Co-written by Mary Yang, Senior Communications Manager, and Anna Stroncek, Marketing and Communications Intern- GovDelivery
The recent Google announcement that it would be shutting down Google Reader has led to a flurry of blog posts and discussions around RSS feeds, their importance (or lack thereof), and what to do now.
What is an RSS Feed?
For those of you non-techies out there, or maybe those of you whom just need a quick refresher on what an RSS feed is, here’s a short and sweet explanation.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (RSS), which is essentially a format for delivering regularly changing web content. RSS feeds allow a user to subscribe to their favorite news sources, blogs, websites, and other digital properties, and then receive the latest content from all those different areas or sites in one place, without having to repeatedly visit each individual site.
Picture your Twitter Feed filled with postings of new content from your favorite sources rather than 140 characters informing you of which friend is currently enjoying the new vanilla spice latte from Starbucks, #delicious.
RSS was developed in the 1990s, giving websites the ability to push information out to their subscribers as opposed to a subscriber having to check for new content by going to each individual website. This new development brought on increased capabilities for websites and blogs to capture new visitors and turn them into returning visitors, as well as helping to increase the online ranking of the website to bring increased overall awareness.
Now fast forward to 2013. RSS feeds still exist, and they still do get used. However, they’re no longer the new kid on the block, so they’re not as ‘popular’ as they once were. More and more that small orange widget seems to go missing from the ever-increasing lineup of widgets on any given website.
With all the buzz surrounding social media, it’s easy to argue that RSS feeds are dying out and becoming a thing of the past. Who needs to subscribe to RSS feeds when you can get instant news and updates from outlets like Twitter?
Maybe that’s what Google’s thinking by shuttering Google Reader, which, just a few of years ago, was the RSS tool to use. But what’s next, especially with this new development in the tech world?
The Future of RSS
Today’s world is filled with massive amounts of information. According to IBM, 90% of today’s existing data has been created in just the past two years. People no longer sit down at their desktop and surf the web for an hour a day. Instead, they are constantly creating, searching for information, and retrieving content from all types of devices – smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and laptops. As these digital technologies continue to evolve and move in a more mobile direction, new opportunities arise for technologies like RSS.
Hot new mobile applications like Flipboard provide a great example of how RSS feeds can be leveraged to bring updated digital content to customers. Flipboard publishes content from thousands of sources via optimized RSS feeds. Publishers are pushing out their new content via RSS, and Flipboard leverages these feeds to users in a magazine-like layout (within Flipboard). This application can be used on smartphones, tablets and e-readers bringing customers the content they desire in a simple, convenient, personal and aesthetically pleasing way.
Another example of leveraging RSS feeds is the application Pulse. Pulse, quoted by Steve Jobs as “a wonderful RSS reader”, is an elegant newsreader application that uses publishers’ RSS feeds to read and publish content. Pulse brings its 25 million (and counting) users their favorite blogs, magazines and social networks to one place at one time. Similar to Flipboard, their application is compatible across iOS and Android platforms, but also makes content even more accessible and convenient with its compatibility to Windows, Nook, Kindle, Xbox and the web.
These two applications have been around for a while now but still mainly pull from well-known publications or newspapers. With the death of Google Reader on our doorstep, tech firms are already on the hunt for Google Reader’s massive user base. Digg announced just this week that they’re speeding up the release of an RSS reader/application. But in their statement, they note that they’re going to push the envelope of RSS too:
We hope to identify and rebuild the best of Google Reader’s features (including its API), but also advance them to fit the Internet of 2013, where networks and communities like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit and Hacker News offer powerful but often overwhelming signals as to what’s interesting.
So what does this mean for you?
The demise of Google Reader sounds like an open invitation for some tech firms to start innovating on a well-defined technology to make it more relevant and integrated into the tools we’re already using every day. This could mean that RSS feeds could become the new cool in digital technology, and since it leverages technology that’s fairly stable, you could roll with this curve once it hits simply by instituting an RSS feed.
Much like magazines and newspapers, governments and their organizations possess a lot of information and produce a lot of great content. However, it can be a challenge to attract regular visitors to your digital properties, which is why RSS feeds and proactive communication comes in handy. For GovDelivery clients, all your digital communications created and sent out via the Digital Communication Management (DCM) platform can be collected in an RSS feed, allowing you to push content out to your citizens and stakeholders easily. One great example is the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) in the UK. They offer different types of RSS feeds, tailored to the topics they’ve defined in GovDelivery DCM:
- RSS feed for general DSA news
- RSS feed for instructors and trainers
- RSS feed for students learning to drive
Their digital communications management system allows them to segment their RSS feeds so readers don’t have to figure out what’s important – if you’re an instructor, you merely subscribe to their instructors email topic or you follow their instructors RSS feed.
Another great government example is the White House. The White House has developed a mobile app that pushes out content from The White House Blog, press articles, photo galleries, LIVE stream videos, speeches and more all by way of RSS feeds. The app is visually appealing and easy to navigate. This is a great way to emulate apps like Flipboard and push your organizational content into the mobile sphere while leveraging content and tools you already have available.
And although the White House may have a slight advantage over smaller government entities in terms of content (a live stream of the State of the Union), state and local governments can leverage RSS feeds and content that’s already available to inform and educate. People like to know and see what’s going on where they live. So take a look at what your organization currently produces (blogs, photos, events, news updates, videos, etc.) and find out if you can pull those pieces of content into an RSS feed (or multiple RSS feeds) to help expand your digital communications reach even more.
Do you use Google Reader personally? How do you feel about the announcement? Let us know what you think might be ahead for RSS feeds in the comments.