Saturday, December 29, 2007

2007: The Year in RSS

This past year was a big one for RSS. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, was the backbone of all early developments in the new era of the internet. It made blogs readable, podcasts subscribable, wikis trackable and search persistent. While explicit, knowing adoption of RSS is often said to be dismal ("it's too complicated, it's just more info overload" etc.) - I think we may be underestimating the extent of adoption. Here's my list of highlights from 2007, what's yours?

Three years after a 2004 Pew study found that 1 out of 20 people online said they used an RSS aggregator to read content online (in 2004!) - RSS was in 2007 the 3rd most searched for "what is" term on Google all year. Only "love" and "autism" were looked up more and RSS beat out both "emo" and "HPV."

For whatever reason, it's the consumer space where RSS remains the strongest. It's been more than a year since pundit Steve Gillmor argued that any corporate executive worth anything was already getting their news by RSS. Enterprise adoption seems in reality to be lagging far behind where it ought to, though. Each of the leading enterprise RSS vendor startups has had to raise a pile of money over the last 14 months.

Thus our look at the major events in 2007 for RSS and syndication focuses almost entirely on the consumer market. This list was assembled with the help of tens of people who edited it with me on a wiki.

The Big Events in RSS for 2007

  • Facebook Introduced Millions of People to Syndication
  • No single event probably came close to the impact of Facebook's explosion in popularity in terms of popularizing the concept of syndication and feeds. While the application platform is of debatable utility, the News Feed is one of the defining elements of the world's hottest social network. Almost all other social networks have followed with similar functionality and explaining RSS is now as simple as saying "it's like the Facebook News Feed."

    • Google Bought Feedburner
    • This Spring Google bought RSS publishing and analytics service Feedburner for a mere $100 million. While the rise of Google Reader helped the advertising giant capture a huge portion of reader Attention Data and trend information - buying Feedburner extended this knowledge all the further. Feedburner was a brilliant business that was ahead of its time and probably ought to have waited out the market until it could have commanded a much higher price. What do I know, though?

    • Google Reader Takes the Lead
    • In February, both Feedburner and rival RSS ad network Pheedo published reports about RSS reader market share. Both companies demonstrated that the new Google Reader was a dominant product but that the still innovative Bloglines and the fall-off-a-log-simple MyYahoo! retained substantial market share. They used to be the leaders, though.

      Google Reader is a very nice product that keeps on innovating, most recently with the addition of some simple social networking functionality and an off-line mode. 2007 was also the year that Google Reader finally added search! The product is not well suited to the rare freaks among us with more than 1000 subscriptions, however.

    • Feed Services Began to Tackle Prioritization
    • For some crazy reason the world is full of people who still feel morally obligated to read every single item in their feed reader. These people, probably the majority of RSS users in fact, complain that RSS is becoming a big source of information overload. (Hint: it's ok! Just read what you can and don't worry about the rest!)

      For anyone who reads feeds, though, prioritization and personalized recommendations are two things that hold a whole lot of promise.

      In 2007 both Bloglines and Newsgator were among the companies who moved towards implementing a simple, open Attention Data standard called APML. A wide variety of other companies began experimenting with other methods of systematizing and automating prioritization and recommendation as well. Expect this to be even bigger in 2008.

    • Cross Platform
    • Google Reader, Newsgator and Netvibes all began offering mobile versions of their feed readers in 2007. Google Reader went offline using the new Google Gears.

    • Yahoo! Releases Pipes
    • In early 2007, Yahoo! released an RSS mashup and service suite called Pipes. While there's a long, long list of services built on top of RSS (my favorite is Dapper) the fact is that this major brand recognition brought a new validity and new user numbers to this very useful class of tools.

    • Feed Publishing Continued to Expand
    • The list of institutions now making RSS feeds available continued to grow rapidly over 2007, as the utility of the offering is undeniable. While no hard and firm numbers are available, one good source to get a feel from the breadth of feed publishers is the RSS Compendium Blog. From Dubai newspaper the Khaleej Times to to The American Academy of Family Physicians - all kinds of organizations started publishing RSS feeds in 2007.

    Big thanks to the many people who helped me put this list together in a wiki over the past few weeks. I love RSS and hope that next year will be an even bigger year for this world-changing medium.

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