MSN Gets Ready to Expand RSS Support

Microsoft's Internet division is set to launch an RSS aggregation service for MyMSN users, while its search engine experiments with syndication for saving queries.

Syndication feeds are gaining more mainstream support from portals and search engines as Microsoft Corp. ramps up a set of new RSS features.

The companys MSN unit is planning to release a beta of a Really Simple Syndication aggregation feature for users of its My MSN personalized home-page service, an MSN spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.

The beta was rumored to be ready for release by late Wednesday, according to Weblog postings from MSN officials. But MSN officially declined to provide specifics other than to say it would come out "soon."

Meanwhile, MSN Search has started an experimental feature for subscribing to search queries using RSS, MSN confirmed. MSN quietly began testing the service when it released a beta of its search engine in November, but earlier this week a series of bloggers discovered the capability.

RSS is a catchall term for a range of XML syndication formats used by bloggers and Web publishers to quickly share new content posted to their sites. MSN Search is publishing its feeds in RSS 2.0, and the My MSN service will support all versions of RSS as well as the alternative Atom format.

Moreover Technologies Inc., of San Francisco, is providing the back-end functionality for the My MSN RSS beta, the MSN spokeswoman said. That functionality will include the ability to search for available RSS feeds and then subscribe to them. User also will be able to add RSS feeds by entering a URL.

My MSN officials were not available for interviews, but MSN product managers were abuzz about the upcoming RSS features. This week, several were sharing clues to the My MSN RSS service through their MSN Spaces blogs.

MSN Spaces is Microsofts blogging service, launched in beta in December, which provides RSS 2.0 support for syndicating content. The RSS aggregations support in My MSN could benefit MSNs blog service by providing another online route into the blogs.

"The My MSN team is about to deploy a new version of My MSN that supports arbitrary RSS feeds," Michael Connolly, group program manager of MSN Spaces, wrote in his blog. "That opens up a whole new way to catch up with all the Spaces you read."

By embracing RSS, My MSN would join an increasing number of aggregation services. Its major competitor, Yahoo Inc., already lets My Yahoo users add RSS feeds to their personalized home pages and adds RSS links within its Web search results.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more here about Yahoos RSS embrace.

Startup companies providing RSS aggregation services through the Web include Bloglines and NewsGator Technologies. RSS feeds also are commonly read through desktop clients called newsreaders.

On the search-engine side, MSNs approach appears to be different, since it would let users monitor their favorite searches through RSS. Right now, the functionality seems more oriented toward the technically inclined.

An MSN spokeswoman stressed that the feature is experimental and is considered an alpha.

"Therefore [it] will be under constant enhancement and it may disappear and reappear throughout our testing period," the spokeswoman said in a statement.

The RSS feature is activated when a searcher on the recently released MSN Search beta adds a special string into the querys URL, according to a post on the MSN Search blog. Adding the new URL into an RSS newsreader then creates a subscription to the query.

The feature may be in early development, but it gives some clues into how MSN may try to differentiate its Web search engine against competitors such as Google Inc. and Yahoo. And MSN is searching for feedback.

"But dont get me wrong–this is a service we want to provide and make great," product manager Brady Forrest wrote in the blog post. "Tell us how we can make it better. What should we add? An orange button? What should we subtract?"

Earlier this week, MSN also began sending more of the visitors to its main search site to its beta search site in another sign of its plans to switch from Yahoo search results to its own this year.

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