Yahoo and RSS on The Read/Write Web
Why Yahoo! + RSS = Good Thing.
I've been reading up on Yahoo!'s decision to add RSS feeds to the mix of content they provide on the My Yahoo! portal. The decision for them is all about enhancing their strategy for users to put all their Web content "in one place" - their place. It's the same old Portal strategy that was so popular on the Web in the mid-90's, but which very few companies actually got right. Yahoo! was one of those that did get it right - in fact they were the standard-bearer.
The portal strategy still drives Yahoo!'s business model, even though they were leapfrogged a few years ago by Google's minimalist interface centered around search. But while Google has been reaping all the goodwill (and now money), Yahoo! has stuck to their guns, trying to be the One Place where mainstream Web users go for all their content needs. And Yahoo! has continued to be successful with that strategy - they have a very large user base and incredibly high brand recognition.
So the main reason why Yahoo!'s addition of RSS features is big news? Simply put, it's that Yahoo! is now pushing RSS as a key source of content for them and their many mainstream users.
From a user (and content creator) perspective, Yahoo!'s embrace of RSS is a leap forward in acceptance of RSS as a mainstream source of content. Jeremy Zawodny, a Yahoo! developer, pointed out that RSS feeds on Yahoo! will "Just Work". Put another way, Yahoo! will make RSS "almost completely invisible". It will be easy-peasy lemon-squeezy for users to subscribe to RSS feeds on their My Yahoo! homepages.
Story From The Trenches
To underline the importance of making RSS user-friendly to mainstream people, I'd like to share with you a little story from the trenches. I'm a Web Producer at a medium-sized company and recently I tried to pursuade some of my business colleagues to add an RSS feed to our corporate website, for press releases. This was in response to their initial request for email notifications. Some other people in my IT team also know about RSS, so I decided it was time for me to try and sell the business folks on it. The conversation went along these lines (note: I've edited it so that no personalities except for me can be identified):
Me: [long email stating my case for adding an RSS feed to our corporate website. I include a link to the NY Times RSS webpage, as an example.]
Business User: I tried to click through on the RSS feed buttons on the NY Times link and got a page of web code - should these links work?
Me: Ah, unfortunately you've hit on the reason why RSS feeds aren't yet mainstream. When you click on an RSS feed, you do get a page of XML code. The way to subscribe is to copy the link into what's called an RSS Reader (or News Reader or RSS Aggregator).
[I then proceed to explain about Bloglines and other RSS Aggregators. I get a bit carried away and probably overstate my case.]
Business User: I'd be inclined not to use software that requires a would-be recipient of this service to download additional software. It's too much for normal web users. However, if it becomes simpler, we should definitely move to use it.
Me: [mildly panicing now - have I blown it?] I'd still like to include an RSS feed. Heh, I admit RSS is a passion of mine. Can we still have the RSS link along with a short explanation, but push email notifications as the number 1 option?
Business: As long as there is a simple option. The primary option must have a direct signup with no additional downloads.
Me: Whew! [a small victory for RSS]
Of course the moral here is that the business user is 100% correct - it's not up to me (a technologist) to push my geeky hobbies onto users. It's up to me to provide the "direct signup" that the business requires. For me to sell RSS to the business, I have to provide a solution that will hide the XML code - and the terminology associated with it - from the users. It has to be Easy As Email™ (to coin a trademark).
And that is precisely where Yahoo! comes in (not necessarily for my company's website users, but generally speaking...).
Yahoo!'s core service is to provide a homepage in a browser, where users can sign up to receive content. Simple. And now RSS is Content too, according to Yahoo! Great! It means users don't need to go elsewhere on the Web or know about XML to sign up to these "RSS feeds" (whatever they are).
It bears repeating: what RSS is to Yahoo! users is a new source of CONTENT. Yahoo! hides all the geekery behind the content.
Because a huge number of normal folks already use Yahoo!, there's an equally huge customer base just waiting to join the RSS revolution. Yahoo! users will experience the revolution on their same old My Yahoo! homepage - and does that matter? Not a jot. Content Creators will be pleased, because they'll have a whole new audience. And users will be pleased, because they'll have a whole new range of content to read.
Of course, once even bigger woolly mammoths join the party (e.g. Microsoft) - things will get even more interesting in the RSS space. Hmmm, well what's your take on that? Has Yahoo! gained a jump on Microsoft and even Google when it comes to Content? [Read/Write Web]