Content syndication needs rebranding

Content syndication or Feeds, is a mashup of technologies that provides an easy way to keep track of updates from multiple content sources. Despite being very useful, it has yet to find widespread acceptance amongst Internet users.

Direct usage statistics are hard to ascertain with great precision, but they revolve around 4%-6% of the total Internet population, which is not much. More feeds are being consumed indirectly by aggregation sites, such as my yahoo and iGoogle (as this Yahoo! paper shows), which shows that there is market ready to consume more feeds.

So why feed usage isn’t more widespread?

1. Lack of awareness
Most people are simply unaware of the benefits of using feeds. When asked about what are feeds, only 12% of the Internet public were aware of its meaning. I will admit myself to be one of the ignorant up until not too long ago (about 6 months). For me that is mind boggling – I consider myself an extremely technical user and I love the Internet. How was I not aware of how useful this technology is?

2. Confusing terminology
What is a feed? syndication? aggregators? to someone hearing those terms for the first time it can be very discouraging. There is alternative terminology such as subscriptions and readers which is more similar to natural language but it isn’t used enough to explain the technology.

3. Competing standards
Atom and RSS are competing standards for web syndication. Both are offering basically the same solution, so why haven’t they merged yet? (actually there are reasons, but not very good ones). Most sites now offer both, which only add to the confusion as the names of the different formats are sometimes use interchangeably with the term Feed.

Content syndication is just waiting to erupt. Someone needs to take initiative and promote this technology to the masses:

1. Create awareness
The same way open standards such as OpenID made a splash some time ago, content syndication needs visibility. And in contrast to open standards, web syndication is useful now.

2. Improve description
Hand in hand in creating visibility, a low-tech explanation of the benefits of syndication should be drafted and used liberally. This will go a long way to break the barriers of adoption.

3. Unify standards
One to rule them all as they say. Since this is an open standard and certainly not for profit, the only real consideration would be backwards compatibility. Declare RSS officially as the standby for compatibility and Atom as the active standard for future development.

4. Do not call the technology by its standards name!
Stop using RSS or Atom feeds as the name for the subscription feature. People are much more likely to hit ‘Subscribe’ than ‘Join my RSS feeds’…

Syndication always reminds me of the PC classic ‘Syndicate‘ in which rival clans fight for world domination in a futuristic setting using cyborg agents. Good times…

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