Enterprise RSS : What The Hell Went Wrong?

Marshall Kirkpatrick at Read Write Web is declaring: R.I.P. Enterprise RSS. In essence, he proclaims that the big players that sought to bring the power of RSS to enterprises have floundered. In a fit of frustration, he declares:

We love RSS
and this makes us really sad. If much of the rest of the world wants to
ignore this technology, though, it’s their loss. It’s our bread and
butter. Neglecting RSS at work seems to us like pure insanity.

He points to three companies that had their sights on enterprise RSS and never really took off: Attensa, Newsgator, and Knownow (Knownow’s web presence doesn’t even exist anymore). Anyone that’s tracked basement.org’s posts on feed syndication would attest to my own enthusiasm about how RSS was going to change the world. Since 2004, I’ve been patiently predicting (or rooting for, depending on your viewpoint) that RSS would tip and change the way we gather and digest information.

So what went wrong?

Well, there are a few things that happened and a few things that didn’t happen. First off, RSS should have never been viewed as a panacea for anything in the first place. RSS is an information delivery mechanism. If your valued information isn’t available, RSS alone will never bear fruit. If you’re not listening to your inventory deplete or listening to your sales data slide (or rise) or listening to the progress of your latest product effort, RSS has nothing to report. Nobody really spoke to a simple, low-overhead way to tap into the latent information sources in business that would otherwise languish unnoticed. RSS is a great way to inform, but if your sources aren’t there, it isn’t going to seem very useful.

Another reason RSS went nowhere in the enterprise is because nobody bothered to sell a true value propositon around RSS. This particular gripe isn’t just about RSS but about the bullshit surrounding “enterprise solutions” in the first place. Just because RSS, feed syndication and blogging are the technology du jour, that’s no reason to assume rampant success. Of all the offerings out there, nobody bothered to really break through the techspeak and put forward a really useful solution that business customers could understand. Do people really want to blog in their respective companies? Is RSS usage data really valued by an enterprise? What are we really selling here?

All of this speaks to how RSS somehow went from being a means to an end. When this happens – when you’re implementing web services or XSL or BPEL for no good reason other than because eWeek and a keynote in some circle-jerk tech conference tells you to…when that happens, you’re done for.

RSS is compelling because it provides a simple, powerful, platform-agnostic way to deliver intelligence from disparate information sources. It attacks the chronic addiction to go after information (“get me that report!”) and has (or had, depending on your level of enthusiasm) the capacity to bubble up key information for consumption. The business climate is more ominous today. As businesses look at the world more cautiously and as they fear making uninformed or less informed decisions, the value of pushing the right knowledge out to decision makers couldn’t be more compelling. But alas, nobody’s built the bridge between this need and the power of RSS.

RSS enterprise has languished on the launching pad because nobody bothered to connect its power to real value in a business context. It’s a failed story that never made it past the early adopters and technology advocates. I don’t think its dead. We just need a retelling of the story…but this time around, it needs to make sense.

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