Friday, August 26, 2005

RSS and the Future of Communications

I heard an interesting discussion from Microsoft on the future of RSS while at the Blog Business Summit, what they are calling Web feeds.

At its heart, RSS is a way to send information. While Microsoft calls it “Web Feeds,” Google calls it “Web Clips” and others with a more technical bent call it XML. It doesn’t matter; it’s basically the same thing.

During his discussion Dean Hachamovitch, who heads the IE team at Microsoft, summed up the modern use if the Internet as moving from browsing to search and is now evolving into subscriptions. One does not replace the other, but builds on it and offers a new way to interact with and receive information.

Pulling from an old example, radio didn't replace newspapers, TV didn't replace radio and the Internet didn't replace TV. But each new technology forced the other technology to change and evolve.

How powerful is it to subscribe to something? Most publications sell copies on the newsstand, but they truly make their money on subscriptions. Many trade publications don’t even bother trying to sell you a subscription but just give it away, provided you meet the right criteria, so they can sell more expensive ads. Putting the magazine in the hands of the right people is far more important than selling it and requiring people to come find it.

So, what does this mean for the online world? Microsoft is building RSS technology into Windows Vista, making it available to every application that you would launch. The example Dean used was TCP/IP. No one really thinks about it, but it's the same underlying technology that makes IM and VoIP systems work.

There are many existing tools, like Bloglines, that let you subscribe and then see when something is updated. Since most bloggers don’t update on a regular basis, RSS enables people to be notified only when someone has something interesting to say.

But for a great demonstration of how this can change things go and download the latest version of Google Desktop Search. The toolbar has a section called “Web Clips” that automatically captures RSS feeds as you browse. So if you visit the New York Times, it will drop that into the feed. Visit this blog and it’ll drop that in too. The result is a customized news feed that changes as the information comes in. Some may complain that this is too busy and it offers too much information, but for me it’s perfect.

But that’s not all. The system gives you a headline and an origin, but it commingles everything. On mine the headlines from the New York Times flow in with those from ESPN and the latest post from Jeneane Sessum. As far as Google is concerned all posts are of equal importance. It’s up to me to determine which I want to read and what importance I place in the information I receive.

Jeneane, of course, is at the top of my list.

What I want to know is where is all this going? OK, so we get news feeds today, but how can we use this techology in the future to get informaton away from the computer screen and out into real life where we need it?

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