RSS still has a big role to play

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Last week, Ask.com announced it will shut down its RSS reader, Bloglines, on October 1. A collective sigh let out around the Internet because Bloglines was one of the early entrants into the web-based RSS reader market and geeks everywhere felt a touch of nostalgia as we watched it make its exit from the web stage. But the death of Bloglines, long neglected by Ask and looking rather dowdy, by no means has wider implications on RSS in general.

A little background

RSS, which stands for really simple syndication, is an XML syndication standard developed by Dave Winer back in the 90s to enable websites and blogs to syndicate content. What this means in practice is that you can subscribe to a blog and the content gets pushed to you instead of having to check the site manually each day.

If you're anything like me, I follow literally hundreds of blogs and track them in Google Reader. I couldn't begin to remember all of these sites, never mind take the time each day to enter the URL or find a bookmark to see any new content. For website owners and bloggers this also provides a way to track loyal readers, but RSS has developed a much wider role over the years beyond helping bloggers and their readers.

RSS inside the enterprise

Today, RSS has a big role in Enterprise 2.0, which can push content to you from people inside your company who interest you. For instance, if you are the manager of several software development teams, you could set up a wiki or blog where each team can add content and project updates. If you are responsible for multiple teams with a myriad of projects, you can track them all using RSS and have the project updates come to you each morning instead of having to use bookmarks to track the progress of each one manually.

RSS evolving

The beauty of Winer's standard has always been its simplicity. You can incorporate the code into many places and it does its job whether you know it or not. As such, you may not even know you're using it. If you use a site like iGoogle, for instance, and you choose to track headlines from The New York Times, these headlines appear on your page each day. RSS brings them to you, but it does so quietly in the background.

RSS is still growing

When the Ask announcement hit the wires last week, PaidContent.org published a post suggesting the end of Bloglines was part of a broader trend that indicated RSS use in general was in decline, but Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) countered that with a blog post yesterday on the Official Google Blog, which shows reader use is most definitely on the rise.

With the growing role of social networks to help us find the links we need, some have suggested that RSS is no longer necessary, but the two work in tandem and are not mutually exclusive. For any given week for this newsletter, for instance, I use links I find in Google Reader, along with links I learn about from my trusted social network. They both help me find good content to do my job.

You may not know the label, RSS, but if you are a content producer, chances are you and your readers are taking advantage of it, both inside and outside the enterprise, and in spite of the demise of Bloglines, it will continue to help push content, whether you are aware of it or not. - Ron