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While Web publishers slept

Pheedo co-founder Bill Flitter has a warning for online publishers slow to grasp the implications of RSS: Fear the future.

3 min read
Is the news business in danger of getting shoved to the sidelines because of a nascent technology?

Just about every major online news source uses RSS to deliver content to subscribers. RSS has been adopted by major publishers such as CNET, the BBC, Yahoo, Motley Fool, InfoWorld, The New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Wired News, The Wall Street Journal and many others, including a rapidly growing number of local and regional newspapers.

Unfortunately, most of these media companies do not yet understand the impact that RSS is having on their Web site traffic, also known as the "RSS Effect." They know even less about how to monetize this new content channel.

Moreover, they don't know who's using it, when and how. And most important, they don't know how much traffic and revenue their Web properties will forgo as a result. To publishers, the whole issue of RSS is not a question of "if" but of "when."

RSS, like other time-shift technologies such as TiVo, is a technology that will change the way traditional media consumers interact with their content.

RSS feeds are quickly becoming mainstream, but both publishers and consumers are just scratching the surface. Recent data from the Pew Internet Research Foundation shows that a mere 9 percent of the Internet population has a good idea of what RSS is.

For those in the know, it's a cool, new information channel that readers love. And if we've learned anything about content delivery technology in the Internet age, it's that consumers want as much control as possible over their content and will seek out the tools that afford them the most control.

The challenge for publishers and marketers is to develop more personalized content that enhances, rather than disrupts, the new consumer-controlled model. The Washington Post has embraced the challenge, announcing recently that it will integrate RSS advertising into a few of its RSS feeds as part of a unique campaign encompassing RSS ads, online video, behavioral targeting and standard ad delivery.

This marks a tectonic shift in how major publisher view RSS and illustrates the potential for RSS to become a dominant media channel. It's the first sign that traditional Web publishing might be coming to an end, opening the door for a new era of time-shifted, consumer-controlled media. CBS News recently announced that it's changing its online strategy--moving to a much more flexible online model, where consumers have a lot more control over the content they want, when it will be delivered and in what form (text, podcast, streaming video). While CBS News hasn't mentioned RSS yet, its strategy ties in directly with the heart of RSS in that it is 100 percent reader/viewer controlled.

RSS, like other time-shift technologies such as TiVo, will change the way traditional media consumers interact with their content. When people get an RSS feed, they need not go through standard Web site navigation patterns that we are accustomed to tracking. They look at just what they want, when they want.

While this is great for the consumer, it can be detrimental to publishers that have heretofore ignored the impact of RSS. Suddenly content that used to take a few clicks to get to on a Web site--providing ample room for profitable ads to appear--can be accessed in one page view, sans the ads. That's a huge change that most publishers have yet to grasp.

Smart publishers need to wake up and smell the RSS coffee because it's not just a flavor-of-the-day trend for bloggers. RSS is a permanent and fundamental change in the way content is delivered and experienced online. If they don't watch out, their Web sites just might die along with the traditional viewership model.

Welcome to the age of consumer-controlled media.