Duncan Riley> In case you’ve missed it there is a storm in a tea cup brewing in the blogosphere over the decision by Microsoft to use the term “web feed” in place of RSS in the new version of Internet Explorer (IE7, currently in beta) and in Windows Vista.
Not surprisingly, the usual suspects have chimed in with their anti-Microsoft rants, including former blog god Dave Winer (former thanks to the new rankings over at Feedster) who believes its another example of Microsoft trying to dominate the world. No I’m no huge Microsoft fan myself, but just for once I’m on Microsoft’s side because most people don’t get RSS, and most people never will.
Only Monday I posted the result of the latest Nielson NetRatings survey results that found 66% of people don’t know what RSS is and only 11% of people use RSS feeds, that’s 89% of people who don’t use RSS feeds. A study I posted back on August 5 from Forrster Research found that only 2% of Americans use RSS feeds. July 21, a study from Pew Internet found that 91% of Americans had no idea of what RSS was.
See the trend? RSS as a promotional concept isn’t working. Sure, the technology is great, but numbers talk. Even here at the Blog Herald and across the Weblog Empire blogs I’ve had to implement a range of subscription buttons to cater for the fact that there are a lot of readers out there using RSS who don’t actually know how to take a RSS feed and use it to subscribe to the blogs in question. Put an RSS or XML orange button on your blog alone and I’ll promise you now that on a level playing field of equal traffic your going to get less people reading your feed than you’ll get if you compliment it with subscription buttons.
But back to Microsoft. Microsoft have always had a canny ability to measure and understand mass market appeal through the way it both markets its products, and through how they work. Language is an important concept of marketing that Microsoft gets. Take a look at any number of successful Microsoft product names and look at their commonality of structure, they are all short, memorable and easy to roll off the tongue. RSS sound like morse code, where as web feed sounds smoother, is easier to remember, and like key Microsoft products functionally describes what the item is as well as providing a name for it (think Word=wordprocessing, Windows=a window based GUI). What would you rather use when describing a concept to somebody who doesn’t know a thing about this: RSS or web feed? We already use the term “feed” in describing a “RSS feed”, so web feed, or even feed for short would work a lot better. If people who support RSS/ XML technologies are serious about promoting their use amongst the mass market, they’ll embrace and support Microsoft’s push, because without a new marketing tag RSS will continue to confuse and will remain a niche product. Although using a variation of “Site Feed”, even Google agrees.