RSS? You're Soaking in It!

A new report on RSS usage (PDF) shows that 31% of Internet users are using RSS. "Wow! That's amazing!"

Well, yes and no. As always, reality is slightly more complicated.

The report, produced by Ipsos for Yahoo, goes on to detail that 27% of the "RSS users" are in fact using it transparently, without realizing it is involved, via their use of personalized portal pages such as MyMSN or MyYahoo. "Oh. That's a bit less exciting."

Well, again, yes and no.

Just like I don't have to understand how a cable feed head works to watch TV, or how a 5ESS switch operates to dial my phone, the name of the game is transparent infrastructure. If portal pages are providing tools for people to add custom RSS content, as long as the tools work, the content is there. The users don't have to have heard of RSS, or know how it works. What they do have to know is how to find the content, but we all know RSS search is one of the Next Big Niches (for a while).

So what we have here is a win-win situation. Folks developing sites that can publish in RSS will have a potentially much wider audience. That audience isn't dependent on adoption rates of special-purpose applications like RSS aggregators and readers. On the other hand, there's a cautionary note here: portal-oriented sites typically like to feature portal content, so tools to discover new, non-portal content will themselves need to publish RSS so that once users find them, they can find new things easily.

With all the sites springing up trying to recreate what HOMR won (and lost!) in the early 90's, and media-oriented recommendation engines all the rage, I have yet to see one that tracks your blog reading and lets you do easy thumbs-up/thumbs-down feedback to publish. You know, your *real* blog reading-- not the stuff you put on your blog page and check when you get around to it because you don't want to miss something, but the stuff you actually make time to read on a quasi-daily basis.

What about the blog that is 95% stuff that doesn't grab you, but now and then posts book reviews on topics of interest? The programming site dedicated to a tech that you don't use, but which occasionally blogs stuff on your preferred scripting language (comparing it to theirs) or general stuff about software design? Subscribing to a tag stream, even a detailed one that resembles a search query, doesn't have sufficient granularity. Ditto for 'recommended' blogs. A tool that says "if you like this *posting*, you will probably like this other posting has scads of potential. It can be tagmented (augmented with tags). It can provide aggregate info, eg if you've gotten 3 recommendations for the same blog, and they've made only 5 postings in that timeframe, the odds are you might darn well like the whole blog and want to be told about it.

Yeah, yeah, I know about PHOAKS (still somewhat available), GroupLens, etc, but the 'new internet', in throwing out all the lessons we learned in the Usenet days, seems to think nobody's ever done this before, so I'll cater to that. That said, there's nothing in the P2P brave new world that precludes the kind of agent registration in Lashkari, Maes & Metral 94, "Collaborative Interface Agents" or Turnbull 97, "Filtering and Collaborative Filtering". Then there's Terveen & Hill 01, "Beyond Recommender Systems: Helping People Help Each Other".

Hokay, smart people-- who's building this, and when can I join the pre-launch users? If nobody's building it, hey, ping me if you want to start and want more vision-grok. If ya wait for me to build it, well, that could take a while at my current rate of morphing my dinosaur-HTML and IS-related scripting skills into web 2.x skills. The little engine that could is still chugging up that hill, in its so-called "spare" time, but they keep changing the hill. But then again, I've seen a few hills come and go.


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