RSS Aggregators and More

Steve Kirks writes:

RSS is a content syndication format, not an alternative to the visual experience the WWW has become. Let RSS transport syndicated content. Let RSS aggregators read it and display the feed. Instead of combining the web browser with the aggregator and perpetuating the current conventional thinking, let’s try to take this in a different direction.

Create a different kind of aggregator, one that’s a browser first and a RSS reader second. The browser has a preference page where you subscribe to feeds of interest. Second, add a list of keywords to find in the feeds. Third, add technology to monitor your site view habits (think Tivo without the privacy issues).

When you launch this program, it displays a “customized home page” using the prefs from the paragraph above. Click a button on the page and the app opens news/info/entertainment of interest where each category is a window, each web page a tab. Info you wanted to know is highlighted (cues from CSS embedded in the feed or web page). Keywords are highlighted differently.

On a more general note, interest in RSS has been increasing. Dan Gillmor writes that RSS is hitting a critical mass.

RSS is transcending the blogosphere. Not only can you find gazillions of RSS “news feeds” from blogs, but other kinds of information providers have recognized the value of this efficient channel for their own purposes.

That’s why you can subscribe to a feed from the New York Times and the BBC and CNet and many other professional journalism organizations. It’s why Microsoft and Cisco Systems, among other companies, have started producing RSS feeds of things like news for software developers. And it’s why, the online retailer, is encouraging customers to subscribe to feeds listing the latest items for sale in various categories.

One of the most promising arenas for RSS is in lightening the load of e-mail, which spammers — and overly restrictive spam-filtering software — have all but wrecked.

RSS is going to spread much more widely. Suppose, for example, that Amazon’s product feeds were linked with a relevant discussion group. Vendors could route news — product recalls and enhancements — through Amazon, and so on. RSS is surely part of tomorrow’s open, loosely joined commerce.

David Sifry, who runs a Weblog search engine called Technorati, sees even wider RSS uses.

“How about getting an alert whenever your backyard motion sensor goes off?” he wonders. “That’s easy. But what about combining that with the feeds from the other cameras in your neighborhood, taken at the same time? How about taking the aggregate information from traffic cameras, published to the Web, to be able to more effectively calculate and predict traffic flow during rush hour? How about entirely new industrial applications made possible because the sensors are all describing information in the same format?”

Dan has also authored an excellent report on the same topic for Esther Dyson’s Release 1.0. From the introduction:

n this issue, we show how blogging originally a cross between self-expression and journalism and its tools have morphed to give users some of the power promised by the so-called Semantic Web. With blogs and RSS, they can construct personal news or commerce portals for themselves or for third parties, track multi-person blog conversations across the Web, or figure out other ways to control their digital environment that we have not thought of yet.

Blogs and RSS are surely not the final form of end-user empowerment on the Web, but they are a solid start. As the World Wide Web showed, things really take off when users build out their own real estate rather than relying on vendors to supply accommodations. The success of the Web was due not to mass production and economies of scale, but rather to distributed development of local content and economies driven by individual passion.

While structured content will still require canned applications, much of the less structured content on the Web is now likely to become accessible to end-users on their own terms. The Web, HTTP and search gave people access to information; RSS enables them to manipulate how they receive and distribute the information. The useful, innovative, surprising applications that capability will foster are exciting to anticipate. While Google surprised everyone by using links between content to define an invisible, “you-are-here” -centric structure for the Web, RSS aggregators are using links between people (instantiated by blogs) to do the same for real-time text conversations. Other users are exploring commercial applications; what started out as content management has broadened surely beyond the original design goals, and perhaps even beyond what the software handles best. But the question is not what the software does; it’s what users can make it do. The outlines are just beginning to emerge.

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Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.