Another Attempt To Invent RSS: Google Reader Refreshes

Anyone who follows this blog knows of my belief in the power of RSS and feed syndication. RSS is a great antidote to the information overload crisis we all suffer from today. Yet, as I’ve mentioned before, RSS has failed to break out of the tech savvy niche it enjoys today. Ask your uncle or teenage cousin what RSS is and they’ll most likely respond with a stare.
RSS is a data invention. It is a ludicrously simple technology. It’s one of those technologies that, once explained, garners a response like “Um. Ok. So?” As we look at HTML and how the web works today, it looks ridiculously obvious in hindsight. HTML, like RSS, is also a data invention. It’s a way to connect assets on a network. So why did HTML explode into the mainstream consciousness and RSS continues to languish?
I think there are couple of reasons for this. First, RSS has no killer app today. HTML would have suffered the same fate if not for the web browser. The web browser is one of those rare zero-training applications that leveraged just about everything we already know about personal computers without caking on all sorts of new switches and levers to learn it. RSS doesn’t have that today. While there are a slew of desktop and web-based tools for RSS, all that stuff just makes it all the more confusing. In effect, HTML was “invented” and introduced to the world with the web browser.
The other challenge RSS has today that HTML avoided is that all-important first step. Everyone remembers their first browsing experience. From the first click, you’re in motion and accelarating. Web pages, by their very nature, connect to one another. RSS, on the other hand, relies on all sorts of orange boxes, icons and “Add to this…” and “Add to that…” buttons. It is a proverbial mess.
Walk through the thought process of someone who clicks on an “Add to Rojo…” link. First, what the hell is a “Rojo”? After clicking, they end up…somewhere. Somewhere new and strange and utterly unexplainable. The curious may dig a bit. But most will just move on with a lingering “hmm, that was weird” thought in their minds.
The Google Reader team (bless their hearts for trying) is taking another crack at it with a new refresh of Google Reader. There’s even a great little video explanation of what RSS is. The new Reader looks pretty cool and feels pretty intuitive, but I’m afraid the leap is still a tough one. The grass may well be greener on this side, but the fence is still pretty high.
So who will save RSS? It may well be MIcrosoft. With IE7, which, whether we like it or not, everyone is getting, RSS subscription and management will be baked into the browsing experience. We’ll just have to see if this tips it or not.
And so, people are still trying to “invent” RSS. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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