SDForum Meeting on RSS

Yesterday evening I attended the SDForum Web Services SIG meeting held at the Microsoft Campus in Silicon Valley. The meeting topic was “What is RSS?” and featured three speakers presenting to a group of about 70. These are my notes from the meeting with some rough editing.

Update 2004-03-23: The original PDFs from the three presenters have been posted.

  1. E-mail Newsletters are Dead, Long Live RSS

    Chris Pirillo – Founder & Head Geek,;
    Chris appeared live via webcast; there were a few glitches, including a 20-second lag time that made feedback from the local site difficult, but it actually worked pretty well.

    • His background is in e-mail publishing, looking at desktop syndication from that viewpoint
    • E-mail is easy to use, adapt, explain, everyone has an e-mail address (if not more), delivery is simple (list software); conversion rates are relatively high (clickthru rate)
    • Problems: channel getting polluted, challenge response systems, spam, etc.; support costs for e-mail publishers are high (ISP blocks, user errors, various reasons why email doesn’t get delivered)
    • If you call yourself an “e-mail publisher”, now presumed to be a spammer
    • From the user’s perspective, people think twice about filling out an email form; trust is no longer implied
    • Result is e-mail more cost prohibitive now as a publishing medium
    • Need something easy to deliver, easy to put together, open cross-platform (“standard”), a format that’s understood
    • RSS is very powerful, various flavors and politics don’t matter; the software matters (aggregators)
    • Lots of software and services available today, newsmonster, newsgator, newzcrawler, netnewswire for osx, feeddemon
    • People sometimes confuse RSS with blogging; RSS feeds published even though people didn’t realize, then aggregators came, both grew together
    • Atom created from day one to be a ‘standard’, not controlled by a single entity, without the politics, but it’s caused a lot of political “pissing match”; hopefully it will be the clear winner going forward
    • How do you get people to understand RSS? Simple: have them try it.
    • E-mail has a lot more people familiar with it compared to rss or syndicating content
    • RSS puts the user in control (you are requesting the feeds)
    • If you’re giving your content out thru email, why not give it out via rss? it’s not that expensive
    • How to monetize it? Lockergnome already doing it with targeted advertising, trying to not annoy the user
    • Beyond advertizing, sell access to premium feeds (aggregator needs to support authentication), “wonderful” sharing your subscriptions
    • Blogging Changebot: feed it your OPML feed, will ping you when your channels are updated (not perfect, but it’s free)
    • – service translated between vCards and RSS
    • Bottom line: *today*, there are many benefits to RSS, moreso that other technologies that he’s seen, might say ‘push’ reincarnated, but no one owns this; it’s a powerful idea that’s working
    • Lockergnome stats: 1M unique IP addresses last month just from RSS traffic
    • Still getting off the ground, gaining popularity

  2. RSS: The Next VC’s Darling?

    Thomas Gieselmann – General Partner, BV Capital; Tom gave a background on the projects he’s been involved with and explained that he’s looking at the RSS space to find new investment opportunities.

    • Current period reminds him of 1998, lots of positive energy, smart people
    • He showed charts illustrating traffic for bloglines & feedster, growth of channels in syndic8
    • Excited because he’s learning a lot, lots of high signal-to-noise in RSS feeds
    • RSS food chain: content products -> publishing tools -> directories/search -> aggregators
    • Parallels with HTML evolution:
      • Phase 1: news, destination sites
      • Phase 2: search, portals, directories, e commerce
      • Phase 3: subscription services, social networks, blogs
    • RSS evolution:
      • Phase 1: blogs
      • Phase 2: news content (free & paid), search, directories, custom feeds
      • Phase 3: not yet known
    • Mass market challenges: finding channels (OPML), declining signal-to-noise ratio, teaser headlines only, ads, low quality feeds
    • Biz challenges: low tech barriers, open source, Microsoft, Google, tools market will be entered by giants (compared to MS entering internet), monetization
    • Value drivers: dramatic usability increase, network effects, brand leaders, stickiness & switching costs, proprietary technology & barriers, leveraging RSS-specific values: targeted advertising

  3. Developing Web Services with RSS and ATOM

    Kevin Burton – Project Founder and Primary Developer,; Kevin gave more details about RSS and the new Atom syndication format and also touched on FOAF.

    Today Kevin posted his slides, so go check them out if you’re interested.

    I liked some of his closing comments the best:

    • Syndication is important
    • You can’t ignore RSS/Atom
    • RSS/Atom is easy
    • If you don’t have a feed, you’re not doing your job