Would more people subscribe to RSS feeds and podcasts if they were easier to capture and manage?
That's the perception of Marc Mercuri, an architect evangelist on the Microsoft developer and platform evangelism team, who has developed in his free time an information-aggregator he has coined Information Center, or InfoCenter.
"This (InfoCenter project) was born solely out of a desire to make the 'discoverability' of information easier," Mercuri told Microsoft Watch.
Carl Franklin, the CEO of Pwop Productions, who has had a chance to see the product, described InfoCenter as "an RSS aggregator/podcast-enclosure downloader on steroids."
Mercuri showed off a prototype of InfoCenter to a handful of individuals at Microsoft's TechEd conference in June. In July, he unveiled InfoCenter to a broader group, via the ".Net Rocks" radio show. Mercuri is expecting to release for download the latest InfoCenter bits, complete with a newly redesigned interface, around August 9.
When asked whether he had discussed with any division at Microsoft the possibility of InfoCenter becoming a Microsoft-branded ware, Mercuri said that "there have been absolutely no talks about this becoming a product.
"I'm not focused on where this could end up right now," Mercuri added. "What I'm focused on is getting this out to people and helping them connect with information, downloads, and communities. Response from folks external and internal has been positive, and I'm anxious to see what happens with it once it's released into the wild."
Podcatchers, Apple's iTunes software among them, are a dime a dozen. What's so special about InfoCenter?
"iTunes is a podcatcher. The app isn't all that good, but people are willing to learn it so they can get their audio," pointed out Franklin, who has developed a podcatcher himself. "The majority of podcatchers are technically challenging, and that keeps out the mainstream. I think the strength of iTunes is being able to search for a podcast within the app, click on a link, and you've subscribed. That's what we need."
Microsoft has yet to provide an easy way to subscribe to content, Franklin continued. "They will have RSS support in IE7, and that will also be great, but is that a discoverable feature? I'm not so sure. Infocenter offers an easy experience. Combine that with some kind of podcast/content discoverability, throw a little marketing behind it, and they've got something big.
"The problem is that Microsoft doesn't really catch the wave until it's a Tsunami," Franklin said. "I hope they really pay attention to this project."
Microsoft is, indeed, integrating support for RSS feeds into the Internet Explorer 7.0 browser, the standalone version of which is due to launch before the end of this year, and the integrated version to roll out as part of Windows Vista.
Microsoft's Business Division also has been incubating a project known as "News to Me" that is designed to help determine credibility of the growing number of business intelligence sources, defined by the group as blogs, audio casts, RSS feeds, and news of all kinds. Microsoft officials have declined to comment on when and if Microsoft plans to commercialize that technology.
Once Mercuri posts the InfoCenter bits, with which testers will be encouraged to play, he is planning to put together a sample that showcases how to use Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), and the Windows RSS platform to "build a feed and an reader and that will be freely available for use on the Web," he said.