Following in the footsteps of bloggers, IT managers have begun to utilize RSS—in categories ranging from calendars to CRM—as a powerful tool to deliver information from multiple sources at once.
RSS (Resource Description Framework Site Summary) is a lightweight XML format for syndicating Web content that is commonly used to distribute news, headlines and other timely information. RSS feeds deliver content that can be read in news readers, which can be stand-alone applications or plug-ins to e-mail clients. The RSS format is used by organizations including Microsoft Corp. and The Walt Disney Co. to push information to customers and end users. (Another form of RSS, known as Really Simple Syndication, is widely used by bloggers.)
Content syndication is not without its wrinkles, however. A Weblog syndication format called Atom has emerged and is the basis of an Internet Engineering Task Force working group. (For more information, see www.ietf.org/html.charters/atompub-charter.html.) Atom is incompatible with RSS formats, and only some news readers support all types of feeds. eWEEK Labs recommends that IT managers utilize RSS formats while keeping an eye on the development of Atom.
Indeed, RSS has already gained a foothold in the enterprise. A growing number of organizations use the format to create content and knowledge management systems; to disseminate information to customers; and to syndicate application, database and object data. The Salesforce.com Inc. customer relationship management system, for example, can be extended to support RSS to alert users of changes to the system. In addition, Salesforce.com can be customized so that any Web-based RSS reader can be embedded into the application, allowing users, for example, to set up searches on their top customers.
And enterprise use of RSS is sure to increase as RSS readers are integrated into common desktop applications such as Web browsers. RSS support is already available in Opera 7.50, the latest browser from Opera Software ASA, and the Mozilla Foundation has added news feed support in the beta of its next browser, Firefox 1.0, due later this year.
In June, Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs previewed the companys next-generation Web browser, Safari RSS. The new browser will let users aggregate feeds and automatically detect when a feed is available on a Web page. Safari RSS is scheduled to be available with Apples next Mac OS X release, code-named Tiger, which is expected in the first half of next year.
Microsoft Corp.s "Longhorn," the next major upgrade of Windows, also is expected to have integrated RSS support when it ships in 2006.
Calendaring is another enterprise area where it makes sense to extend the advanced capabilities of RSS. Developer John Pacchetti recently released a trial version of RSSCalendar, a free application that takes advantage of RSS to let users share calendar data online.
To share calendar data now, most companies use Microsofts Exchange Server and Outlook or install a Web-based calendar application. A tool such as RSSCalendar, which requires no installation, allows enterprise users to complete tasks such as group scheduling easily and outside of the already-crowded e-mail realm.
Instead of sending an e-mail to a large group of addresses and potentially starting a long thread, for example, we were able to use RSSCalendar to publish a single RSS file that our colleagues could subscribe to individually and at their discretion. We were also able to create events that users could import into their Outlook e-mail clients or into other applications such as Apples iCal personal calendar application.
In fact, during extended use here at eWEEK Labs, we found that it is efficient and convenient to convert and publish an RSS feed to share schedules. Co-workers could subscribe to a calendar feed and automatically receive notices of new appointments, which could be viewed through an RSS reader or imported into a Web-based calendar or Outlook. And by copying just one line of code, we were able to share our calendar on a Web site.
RSSCalendar itself may not be the right tool for enterprises—its an unsupported product in beta right now—but the application demonstrates the potential of RSS in the enterprise. In fact, we wouldnt be surprised to see a vendor seize upon RSS calendaring and sell a version of its own.
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.