Blogging Story: What is RSS?

So over the Christmas holidays, my uncle and I were sitting around in the basement, with my cousin, Mark, and he wanted to know if either of us knew of any software that would help the military organize their information in a better way. We talked about Basecamp, and a few other pieces of software, but of course we knew that the military would only accept software from a big box company like Microsoft or IBM, despite the amazing advances that other companies have made in the software space.

As we were going over the features that Basecamp had, I pointed out that it supported RSS, which for me was kind of cool, though I didn’t know how it could really be useful for collaborative software like Basecamp, I still thought it was worth mentioning. My uncle looked at me and raised an eyebrow. He didn’t know what RSS was.

My uncle is not a slouch academically, or even technologically. He helps pick out some of the equipment that the military will be using next, and his computer set up at home is fairly high tech, but RSS was foreign to him.

I went on to explain that RSS is like being able to subscribe to a variety of sites, as though they were newspapers, and your RSS reader, is like the house they are all delivered to. All the content you want is pushed to you, rather than having to go to each site, find it and read it.

Despite showing him an example of how useful it could be, he didn’t seem to really understand how it could benefit someone like him. He didn’t see the inefficiency of going to a dozen different news sites to get the content he wanted. He was worried he would miss something by subscribing to RSS, or that he would be getting too much of the things he didn’t want.

He also didn’t see the business model behind RSS, asking me if only certain content was pushed through, or if the content was limited in any way. The idea seemed totally strange to him, and despite sitting with him for half an hour, showing him how useful it could be, the end result was the same as the start: he didn’t understand RSS.

As a blogger, I constantly try to push people towards my RSS feed, as I want to keep them informed each and every time I write a new article, but here is my uncle, a man in his 40’s, unable to wrap his brain around why I would want to do that.

Has RSS really gotten to the point where it is well known enough by the Internet users at large that we can, without an informational page, push people towards it? Or should we bloggers be explaining what RSS is, and what the reader will get so that we can continue to teach those that don’t know, what they are “subscribing” to?

My hope for 2008, is that RSS becomes more ubiquitous, and pervasive online, and that next time I mention it, I don’t see a raised eyebrow from someone that does hundreds of tasks online each and every day.

PayPerPost Launches RSS Brief Alpha

The folks behind PayPerPost recently tipped us on the Alpha release of RSS Brief, a new, innovative RSS feed reader that summarizes feed content not just by truncating, but by actually using technology that analyzes the language within the blog posts.

RSSBrief uses some very slick lexical analysis technology to produce a proper precis of blog posts and other RSS feed contents to let you instantly get the skinny on a post without having to spend a lot of time drilling down into the details. With RSSBrief you can automatically reduce hundreds of pages of blog feed contents to just a handful, letting you keep up to speed with the latest happenings in the blogosphere quicker than ever before.

Bear in mind, we’re talking a full precis of a post here, just like Mrs. Smith taught you how to do in Middle School English all those years ago. We know how annoying it is to be reading a post that some lame aggregating service decided to simply truncate.

I’ve tried it and so far it’s still not 100% perfect, particularly for blogs that don’t publish feeds in full (I’m not sure how RSS Brief will handle these). But then again it’s still in Alpha, so we should expect developments soon.