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RSS for the people

RSS manThe Los Angeles Fire Department has a blog post up explaining the benefits of RSS to their readers. Here’s an excerpt:

With RSS, you don’t have to reveal your email address to have the new content, such as LAFD News, delivered to your computer. If you want to stop receiving information, you don’t have to request to be “taken off the list”. One click, and poof… the subscription is gone.

Plus, since there’s no email address involved, there’s no way some publisher can sell, rent or give away the means to contact you. That’s right… no more spam, viruses, phishing, or identity theft. And best of all, no reason to put yourself at the mercy of an unknown publisher’s intentions.

Again, if you don’t like the content, you can make it disappear as fast as you can change a TV channel. With just one click.

Two things popped out for me in the above:

1) The use of more familiar technology to help explain RSS — in this case, email subscriptions and channel surfing the TV.

2) Referencing the negative experiences people might have had with unsubscribing or privacy to distinguish RSS as a positive alternative.

I think there’s a lesson here for us as we think about helping more people get the full benefits of the Web. RSS is a fundamental technology that is changing and broadening the way everyone can find and stay up to date with information that matters to them. Yet awareness of RSS is minimal.

The LAFD is on the right track by taking the time to explain in approachable terms what RSS is like, and how it makes the Web experience better. I’m still looking for a really good, thorough example of this kind of explanation — though this tutorial by Daniel Bricklin is in the ballpark.

  1. funTomas #

    Didn’t know of the low awareness, that’s kinda interesting. Anyway, having looked at the referenced tutorial, I don’t think it’s a stuff for average Joe. Generaly speaking, some technology guys still can’t get it – a technology must be simple to be grasped by masses. If understanding “how it works” is required, a few will get it.

    November 25, 2006
  2. I think with the arrival of feeds in IE7, the masses will eventually get it. It’s just going to take a bit of time…

    November 25, 2006
  3. ari #

    On my website I don’t just say I have a feed, I have a link that explains what that means.

    November 25, 2006
  4. Hard to say what to do here. We don’t necessarily promote “HTML” and RSS is more like HTML than any other file format because the applications of the technology are wide. In contrast, PDF has much clearer applications.

    RSS was introduced in 1999. We only promoted RSS to developers and introduced RSS as “channels” within My Netscape.

    November 26, 2006
  5. Raf: I think Yahoo! does a good job of rationalizing RSS for non-technical visitors, particularly if you have a My Yahoo! account. I agree that RSS is a transport mechanism for content like HTML — the difference for me is that RSS also delivers two-way benefits: for content authors, pushing out updates; for readers, almost zero effort notification of updated content. I think the missing link is greater visibility for aggregation tools — what they are, why they’re useful.

    November 26, 2006
  6. Ian #

    Yeah I really like that explanation! Very well done!

    So why do I have to enter my email here? ;)

    November 27, 2006
  7. I have to say this whole RSS thing confuses me. I’ve used it on some of our web sites about marketing, and tracked it from day one, but have been unable to fuly understand the full benefits. Can you help? – Thanks, Kyle

    December 7, 2006

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  1. » Blog Archive » LAFD brings RSS to the people
  2. Web Strategy by Jeremiah » RSS Resources
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