Monday, June 06, 2005

Some wise words on RSS

As Simon Waldman of the UK's Guardian notes, RSS feeds are still largely the playground of the early adopters. Which means, given the pace of Internet time, if journalists aren't thinking about them now and their implications, they will be behind before it is over.

And the implications are many. Waldman has posted a speech he gave last week to the World Editors Forum in Seoul. Here's a section I find right on target:

The point of this though – is that this is the direction a lot of information browsing is heading. The prioritisation, structure and design that we have given to our content in our papers - and on our websites - is lost as we all become just one feed among many.

This issue played many times over, is the nature of aggregation. And the only way to avoid it is to pull out of it all together. My three tips for dealing with it are simple to say – but tricky to implement.

The first is your content itself – the core of what you produce online – which has to be able to stand up in this sort of aggregated environment. In other words it has to be distinctive – it has to be able to stand out on a global news stand. This means going right back to the basics of excellent original journalism that can stand out on the merits of a story itself regardless of the design that is wrapped around it. (Emphasis by Doug.)

The second is more technical – but has to do with how your site is technically marked up, to make sure that you can offer exactly the feeds that people want, and that the information is presented in exactly the right way.

And the third is that you have to think of the story page on your site – as your front page. Because if you want your feeds to work for you – you want to make sure people don’t just click and run, you want them to find something worth staying for.

Waldman sees a "profound and permanent shift in the way that people engage with content." His conclusion:

Generally, I have found with online publishing, things tend to become opportunities if you want them to be. If you treat them as obligations, they tend to stay that way.

So what is the reward for all this?

This is the best way I can sum it up: Relevance, presence and revenues in a fickle and fragmented world.

We need to accept that the online landscape is changing rapidly, and not necessarily in a way that makes things easier for us. Those who deal with the issues thrown up by RSS and aggregation over the next 18 months will, I believe, find themselves in a much, much healthier shape to face the next set of challenges that the internet throws our way.

The speech is worth your time for a full read.


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