Thoughts on Building RSS Right


While RSS (Really Simple Syndication) remains a shadowy figure lurking in the alleys behind traditional websites, the majority of web users are quite happy clicking about without the faintest understanding of what RSS means or does. For those that do know how to use it, perhaps less than 10% of the online general public, most are super geeks with intimate working knowledge of the past five space flights. In support of this point, Bloglines lists ten of the most read blogs through RSS subscriptions. Included on this list are Wired Magazine, Dilbert, and Slashdot among other geeky haunts. RSS, in addition to being unpopular, has never really been used in a retail setting at all.

The Hammer Drop

Until Now that is! Home Depot in Canada is an exception and perhaps the only retailer we could find presently willing to experiment with RSS. The Hammer Drop is a daily web exclusive sales item that is offered to customers via their RSS reader. This product is different each day, is available for that day only and is “dropped” at 8 am. As an example, today, the item being offered is 25 Ft. Powered Tape Measure for the Hammer Drop price of only $14.95.

It may be obvious to state that sales through retail RSS feeds, despite being a dream come true for commission sales people, it’s not going to become a viable method of making money until everyone understands what it does. You might be wondering along with us, what it will take for RSS to become understandable to consumers. We have a couple of suggestions to share.

Firstly retailers like Home Depot doing what they are doing by embracing new technology is a great way to make advancements like RSS common place. It should also be noted the Hammer Drop is part of a series of Home Depot web 2.0ish experiments such as an online auction, a customer product review option, and a Yahoo Answers-like forum.

Secondly, if RSS is to become a valid and relevant distribution method for online news sources, retailers and really anyone outside of the blogosphere, it needs to be made consumer friendly. Integral to this process is the challenge of re-naming RSS appropriately to be comparable in nature to a similar product in the real world rather than attempting to promote the baffling process of burning feeds and syndicating posts. Perhaps by naming it after a reality based procedure that mirrors the way it works, the general public will be quicker to catch on. Using e-mail as an example, the concept of an electronic inbox and a way to send mail electronically rather than “postally” makes electronic mail easy to understand.

RSS needs a similar analogy and when you put it into the perspective of news delivery, this approach to RSS could very well be the online answer to today’s hard-copy publishing woes. Imagine your trusted neighborhood news syndicate stepping in, buying your trusted RSS reader, re-naming it Paperboy and adopting the tagline: Your Virtual News Delivery Service. How far away at this point is an RSS subscription fee? Maybe these are the kind of corporate alliances we can expect to see in the near future.

Whatever the future holds, perhaps a better name for an RSS feed reader is an e-box. Part e-mail, part newspaper box, a source for all your online information, and a loyal companion to your inbox. This of course, is simply a helpful suggestion from your friends at Elbowruminations while we wait for someone at Wired magazine (or the Home Depot) to devise a trendy term that really catches on.