RSS Sets Its Sights on the Enterprise

 
 
By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2005-05-22
 
 
 
NEW YORK—If theres any doubt that XML-based syndication, commonly called RSS, is impacting more than the legion of Webloggers who have helped to popularize it, look no further than the New York Times.

The online companion to the Gray Lady has watched the popularity of its RSS feeds grow from a mere half-million page views to 7 million since late 2003, said Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations at The New York Times Co., during a keynote at the Syndicate Conference here last week.

"We have deliberately and very methodically gone out and gotten RSS out there," Nisenholtz said. "Its the fastest growing distribution channel we have."

Syndication feeds may be impacting the way the nations best-known newspaper reaches its readers, but RSS has yet to scale the walls of most corporations. The enterprise use of RSS, so far, appears concentrated among publishers, marketers and advertisers based on the discussions of conference attendees.

But the enterprise potential of syndication feeds for internal communications, for coordinating with partners and for reaching customers is beginning to draw interest from IT departments, business managers and vendors.

"Whats going to kick it into high gear is out-of-the-box Outlook or out-of-the-box [Internet Explorer] support for RSS," said Fergus Burns, the CEO of Nooked. "It needs to be endorsed as an application by the chief information officer."

While the reading of RSS feeds is becoming more integrating into some Web browsers and popular online services, it often requires the downloading of RSS reader clients such as FeedDemon and NetNewsWire or the use of online aggregation services such as Bloglines or Rojo.

Click here to read an eWEEK Labs report with case studies and product reviews of RSS in the enterprise.

Still, enterprise adoption is on the rise, Burn said. Since January, Boston-based Nooked has sold a service called FeedWizard for the creation and distribution of RSS feeds and focused on corporate communications, marketers and public relations. The service has about 1,000 user accounts, and 5,000 feeds, and is growing at a rate of 100 accounts a week, he said.

While corporate RSS initially may be focused on feeds for marketing or for distributing news announcements, Burns said he is beginning to see other uses emerge, such as feeds for a companys job listings.

Burns also expects more use of RSS for communicating internally and with partners. Nooked, for example, has worked with Irelands Department of Health to use feeds to distribute information on emerging disease pandemics, Burn said.

Vendors also are eyeing the enterprise RSS market. KnowNow Inc. last week launched a version of its real-time alerting software tailored to RSS feeds, and NewsGator Inc. has plans to sell an enterprise server for managing RSS reading by the end of the year.

Read more here about NewsGator buying FeedDemon.

One panel discussion at Syndicate dealt exclusively with the use of RSS within enterprises. Panelists seemed to agree that enterprises will increasingly adopt RSS, but it will require them to understand all the types of content and data that could be shared through feeds.

"Organizations already are publishers, but they just havent learned that they are autonomous publishers," Paul Kedrosky, director of the William J. von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Advancement at the University of California at San Diego.

He discussed ideas such as a credit card company providing transactions to individual customers via RSS feeds.

To Michael Terner, president and CEO of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based KnowNow, the underlying subscription model of RSS also will need to be adjusted for many enterprise uses because corporations will want more control over which feeds reach employees, partners and customers.

"In the normal world of e-mail, the subscription is controlled by publisher," he said. "In the normal world of RSS today, the subscription is controlled by the user, and someone needs to bridge the gap for the enterprise because neither fits for the enterprise."

Companies are looking at RSS as an alternative to e-mail and an add-on to corporate portals, Terner said. He gave the example of KnowNow customer ING, a Dutch-based financial-services company, using RSS to share corporate communications from its chairman with 115,000 employees and embedded syndication into its company portal.

An IT architect at an East Coast financial services company, who asked not to be named, said that she is also investigating the use of RSS on the companys customer portal site. But she said that the metrics of RSS need to improve to make it more useful.

Being able to track click-throughs and user information about RSS feeds remains limited, though vendors are beginning to look at ways of making an RSS feed as measurable as a Web site, panelists said.

"Measuring RSS use and consumption is not nearly as advanced as Web site consumption," said David Schatsky, senior vice president of research at Jupiter Research, a division of Jupitermedia Corp.

Other questions emerged about whether RSS could expose corporations to regulatory risks under Sarbanes-Oxley as more employees create and share content through feeds. So far, it appears to be an open question.

"The dark underbelly of the euphoria of these technologies is that people havent thought through these issues very carefully," Kedrosky said. "If its a disclosure, its a disclosure and the SEC doesnt care.

"Once were past this hobbyist euphoria of everyone being a content creator, then there will be some lockdown."

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