At least 75 million people in the United States and the United Kingdom use Really Simple Syndication (RSS) on a regular basis, but two-thirds say they don't have a clue what RSS is.
That’s according to a Yahoo-sponsored research study late last year by Ipsos Insight.
In this day and age, how can this be? How can so many people be using RSS, but have so little awareness of it? The small business community has a vested interest in helping to educate Internet users about this technology because it holds so much potential for cost-free marketing and communication to customers.
A serious case of geekiness
The simple reality is: RSS still has far too much geek factor.
It’s like asking people if they use PHP software. Most people (except the techiest among us) would say, "No." However, PHP is a common scripting language used in many popular websites today. We can be using sites built on PHP -- and never realize it. And there is no reason we should know it. As users, we don’t need to know the enabling technology. All we need to know is what the website does for us.
Yet website owners continue to communicate about RSS by describing the technology to potential subscribers instead of the benefits.
For instance, just about every definition of RSS that you read defines it as “really simple syndication.” That may be a definition but it’s hardly helpful -- and it is symptomatic of the problem with RSS. RSS is a tool that allows users to subscribe to blogs, websites, or news and have new or updated content sent to them on a regular basis. To businesses, this means potential for marketing sales, new products or other announcements.
Solving the RSS communication problem
To consumers, rather than defining technology, we should be emphasizing the benefits, instead. And explaining in simple non-technical terms how to use RSS feeds. The benefits to them are substantial: convenience, time savings, and access to more current information sources.
Some industry leaders have started to take steps toward demystifying RSS. Under the industry leadership of Firefox and Microsoft, the original orange buttons with the letters XML or RSS that websites post to alert users to subscribe, are being replaced with a new, more attractive, abstract button sans confusing acronyms. Some content publishers have even discontinued using the phrase “RSS feed,” in favor of the less technical term “Web feeds” or just “feeds.”
And a few of the aggregator sites like My Yahoo now offer users a convenient way to search for and add new feeds with just a few clicks.
What website owners can do
If you are a small business owner with a website and want to demystify this technology and encourage users to subscribe to your feed, here are some steps to take.
With an RSS feed you can develop audience loyalty and extend your reach online. RSS is now a mainstream trend, and it is time to leverage your feed so that you don’t miss out on this opportunity. For detailed information about how to use RSS to expand the reach of your site visit the Yahoo Publisher's Guide to RSS.
Anita Campbell is a writer, speaker and radio talk show host who closely follows trends in the small business market at her site, Small Business Trends.