RSS not ubiquitous, yet.


Rick Bruner at Business Blog Consulting gives ‘One (Percent) Reason Why Not to Switch From Email to RSS’.  The general gist is right – the debate should move away from RSS v Email and move to how RSS can become part of the marketing mix.

In the article, Rick reveals some research that sheds some light on the usage of RSS readers.

“One of the questions we asked was about various digital communications media and devices they use, including this choice:

I use a “news aggregator” to subscribe to websites (using “RSS” or another “XML” syndication language).

The response? Thirty-five people out of 2543 checked that option. That is 1.4% of the total, that five years after RSS has been available to the world.”

It struck me that this last point (five years since the invention of RSS) might be used as evidence by nay-sayers to argue that RSS will never hit the masses.

So in a pre-emptive strike I thought I’d point out that it often takes a while for innovations to make prime time, especially those that might one day become ubiquitous…here are some examples:

When was email invented? 33 years ago.
“Ray Tomlinson gave society one of the greatest communication tools in history. He invented email back in 1971 — essentially fostering global business communication and turning the Internet into a digital kitchen table for far-flung family members.”

When was mobile telephony invented? 32 years ago.
“Dr Martin Cooper, a former general manager for the systems division at Motorola, is considered the inventor of the first modern portable handset. Cooper made the first call on a portable cell phone in April 1973. He made the call to his rival, Joel Engel, Bell Labs head of research.”

When was TCP/IP invented? 30 years ago.
In May, 1974, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) published a paper titled “A Protocol for Packet Network Interconnection.” The paper’s authors — Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn — described a protocol called “TCP” that incorporated both connection-oriented and datagram services.”

When was HTTP invented? 14 years ago.
Tim Berners-Lee “Given the go-ahead to experiment by my boss, Mike Sendall, I wrote in 1990 a program called “WorlDwidEweb”, a point and click hypertext editor which ran on the “NeXT” machine. This, together with the first Web server, I released to the High Energy Physics community at first, and to the hypertext and NeXT communities in the summer of 1991.”

When was the browser invented? 14 years ago.
“The first browsers, invented simultaneously [to http], was text-only. Then Mosaic 1 (Nov ’93) hit the market, and it supported images. This was such a huge step forward that it quickly took over the (rather small) browser market of its day.”

When was XML invented? 8 years ago.
“The initial XML draft was presented in 1996 at a conference in Boston. The official W3C specification (XML 1.0) was presented in 1998.”

When was IM and P2P invented? 8 years ago.
“In November 1996, only four months after the establishment of Mirabilis, the first version of the ICQ (“I Seek You”) product was deployed over the Internet.”

When was the RSS aggregator invented? 5 years ago
“The date of the first aggregator is roughly April-May 1999. It was UserLand’s centralized service, called my.userland.com. The first use of RSS (it wasn’t called RSS then) was in December 1997”. (Contributed by Dave Winer for this posting with help from Scobes (who’s RSS feed has just been added to My MSN!) Thanks!)

My point?  Don’t write off RSS because it was invented 5 years ago and ‘still’ isn’t at ‘mass use’. If XML, IM and P2P (depending on how you define P2P) – are anything to go by (technologies that ride on the infrastructure that itself took decades to make prime time) RSS has another 3 years before it can be judged as ‘having made it’ or not.


Comments (23)

  1. Jeff Julian says:

    Wow, so you run Windows ME still eh? jk

  2. If you take into account CDF, RSS-like publication/aggregation has been around since 1997 (IE 4.0). Sure, RSS still has room and time to grow, but the growth of IM for instance in its first five years was quite faster. As I commented on Rick’s post, RSS doesn’t need to be a mass consumer format to be useful in a marketing mix, if you know what to expect from it.

    As a historical detail, who was the first RSS aggregator is a very close shot since Headline Viewer 0.1.0 was released on April 25 ’99.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Alex Barnett analyzes claims that RSS is not ubiquitous

  4. Rick Bruner says:

    As Olivier pointed out, IM was a lot farther along five years in than 1.4%, as was the Web browser. Also, you didn’t have the platform in place for mass distribution of email for many years (i.e., PCs and ISPs were not widespread till the early ’90s), and with mobile telephony you had a cost factor that doesn’t exist with RSS. RSS has a lot more things going for it than some of your other examples: a mature distribution platform, loads of content, little or no cost.

    I’m not saying it still won’t catch on — I hope it does — but you’re not making an apples to apples comparison. That said, as I wrote in my post, what I expect will really propel it into the mainstream will be a little thing called Microsoft, if and when it ever gets around to building it into the OS/browser/email client or whatever.

    Or, if Kottke’s right and Google launches a browser of its own (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease) and builds in RSS, then that would work just as well. But I remain skeptical that NewsGator vs. AmphetaDesk vs. Bloglines vs. Feedster etc. are going to go mainstream. After all, how long have Gopher and Telnet been around? But I assure you my Mom will never use either of those.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Alex Barnett writes that RSS feeds, even with their relatively low usage at the moment, can still become the ubiquitous technology that email is today.

  6. James Robertson says:

    Ideally technology is successful when it satisfies the needs of the consumer and boosts productivity.

    I personally believe I am more productive as a result of RSS feeds, as I spend less time browsing web pages.

    I understand that browsing web pages in the work place in some circumstances can be regarded as wasting time. RSS feeds should help reduce this problem by saving the user time and improve the relevance of information sought.

    I understand it will take time, but I think it will be mainstream within the next 5 years.

  7. Harold Check responds to an article from Alex Barnett at MSDN. In the article, Alex says: Don’t write off RSS because it was invented 5 years ago and ’still’ isn’t at ‘mass use’. If XML, IM and P2P (depending on how you define P2P) – are anything to go by (technologies that ride on the infrastructure that itself took decades to make prime time) RSS has another 3 years before it can be judged as ‘having made it’ or not. Alex goes on to give examples of ubiquitous technology that…

  8. Anonymous says:

    RSS: In the Slow Lane on the Road to Ubiquity?

  9. soulsoup says:

    RSS not ubiquitous, yet. by Alex Barnett When was email invented? 33 years ago. When was mobile telephony invented? 32 years ago. When was TCP/IP invented? 30 years ago. When was HTTP invented? 14 years ago. When was the browser invented? 14 years ago. When was XML invented? 8 years ago. When was IM and P2P invented? 8 years ago. When was the RSS aggregator invented? 5 years ago My point? Don’t write off RSS because it was invented 5 years ago and ‘still’ isn’t at ‘mass use’. If XML, IM and P2P (depending on how you define P2P) -…

  10. Anonymous says:

    While We’re on the Subject of RSS

  11. RSS: In the Slow Lane on the Road to Ubiquity? .

  12. Seattle Times quotes Scott Gatz, the senior director for personalization products at Yahoo in reaction…

  13. Richard MacManus et al have published their web predictions for 2007 (prompting me to update the list