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Friday, November 19, 2004
Content and Anti-Content
Yesterday I dropped a del.icio.us link to this short Wired article on RSS into the feed.

Today I noticed a post on the RSS Weblog that mentions something in the Wired article that seemed bizarre: Andy Baio is quoted as saying "RSS is a syndication format. It’s not well-suited to carrying ads. [...] It’s designed for syndicating content, and content only. No navigation, no design, no advertisements."

The RSS Weblog correctly points out that this statement doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If I may be blunt, advertising is content, especially from the perspective of a syndication format; RSS doesn't care what the data is, it just syndicates that data. Why in God's name would advertising content be somehow less suited to RSS than movie reviews, poetry, or police reports?

One might make a resonable argument that many current RSS users would prefer that advertisements not be included with the content they're getting via RSS, but to say that a string of words intended to sell a product is "less suited" to this syndication format than a string of words intended to convey an opinion about what is appropriate for syndication via RSS? That's fucking absurd.

Okay, now we can move on. In a happy coincidence, shortly after reading the post above, I came across two other interesting posts on ScriptingNews.

First, Dave Winer posted his musings on why advertising in RSS is boring. If I may summarize in my own inimitable fashion, it's currently boring as a topic of discussion because advertising is just content.

Ads are no more or less interesting by virtue of coming to you through an RSS feed. If your creative sucks and doesn't render correctly for the viewer, then your ad sucks. Doesn't matter whether they're viewing it as part of an RSS feed, a Web page, or in a print magazine. I'm sorry to have to say it, but there are limits, even to the power of RSS: advertising is not magically transformed into something new and exciting by syndication technology.

Hmmmm...actually, now that I think about it, maybe Andy Baio is on to something: maybe ads that are passed via an RSS feed are automagically fucked up and wrong because they're just not suited for RSS. I'll think about that and report back to you all on that later, but back to the main thread...

The second post that caught my eye was DW's note that he had gotten a comment pointing out that sometimes people are actually looking for advertising. It's a little sad that this has to be pointed out, but what can you do? In any case, let's accept that sometimes people actually want to see advertisements. Not all the time, and not all advertisements, but content does not become "bad" just because it's "advertising."

Though...if there is some mysterious transformation that takes place, converting "advertising" words into content's disfigured, evil twin -- anti-content, if you will -- that might explain why RSS is ill-suited to handling ads: RSS is intended to syndicate content, so if advertising is anti-content...I think that the pieces might be starting to come together for Baio's theory...

Now, in preparation for the final portion of this evening's entertainment, I'll point out where I agree with Andy Baio: RSS is a syndication format.

I mention this point again as preparation for your reading of this post on possible corporate uses for RSS. You should read it, but for purposes of narrative flow, I'll oversimplify by saying that the author is excited by the prospect of RSS as as distribution mechanism for things like sales leads, customized reports, internal corporate communications, and other actionable events or data points.

I'm down with that. Totally cool. But I have to ask: sending sales leads to people via RSS could be a cool idea for your company, but why is it better than sending them using your current procedure, whether that's via email, CRM Web portal/application, or smoke signal? What's that? You don't have any structure in place for routing sales leads to the appropriate people? Ah. Okay, then.

The issue that I see with the entire post is not that RSS is unsuited for any of the functions that are outlined, but that it doesn't necessarily add anything to them, either. All of the meat of these ideas is tasty, but it's not RSS-flavored; these ideas are all about making sure that you're effectively analyzing, understanding, and sharing information within your company.

If you've got a company where all that stuff is already happening, then you'll be well prepared to decide whether RSS distribution offers benefits for you. If you're at a company where those things aren't happening, you really shouldn't be thinking about how to distribute the information -- figure out how to find that information, who needs to get it, and when they need to get it, first.

Scott here.

Interesting take on my post. You're striking out at the idea without knowing the situation. I understand the concern that people may jump on the bandwagon of RSS without doing their due dilligence to see what really is the best solution for any problem, I'm on board there. But check www.scottcreynolds.com for my "rebuttal".
“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”
- Herman Melville

RSS is the way of the Future...
rss explained
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