Silverpop - Feedback on My RSS Measurability Post
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Feedback on My RSS Measurability Post

Bill Nussey, Silverpop
by: Bill Nussey (@bnussey)
18 April 2006

I received some great comments about my recent blog entry on the difficulty of measuring traditional RSS, and my belief that marketers will move toward Individualized RSS as a result. (You can check out the post and comments here.)

Padraig McGourty from Nooked pointed out that his application also supports IRSS. Nooked, along with the other IRSS feed systems I mentioned, can also support a single, broadcast-type feed as well.

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and an investor in FeedBurner, said creating unique RSS feeds for every user would be a scalability nightmare. Only time will tell how difficult this proves to be, but I believe it will be fairly manageable. For instance, FeedBurner already responds to each feed request uniquely by returning an XML file tuned for the specific RSS reader making the request. From there, it's not a huge leap to respond with different feeds for each user. Although working with any system that supports millions of unique content experiences can be complex and challenging, companies in the ad banner, Web-site and email marketing world have been doing just that for five years. Large emailers like Silverpop regularly create and deliver tens of millions of unique messages every day. Using existing platforms like Silverpop's email solution for an RSS system enables similar scale, and companies should have no problem meeting any realistic growth in IRSS demand over the next few years.

Finally, Dick Costolo, the CEO of Feedburner, took the time to share his thoughts on why he believes the current RSS approach (one feed for all users) has advantages over IRSS. His points are well-taken, and I recommend reading them in their entirety. In the meantime, I've taken the liberty of addressing each one here:

1. Individualized feeds are hard to migrate and manage. I agree that managing high volumes of unique pages and indexes can be difficult -- especially if you want to move them around or change them. Fortunately, Web-site content management techniques have been addressing this very same issue for years, so IRSS shouldn't have to invent too many additional solutions in order to be equally as manageable.

2. Readers may copy each other's unique feeds rather than get new unique feeds, thus impacting the accuracy of metrics. Dick makes a great point here, and I do believe this affects the measurability of IRSS to some degree. Nonetheless, I believe an audience spread across IRSS and broadcast RSS feeds will always be more accurately measurable than broadcast RSS alone.

3. Aggregators won't accept the burden of so many unique feeds and they'll find ways to work around them. The biggest RSS aggregators most often are also the biggest email inbox providers. These companies already deal with massive volumes of unique email, so technically, doing the same for RSS is feasible. Silverpop's ongoing conversations with many of the largest aggregators suggest that they will take the same approach to IRSS as they have to email -- they'll support what their customers ask for, even if it's harder than they'd prefer.

4. A single source for feeds is required for aggregators to remix into custom feeds. First, not every RSS feed benefits from being public, and not every marketing feed is targeted at a wide audience. In the world of email (which I believe will drive much of the IRSS adoption), more and more messages are either private, such as receipts, or highly targeted, such as up-sell promotions based on prior purchases. Second, most IRSS systems also generate a generic, public feed that can be used for the purposes Dick outlines.

5. IRSS throws off search engines by creating tens of thousands of similar content links. This was indeed an early concern among IRSS providers and search engine companies. However, standards quickly are being developed and deployed that allow content creators to tag individual feeds in a way that won't confuse search engines. And, as long as a single, public-facing feed remains untagged, the search engines will work just as they do today.

RSS today is most commonly viewed from the publisher's perspective -- share your content as widely as possible. As such, it may appear to be at some odds with IRSS in the near-term. However, the real promise of IRSS lies in the ability to offer more personalized content. Targeted promotions like Travelocity's last-minute deals, personal account updates like Netflix's RSS queues and customized newsletters are already making IRSS a reality. And, custom keyword search feeds by companies like NewsGator further illustrate how IRSS is expanding on the original vision of RSS and changing how marketers must think about the channel. These companies all appear poised deliver the scale, manageability and measurability that their customers will soon demand.

Personally, I don't think standard RSS will ever go away any more than I believe text email and static Web pages will disappear. However, for sophisticated marketers and content creators, IRSS offers an opportunity to benefit from the emerging base of RSS readers and RSS-savvy consumers without giving up the targeting and 1:1 nature of the communications they currently get with email and through their Web sites.




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