up paying more than my $79 subscription price each year. But it would be on my terms - and no large annual fee. Salon could benefit from this too, I'd certainly rather pay $0.50 to read an article than sit through a 2 minute advertisement.