Sunday, January 01, 2006

metric: RSS brand recognition = 4%

Not great numbers, but not unexpected.

Break out your copy of Crossing the Chasm and consider the marvel of the bell curve. The current level of RSS brand recognition is consistent with the percentage of the marketplace occupied by the enthusiast and visionary cohorts.

What does this tell us of the maturity of RSS, and by association, of the "Web 2.0" meme which counts the rise of RSS as its most precious indicator of relevancy?

RSS is an early step in the journey toward a web-based browsing idiom that can echo the same experience you get in a newspaper. The Kierkegaardian leap of faith required to see this potential in an unsorted, flat ASCII listing of topics is the typical purvieu of . . . enthusiasts and visionaries, so no big whoop that brand recognition is only 4%.

Moving from early-adopter to pragmatist consumers doesn't mean diluting or dumbing-down the technology - it means you have to clarify the value proposition and simplify the consumption of this new technology.

Think about how you consume a newspaper - I'll use the copy of the New York Times that lands at the end of my driveway each morning as my point-of-reference:
  1. It delivers information using a consistent, predictable meta-index (section 1 = top news, section 2 = business and sports; last 2 pages of the front section are op/ed) and slightly less predictable, but not inconsistent, content-index (world news dominates the first half of the front section, followed by national, then local).
  2. It employs a variety of structural points-of-reference to signify "urgency": is it a two-column headline? is it below the fold? is it buried under an ad? does it use a big font? is it all capitals?
  3. It is consistently worth reading, even on off-days. This speaks to the high quality of the writers and the editing.
  4. It offers content drawn on from wide variety of subject areas
  5. It offers content written to the same reading level
Now compare this experience to your garden-variety RSS feed:
  1. There is no way for you to differentiate the urgency or relevance of the content you're reading in an RSS feed based on visual cues, even from the New York Times' feed
  2. RSS feeds offer no predictability (when will the blogger write on trends vs news vs opinion) with regards to the content delivered
  3. Feeds are a single-media (text) versus a multi-media (text + pictures + tactile cues) experience.
RSS feeds deliver an index first, content second - print media deliver content first with an implicit index.

To drive RSS feeds as a preferred vehicle for content delivery, they'll have to embrace what the collective brain-stems of readers are programmed to respond to:
  1. Multi-media
  2. An implicit content index
  3. Consistency
As a student of letterpress, I realize the written word can be delivered in a richly visceral way. The web is a great vehicle for multi-media, but it has yet to capture the imagination of the masses when it comes to delivering what individuals need as much as their daily bread:


Embrace the simple beauty of the hyperlink - engage more of the senses - enable the pleasure center of the brain that loves unstructured wandering inside the structured framework of a news "container", and RSS may take off.

If all RSS enables is a way to deliver a content index festooned with ads, consumers - who are smarter than anyone gives them credit - will reject it 96% of the time.

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