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Use Value: The "Money Shot" in Syndicated Content?

A new report from Yahoo on RSS usage shows how far we still have to go before publishers, businesses and marketers can effectively tap the enormous commercial opportunities available in syndicated content.

The universe of online content and commerce is staggering in its proportions, and few people have the time and skill to continuously search for and locate what they need -- whether it be news and information or good deals on products they are interested in. Enabling online consumers to subscribe to news, information, or product deal updates is crucial to developing loyal audiences and customers as well as to decreasing the amount of "friction" (i.e., hassle) they have to put up with to get what they want when they want it.

That's what RSS is all about. It enables people to subscribe to the content they're most interested in and then receive it hassle free. It also promises to be a powerful advertising medium, which is why Google is trying to patent RSS advertising feeds.

But according to the Yahoo report, only 4% of Internet users have knowingly used RSS, and only 12% are even aware of it. Interestingly, though, 27% of Internet users have unknowingly consumed RSS subscribed content, chiefly on personalized portal start pages such as My Yahoo and My MSN.

Which suggests, of course, that the raw technology is still too complex or little understood for most people, and that the growth of easy-to-use, browser-based intergrated RSS capability (coming in the new version of Windows and Outlook) will help grow subscribed content to mass market-sized proportions.

But there's another aspect to the problem:

Remember back in 1993, when many pundits were predicting that online shopping would shortly result in the "death of the shopping mall?" In point of fact, it wasn't until 1998 that the total volume of consumer online commerce reached $1 billion annually -- which at the time, was still only barely half the size of the real-world market for blow dryers.

Online commerce would eventually grow to significant proportions, of course, but as I predicted in a 1995 article for Wired's online magazine HotWired, that would happen only when it offered significant savings in time, money or hassle compared to shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.

The same will be true of RSS. Right now, most people who use RSS (unknowingly, for the most part) subscribe to mainstream media news, entertainment, or weather feeds. Only 23% subscribe to blog content. And most glaring of all, only 13% subscribe to financial or banking services, and only 10% to shopping and product information.

What a missed opportunity! Every Best Buy, every airline ticketing site, every online bookstore or clothinmg store, every bank -- in short, every online shopping or financial site -- should start making it as easy as humanly possible for ordinary consumers to subscribe to new product updates, pricing specials and other valuable offers. But that's not enough; they should also include objectively-useful information -- e.g., "How to Pick the Best Camcorder for Your Money" or "The 10 Best Little-Known Vacation Spots" -- in their feeds.

That's because even RSS-aware users, according to Yahoo, only subscribe to about 6 feeds.

There's only so much media, after all, that a person can consume. As Rok Hrastnik of RSS Statistics puts it, ""Even RSS-aware users only subscribe to the content of highest relevance to them. It's up to [businesses and publishers] to make a place for yourself in this consumption channel."

And especially for online businesses, you can only do that if you offer some tangible practical benefit to people -- i.e., information you can use, or some genuine savings of time, money or hassle in people's daily lives.

Use value: just like in the early days of online shopping, that's going the "money shot" not only for RSS syndicated content, but for the greatly-expanded and more-targeted online advertising and commercial markets it will enable.


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» More on the "Use Value" of RSS from BlogRevolt.com
NevOn has a smart report about a UK supermarket chain called Tesco that is now sending out an RSS feed for its "Deal of the Day." Says Neville Hobson, the man behind NevOn: So my prediction is - more RSS... [Read More]


RSS aware users only subscribe to six feeds? LOL I have like twenty or thirty feeds in my feedemon rss reader.

I guess i'm not in the mainstream on this one. I view RSS as the only tool that allows me to keep up on all the political and tech blogs and websites.

As far as advertising via the feed goes, I know feedburner allows for google adsense to be displayed the the RSS feed description. That's a start in the ad driven feed world I guess. It will be interesting to see what Google eventually patents.

Yeah, Yahoo said the average number of feeds was 6.6.

And as for Google's RSS ad patent app, I'm still having a helluva time finding it. The app that zdnet links to does not appear to be it.

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