When Google Reader, a popular service for consuming content by RSS feeds, shuttered on July 2nd, it ignited a debate amongst the some 200,000 publishers and marketers who use RSS (really simple syndication) to stream content to their audiences. On one hand, the medium was an aging one no longer worth supporting for a tech giant such as Google. But on the other, the outcry from Google Reader fans made it clear there are still plenty of people who think RSS is worth savoring, if not saving.
Should businesses follow Google’s lead and turn to other methods to push out content? Or should RSS stick around for the time being? RSS may be mature by internet standards, but experts disagree on whether or not it’s worth keeping and few businesses want to be first to tell their audience, “No.” Let’s hear from both sides:
“I actually don’t think RSS works,” said blogger, entrepreneur and angel investor Andrew Chen, who pointed out in a recent post on his own website that RSS feeds aren’t interactive, and that readers who subscribe to content via email marketing (think newsletters) are far more responsive.
Andy Crestodina, principal and strategic director of Orbit Media Studios, a community of professionals and media specialists, agrees: “[RSS] is becoming irrelevant as a way to connect with your audience. Smart marketers are rushing to build their email lists and social followings. These channels push the message out. RSS is passive.”
What makes RSS less attractive to modern marketers is that it requires an additional action on the part of the audience, says Crestodina: “The feed sits there until someone views it. It’s not in anyone’s inbox (unless you’re using RSS to syndicate via email, which isn’t ideal) or in anyone’s social streams. I know very few people who check their feeds in the morning. But most people I know check their social streams. Everyone I know checks their email!”
However, though numbers are hard to come by, RSS is still consumed by a huge number of people and it’s relatively easy for businesses to do. Chief Executive Marshal Kirkpatrick of Little Bird, a service that discovers and helps businesses engage with influential people online, points out that suggesting great feeds to your audience is one way of adding value to their experience.
“Curate a collection of great content to fill that channel and include your company’s feed in it! That’s what I would do if I was determining a business’s RSS strategy,” Kirkpatrick explains.
With Google Reader gone, feed junkies are scrambling to choose one of several dozen alternative platforms, such as Feedly, the new Digg Reader or NewsBlur. Whether RSS goes or RSS stays, all content publishers who use RSS should make sure theirs is at least set up properly.
“The quickest way to verify that your RSS feed is working correctly is to use the free feed validator provided by W3C, an industry standards body,” said web developer Jason Siffring, who owns the web development studio Surprise Highway. All you need to do is plug in the URL of your feed (which is usually your URL followed by ‘/feed’) and the site will point out any formatting issues that are problematic.
Another strategy is to subscribe to your own feed, which may help you find any formatting (or visual) issues yourself. Also, make sure that the RSS feed is displaying your newest posts.
“To further test it…publish a new post (or test post) and then refresh the feed in the reader,” says Jon Henshaw, chief marketing officer of Raven, a startup offering all-in-one marketing software tools for businesses. “If it doesn’t appear, then something may be wrong with the feed.”
What’s your opinion on RSS? Share away in the comments.
This post contributed by guest author, Yael Grauer. Grauer is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Find her online at Yaelwrites.com.
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