Feedster Preps Paid RSS Links as Ads Expand

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-08-16

Feedster Preps Paid RSS Links as Ads Expand

Feedster Inc. is embracing RSS advertising with plans to add sponsored links into its feeds of search results.

The search engine for Weblogs and syndication feeds on Monday will announce an expansion of its advertising program that will include the use of contextual advertising from Kanoodle Inc. in its feeds.

When users conduct a search on Feedster, the site also gives them the option of subscribing to an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed of the results. The site already has about 250,000 feed subscriptions that generate more than 5 million pings a month, said Scott Rafer, Feedster president and CEO.

RSS is a format of XML syndication commonly used on blogs and other Web sites to distribute headlines and summaries of content as well as full postings. Users read the feeds in newsreader applications and Web-based feed aggregators.

San Francisco-based Feedsters expanded advertising move signals a growing interest in using RSS not only to promote a site but also to make money from feed content. Feedster also will sell its own sponsorships for some of the RSS feeds, while using the Kanoodle contextual pay-per-click ads for its nonsponsored search feeds, Rafer said.

Within the next three weeks, Feedster will start incorporating the sponsored links in its feeds. It will clearly label the ads, which will appear as every sixth headline in the RSS feeds, Rafer said. While it will start with the feeds generated from search results, Rafer said Feedster eventually will expand the ads to other feeds as well.

Users wanting ad-free feeds can pay a $10 annual fee and receive a Creative Commons license for noncommercial use of the feeds. Ten percent of the fee will be donated to tech nonprofit TechSoup.org.

"Were giving folks a choice between ad-supported and ad-free feeds," Rafer said. "Were announcing this ahead of time to telegraph what were doing to the community, because therell be a certain amount of satisfaction and dissatisfaction."

By pushing into RSS advertising, Feedster is joining a still-nascent field and is one of the first blog search engines to embrace it. Trade publishers and some blog sites, including eWEEK.com, have already begun incorporating advertising links within their syndication feeds.

A series of startup companies, such as RSSAds and Pheebo Inc., also are designing ad networks for blogs and syndication feeds. MessageCast Inc., whose LiveMessage service broadcasts opt-in marketing messages on real-time networks such as instant messaging and SMS, in July said it plans to expand the service to RSS.

Feedsters main competitor, blog search engine Technorati Inc., has added sponsored listings alongside its search results, but its top executive said it has no plans to extend those into its RSS feeds.

"We havent ruled it out, but at the same time were leaning right now against it in its current form, and there are a couple of big reasons why," said Technorati founder and CEO David Sifry.

Click here to read more about Technorati and its role in blogging at the Democratic National Convention.

Among them is the fact that users who subscribe to RSS often do so to escape intrusive forms of Web advertising, such as pop-up ads, and expect to receive the specific content for which they asked, Sifry said.

"It dilutes the power and the strength of the results, even if clearly marked," he said of RSS ads.

Next Page: Reaching customers where theres a "relevant and targeted message."

Relevant and Targeted

But interest is growing in incorporating sponsored links into RSS feeds. Kanoodle, of Amherst, N.Y., quietly began offering pay-per-click ads for RSS about six months ago and has about 10 publishers putting sponsored links into their feeds, said Mark Josephson, Kanoodles senior vice president of marketing and business development.

Read more here about Kanoodles other moves to combine sponsored links with behavioral targeting.

The RSS sponsored links will be based on targeted categories in Kanoodles ContextTarget program rather than on keywords, Josephson said. ContextTarget is a pay-per-click program where links are mapped to as many as 30,000 content categories. Currently, Kanoodle has 400 live categories on its network of publisher sites, Josephson said.

"RSS we view as an extension of content pages because for advertisers, in contextual advertising, they want to reach consumers in a powerful environment where theres a relevant and targeted message," Josephson said.

Last month as part of a site redesign, Feedster entered the ad market by adding keyword-based sponsored links from Yahoo Inc.s Overture Services alongside its search results.

Feedster is anticipating that its RSS ad move will raise objections from some backers of XML syndication, who view the technology as being sacrosanct from ads, Rafer said. But he hopes that the right mix and relevancy of the ads will satisfy users while also helping Feedster pay its bills and expand.

"One of the reasons I took this job and get up every morning is because of the positive reinforcement for free speech that RSS supports, but at the end of day its [also] a data standard through which people are building businesses," Rafer said. "Nothing were doing is inhibiting how RSS works as mechanism for breaking media consolidation."

The right amount and placement of RSS ads is a work in progress, but the trend toward more advertising is inevitable as publishers seek to earn revenue off their content, said business blogging consultant Rick Bruner.

"If youre some kind of purist and think that advertising doesnt belong in Internet media, get over yourself or pay for it," said Bruner, president of Executive Summary Consulting, in New York. "It makes no sense that RSS should not be monetized, particularly if youre subscribing to RSS from a Web site that already has advertising on it."

And RSS has a clear user advantages over other media for online advertising, particularly e-mail, said Ross Mayfield, CEO of enterprise wiki software company Socialtext Inc. and an avid blogger. Users ultimately will decide whether or not they will accept a given level of paid links and messages interspersed in their feeds.

"Because its RSS, if people dont like it, they can click unsubscribe," he said. "What people consume is under the control of the consumer."

Check out eWEEK.coms Messaging & Collaboration Center at http://messaging.eweek.com for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.

Be sure to add our eWEEK.com messaging and collaboration news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page

Rocket Fuel