I’m an RSS-feed addict (there, I’ve said it). If you have a list of websites and blogs whose new additions you want to follow, doing it by monitoring the sites’ RSS feeds is the most sensible way to do it. Most nights, I’ll sit down with my iPad for 20 minutes and scroll through that day’s additions to the more than 250 websites I follow, with subjects ranging from music to football to online marketing. However obscure a particular interest, I’m always on top of any new information.
This is all done through an RSS Reader. Every site which has regular updates (including yours, quite possibly) has an “RSS feed” behind the scenes. An RSS Reader simply checks up on every site which you’ve listed, and presents any previously unseen content to you. Gradually, over a few years, I’ve built up a long list of websites which I’d like to be informed about whenever there’s an update. Here’s what I see at the moment (and if I scroll down the list on the left, there are probably another 100 articles released in the past 24 hours):
Apart from gathering information from websites in one place without you having to visit the websites themselves, an RSS Reader also presents the content in a clear, consistent format. If this sort of display is a bit too dull for you, there are some wonderful apps such as Flipboard which present things in a really attractive way. But they’re still effectively RSS feed readers.
Now, what’s happening with RSS and how might this affect you? Well, the big news this week is that Google is closing its RSS feed reading product, Google Reader. This is sad, but the company regularly closes products which it can’t see being part of its commercial future, and there are alternative products. The concept of having RSS feeds in the background of most websites isn’t going away.
However, RSS feeds power various other products, and we fear for the future of another Google product which uses RSS feeds, and that’s Feedburner. This is a free service which has been seriously neglected over the past few years, but which many companies use to power their email update lists. If you’ve ever subscribed to receive updates from a website by email, there’s a good chance that the site might be using Feedburner to run this service. And I can’t believe it’s going to be with us much longer.
So if your company uses Feedburner to provide website updates by email to your customers, I believe you need to start thinking about an alternative. You will need to pay a few pounds a month, but you’ll have a degree of reliability and support which none of us have any right to expect from a free service like Feedburner. I would recommend looking at a dedicated “RSS-to-email” service such as Feedblitz or an email service such as MailChimp which has the capability of automatically sending out emails, using the RSS feed, whenever there’s an update to your site. We’ve used both of these to run the very mailing list you’re reading now, and they work well.