How NOT to Sell RSS

I see these lists all the time, and they never cease to amaze me.

Steve Rubel offers us a post entitled “35 Ways You Can Use RSS Today.”

Here’s a few samples:

Get hotel deals from Marriott
Learn a new word every day using RSS
Track the latest sales with Dealcatcher

Subscribe to the Target circular
Subscribe to movie reviews

Go ahead and check out all 35 if you’d like.

Now, tell me — couldn’t you rewrite that headline to read:

“35 Ways People Used Email in 1998 (And Still Do Today)”

I mean, come on. Just as an obvious example, people have been learning a new word via email for forever. And heck, even I published an aggregated movie review ezine back in the 90s!

Worse, every single one of the 35 listed by Rubel can be done with email today. It’s not like opt-in content delivery originated with RSS feeds.

Here’s the point.

Recently released studies re-affirm that people love getting content by email, and don’t get why they should switch to RSS. Of course when you ask the question “Do you want to aggregate RSS feeds?” and get a negative response, it’s as if you had asked “Do you want to access Web pages with HTTP?” in 1995 (good one, Scott!).

Regardless, people simply don’t like change. And when you tout RSS on the basis that it does the exact same thing as email when it comes to content delivery, you’ll get nothing more than a shrug and a blank look.

The way to sell RSS is to tell people why it’s better than email.

Or, as Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog correctly commented, RSS “beats email all to heck.” Now, we just need to tell people why.

And I agree that we’ve got to stop calling it RSS. It’s just not going to fly with the masses.

I’m warming up to “content feed” myself. What do you think?

Please feel free to offer any brilliant feed branding ideas in the comments. :)

7 thoughts on “How NOT to Sell RSS

  1. If I were asked what to call RSS feeds so non-techies understand (oh wait…), I’d go with Site Feeds.

    “Content Feeds” – try explaining what ‘content’ is to someone who only uses a computer to play solitare, check email or click links.

    “RSS Feeds” – forget it.

    “Site Feeds” – ahhh, stuff that is fed to you from a Web Site. Now we’re getting somewhere…

  2. And I’m trying to point out that RSS can deliver any content that email can, and it can do a whole lot more. Isn’t that a more succinct way of letting people know what RSS does, rather than a long list of “duh”?

    But of course, as Nick pointed out, a mindless list still works wonders as link bait.

    I guess I just give people more credit for understanding things, as long as you take the time to present the information in a way that makes sense.

  3. Brian,

    I think you misunderstood about the post there at Micro Persuasion. I obviously can’t speak for him but here’s my opinion.

    Steve has been an RSS fan for long. This is not the first time he advocates RSS. In a lot of occasions he pointed out the benefits of RSS compared to e-mail marketing. He didn’t think that the former will replace the latter.

    I mean, clearly in this post, he tried to give examples of what RSS can bring to the table. Because many people still think that RSS is just a method to syndicate blog content. A sad but true fact. But through his post, we realize there are much more we can utilize RSS for.

    Certainly I agree with you that the list can be more powerful if he mentioned about the “real” benefits of RSS.

  4. Well, I don’t sell RSS to anyone 🙂

    But thanks for the many lists! I will follow some of them …

    RSS contra Email consume

    Knowing about RSS and how to use it is still one of my personal and business knowledge advantages. Letting the river of news flow by and have intelligent filters do the fishing for content is the deal. This could and was also be done with email but to consume the news and to publish the news is much easier achieved through RSS (and OPML).

    Why is RSS easier?

    The pragmatic view is that the same effects can be reached through email. I still receive a number of newsletters. But the very weak point in the comparison is the structure of an email. Email doesn’t have a body structure while RSS is XML and further on there is the micro structure of microformats (like tags).

    I have no idea how many RSS feeds I am following but I do know that I have set up some nice ‘smart feeds’ which deliver filtered content to a very small number of important ‘must-read-boxes’. I.e. in one monitoring channel I have about 180 to 200 feeds. I don’t look at the single feeds, I only follow the filtered output sorted by date. This way I am able to follow the news with a lag of about an hour after publishing which is real-time compared to the search engine lag (i.e. Google alerts via email).

    If people don’t buy all the RSS advantages, well, let them stay with email … And we are not even talking about RSS publishing advantages …

    Productivity: Getting multi-paragraph newsletters or following the usenet groups, every single one/article with a different design doesn’t really help compared with smart and fast RSS consumption.

  5. Hmmm, from a link-baiting perspective, I guess I got it all wrong. Especially since Steve’s post just got picked up by Lifehacker.

    Wasn’t he the guy who said it’s not about the traffic?

  6. The problem is the attention/headline seeking dillema we all face.

    Do we post thoughtful, insightful pieces and see them bomb because the lowest common denominator is pretty damn low, or do we post crap like that because some folks will link to ANYTHING with RSS in the title? and moreso if it’s in a nice handy list that implies quality content without necessarily delivering it

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