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TECH TALK: RSS, Blogs and Beyond: RSS Mailbox

March 3rd, 2003 · 1 Comment

Last week, we saw how RSS and Blogs are bringing forth a new era of microcontent and nano-publishing. This week, we will discuss a few ideas revolving around RSS and Blogs.

RSS Aggregators (also known as News Readers) have been around for some time. Their popularity has been largely limited to bloggers. How can they be made to have greater mass-market appeal? It does make sense for each of us to get information (or events) pushed to us through RSS feeds that we subscribe because it amplifies our ability to process information. The idea Id like to propose is a Hotmail-like hosted RSS Mailbox service.

What this RSS Mailbox does is provide a POP/IMAP account into which RSS feeds that a user subscribes to are delivered. The user can add this account into his mail client. There it just shows up as another mail account. The user can then use client- or server-side filters to separate incoming RSS feeds into folders. The mailbox is also accessible from a browser-based front-end, just like a Yahoo or Hotmail account. So, in a sense, it looks and feels just like a mailbox, but is free from spam because only the feeds that the user subscribes to are delivered.

What the RSS Mailbox does is to enable the use of the email client as an RSS feed viewer. In fact, if one sees the RSS Aggregators, most of them use a 3-pane format, with the left pane showing the list of subscribed feeds, the top right pane showing the item headlines,and the bottom right pane showing the actual item, with the appropriate permalink for the item. With this kind of similarity in look-and-feel, why not just use the email client as the viewer? This eliminates the need for users to download and install a separate News Reader program. All that is needed to access the RSS Mailbox is to add an account into the email client.

If this is the case, then why not just set up an RSS2Mail feed? This way,the RSS feeds can be emailed directly to a users existing email account and the user can equally well set up the appropriate filters. The reason I have not advocated this approach is that we are getting too many emails anyways in most of our existing accounts, so separating RSS feeds may not be easy (they could be spoofed by spammers). Also, by setting up a separate hosted service, the RSS Mailbox is accessible even outside corporate firewalls and through a browser. Of course, organisations could set up their own RSS Mail Servers internally.

On the backend, the RSS Mailbox Server would become a Google-like collector and sorter of RSS feeds. It would fetch the RSS feeds from news sites and blogs as soon as they are updated (if the sites ping it) or would do the botting periodically. It would then parse the feeds into the individual items, and distribute them (using a local mail infrastructure) into the mailboxes of the users who have subscribed to the feed. The RSS Mail Server would thus need to fetch a feed only once per site, unlike today when every blog which subscribes goes out and gets the feed. Of course, this means that the RS Mailbox Server would need to have plentiful bandwidth and storage.

The side-effects of this approach are many. From the users point of view, there is a convenience. Just as one goes to Google when one is searching for content, one would go this RSS Mailbox Server for searching and subscribing to RSS feeds. In addition, by using collaborative filtering techniques (the way Amazon does), the service could also recommend other feeds and items that the user may be interested in based on what others with similar interests are reading. Take this further, and it could create clusters of like-minded readers. The RSS Mailbox Server could this become the ultimate reader-driven content-filter.

Tomorrow: Events Horizon


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