Decoding RSS – with Trapit’s Content Operations Manager

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When Google Reader was on its death bed this past summer, I couldn’t help but speculate as to why the decision was being made to shut down the RSS news platform. One of the prominent arguments I came across was that RSS always suffered from lack of consumer appeal.I agree to a certain extent. It’s not that the standard user simply isn’t capable of grasping how RSS works, but I do recognize the struggle exists for standard users to make the most out of their RSS experience. My stance has little to do with any reader services that queue up the content, nor the subscriber functionality of RSS. The problem resides in the fact that not enough websites out there have been doing enough with their RSS capabilities. In order for the future of RSS to hum like a well-oiled machine in an overcrowded internet, the sources of content must become more robust, more niche and more versatile. The web is a free democracy – RSS must mirror this concept and empower readers with more choices when it comes to the content subscriptions that auto-filter into our daily digest of information we consider valuable.

RSS Food for Thought – The Buffet Analogy

Website owners should take notes next time they walk into a buffet (bear with me). When I enter a buffet, my stomach wants it all – everything. Contrarily, my heart desires something lighter and more healthy. Despite these conflicts of interest, I know ultimately that I am in a position to choose the most well-rounded plate that’ll satisfy the taste-budding opinions inside me that are constantly butting heads. I deliberate carefully. I look around and appreciate how the square footage of the buffet is broken down (much like websites) into subsections, by genres–italian, seafood, salad bar, sweets, etc. If you are like me, you make one stop per trip to the seafood section and you leave with shrimp and shrimp only, approximately five panko pieces. I know the salmon is there, it stares at me wondering if today is the day my palate makes that connection. But I’m here for the shrimp, and the buffet respects that. It’s why I return, unbothered, unfettered. Maybe tomorrow, salmon.

Websites must do the same. Allow your readers to subscribe to the things they desire consuming routinely. Recognize that a consumer’s stomach can only expand so far, so why force feed them? Imagine if said-buffet instead unloaded a dump truck of food on your table, forcing you to sift through it all to fill your plate. You’d probably choose a different buffet. In order to compete in this smartphone-crazed world where attention spans are rapidly shrinking, RSS functionality must become a diverse content buffet that allows readers the versatility to subscribe to either large chunks or tiny slivers of content. With all the multitasking we do on a daily basis (Facebooking, Twitter-skimming, Insta-gazing) how much room do we have left in the tank to read quality content when our mind settles down at the night’s end? RSS should be that cornerstone can’t-miss feature in the world of content that will bring readers what they want, when they want it.

Dissecting RSS: Empower the Contributors that make your Website Superb

Sure, “All News” or “All Articles” feeds are fantastic and important to have available for subscription, but let’s be real here. As readers, occasionally certain writers or writing styles come across as annoying, while others can hook, line and sink our return. Twitter gives you the option to mute someone’s retweets and empowers users with the choice to only follow an original voice. Websites should do the same for each and every contributor, syncing a RSS feed to each individual, even if they merely appear seldomly as featured guests. Whether a reader is subscribing to one writer, or a handful, RSS connectivity in this manner will bring readers back to the website when they feel like it and the content flow will never feel overwhelming, because they will remain in control. Who knows, they may pick up a piece of salmon along the way.

Broad categorical feeds are great, but niche keyword topics are golden

Sports, technology, news, health, science, fitness – the list goes on. These are great general feeds to have featured in a RSS section of a website, but are they really robust enough for readers to narrow in and get the most out of your website’s content? I consider myself a tech nerd, but have very little interest when it comes to the economics of the tech world. Those type of articles would keep me from ever subscribing. However, if I could pull a feed that dissected further into the tech section, I’d jump on the “smart tech,” “drones,” and “apple” feeds. And odds are, I may even jump from my RSS queue back into the general realm of the website to explore further, perhaps pick up some new interests along the way. Having the freedom to subscribe to my can’t-miss interests is key and brings a sense of organization when I’ve grown tired of web surfing for the day.

A website that simply “gets it”

Bloomberg View, an editorial division of what we know as Bloomberg News, is the cookie-cutter example of how a website should manage its RSS connectivity for its consumers. Tabs at the top of the page begin with a section where you can view all the content in a clean flow, queueing the articles chronologically for those wanting to browse the latest. The other two tabs are my favorite. The “contributors” section lists all the people who are posting content to the website. Inside, you can find the contributor’s bio, relevant keywords that provide a glimpse of what that writer is likely addressing in their editorials, and most importantly, a RSS feed clear as day at the top of the bio. Skip a tab over to the right, it gets even better. Inside the “topics” section, you’ll find a list of nearly 100 topics that take website categories to a new level. Climate Change, Oil, Olympics, Energy, Gadgets, China are the ones I’m currently subscribed to from the site. With a mixture of breadth, and narrowed specifics, Bloomberg View recognizes that niche topics of interest are fantastic candidates to sync with RSS.

When Google Reader etched its name in a tombstone, tech critics questioned if this truly meant RSS was perishing after all. My rebuttal is simple: Nas said the same thing about hip-hop music being dead and look what happened. He made another album. And another. Content, just like music, will never die, so long as readers are still lingering around with open eyes and cat-like curiosity. With new data continuing its exponential rise on the internet, websites have to recognize that RSS functionality must become more sophisticated if they expect to hold onto the unique interests of its diverse readership. Most of us can’t seem to read anything longer than 140 characters these days, but when our brains settle down and we’re done tapping and finger-swiping, RSS must be that pipeline for all the go-to information. Get it done, internet.

– Geoff

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