MSN Gets Ready for RSS Push

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2005-05-19

MSN Gets Ready for RSS Push

NEW YORK—Vowing to make RSS friendly to the everyday Web user, an MSN executive demonstrated upcoming services on Wednesday that build syndication feeds into the messaging alerts, a Windows screen saver and Web search.

During a keynote at the Syndicate Conference here, MSN Director Phil Holden said that Microsoft Corps Internet division is taking RSS (Really Simple Syndication) seriously and will integrate the technology across even more of MSNs online services throughout the year.

"Our goal is in making consumer adoption and consumption of RSS easier," Holden said during an interview. "We will literally put RSS and syndication in many, many places."

MSN already had begun taking steps into RSS in recent months, joining chief portal rival Yahoo Inc. in integrating syndication technology into online services. In January, My MSN began aggregating feeds on personalized home pages, and MSN in March began quietly testing a Web-based RSS aggregator.

But more syndication moves are on MSNs horizon, and even MSNs acquisition last week of MessageCast Inc. will play a role.

MSN is working to open its MSN Alerts service to a wider variety of sources through RSS. Today, the alerting service lets users receive notifications from specific sources such as MSNBC, MSNs sites and as MSN Messenger instant messages, Hotmail e-mails and mobile text messages.

A feature expected to be available in about two months will allow users to also subscribe to RSS feeds, Holden said. MessageCasts technology will handle retrieving the feeds and making them compatible with MSN Alerts.

The feature also ties in to MSNs own blog-publishing service, called MSN Spaces. MSN Spaces publishes RSS feeds from blogs, so its users could use the alerts to track their blog with alerts delivered on multiple devices, Holden said.

MSN also is turning to the Windows desktop to aggregate RSS but not with a traditional client. It plans to release in midsummer a free software download for displaying RSS feeds in a Windows screen saver, Holden said.

Along with intermittently displaying headlines from feeds, which users will subscribe to through their screen saver options, the screen saver can pull in photos from MSN Spaces using an RSS feed from a blog hosted there, said Kyle Von Haden, an MSN program manager.

"This is an alternative way of using RSS," said Von Haden while demonstrating an alpha version of the screen saver. "Its valuable to the less technically inclined users, and it still harnesses the power of an emerging technology."

A few weeks ago, MSN exposed an RSS feature of its Web search engine in which a search can be turned into a feed subscription and tracked and read from news readers and online aggregators.

MSN had provided the capability when it relaunched MSN Search earlier this year, but it required that users insert code in URL strings. Now, a link at the bottom of search results takes users to a Web page that explains how to subscribe to the feed, hiding the XML that typically appears on feed links.

Turning a search query into a feed isnt a new idea. Search engines for blogs and RSS, such as Feedster Inc., Technorati and Blogdigger, let users create RSS subscription out of searches.

Yahoo also was one of the first Web search engines to include a Web pages RSS link within search results.

Next Page: MSN readies third version of Start.

Page 2

Meanwhile, MSN plans to release in another two or three weeks a third version of Start, its Web-based aggregator prototype available through the site. In a demonstration, Von Haden showed how users will be able to toggle between viewing headlines to full feeds and posts, which appear in a window that overlays the Web page.

MSN also is focused on continuing to improve the speed of the service. Start was built using a set of Web development tools known as AJAX, or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. The approach allows individual elements in a page to be updated without needing to refresh the entire Web page.

Among other things, the previous Start versions let users subscribe to RSS and Atom feeds, organize them into categories, conduct searches through MSN search and store search history.

"This could easily be a home page, and you would not need to touch it," he said.

Holden emphasized that MSN has no product plans yet for Start but wants to increasingly release technology previews of projects to gain early user feedback.

MSN and Yahoo have been the earliest of the major Internet companies to embrace RSS, and Yahoo also was using the Syndicate Conference as an opportunity to rally support for its syndication efforts.

Yahoo this week released Version 1.0 of a specification called Media RSS that extends RSS to support multimedia, including video and audio. Yahoo has been using Media RSS to accept submissions from Web publishers for its video search engine.

It has received thousands of Media RSS submissions so far, but Yahoo next wants to gain more support for consuming media published through the specification from RSS readers and Web sites, said Bradley Horowitz, Horowitz led a session explaining Media RSS to attendees, which included both publishers and aggregators.

"It was always the intention that this is not something Yahoo would own or be too closely associated with," he said during an interview.

But within the company, Yahoo plans to use Media RSS to deliver multimedia content. A feature from Flickr lets Web sites add a Flash-based widget for displaying a feed of Flickr photos.

Yahoo is working to instead use Media RSS as the underpinnings of the Flickr widget, Horowitz said.

Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.

Rocket Fuel