Tag Archives: Aggregator

Locking Users In the Smart Way

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I was directed to this excellent piece, A Victim Treats His Mugger Right : NPR, via Facebook last night.  And it made me realise how publishers don’t make the most of that kind of referral.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that nowadays we tend to get more and more of our reading from peer suggestions like this. Navigating News Online from the Project for Excellence in Journalism estimates that while Google still accounts for 30% of traffic to the main U.S. news sites, Facebook is the second or third most important driver of traffic. And yet all news sites do to respond to that is put a Facebook like button on their stories and cross their fingers.

What they should be doing is create what I would call “corners”, but might also be called “series” or “seasons”. The same PEJ report notes that casual visitors to a news website account for the vast majority of visitors–USAToday, for example, a third of users spent between one and five minutes on the paper’s website each month. Power users–those that return more than 10 times a month and spend more than an hour there–account for an average of 7% of total users for the top 25 news sites.

This represents a huge failure on the part of websites to get users back, and spend more time there.

And I don’t see a lot of websites doing much about it. Which is a shame, because it’s relatively easy. You just need to think of your publication as a TV network, and your content as individual brands. Or, to continue the analogy, seasons.

If I start watching Archer, or Secret Millionaire and I enjoy it, chances are I’ll set my TV to record each episode. I like one bite; I want take the whole season. It may not be smart television, but it’s smart branding. But apart from columnists and a few other regular features, we don’t think the same when it comes to our content.

Take the NPR piece. It’s about a New York social worker called Julio Diaz who is mugged. He gives him his wallet, and then, invites the mugger to dinner. It’s a touching tale, and has been tweeted 635 times, shared on Facebook more than 200,000 times and has 92 comments. And, get this: It was published on March 28, 2008. More than three years ago. I didn’t even notice that when I was pointed to the story by a friend on Facebook. And I wouldn’t have cared: Once I started reading the story I was hooked, and listened to the recording all the way through.

This piece comes from a series called StoryCorps, a magnificent oral history project for which NPR is one of the national partners. Through three permanent StoryBooths and a traveling MobileBooth it has recorded more than 35,000 interviews since 2003. It has its own StoryCorps Facebook page, with more than 25,000 followers and a lively feel to it. (I recommend watching some of the animated accounts; they’re very moving.)

My point is this: StoryCorps is like a TV series, Loyalty is built around the brand itself: People know that if they like one item, they’re sure to like the next. And yet we do so little in our media products to make the most of this human desire to hear/read/watch more of something we like. Because we are news people, we think news is enough of a brand, we forget that for most people news is not in itself a reason to visit a news website. We are instead looking for more of what we may have liked before, and if we can’t find it, we won’t come back again.

Hence the dreadful statistics mentioned above.

So how to change this? Well, looking at the NPR page of the Julio Diaz story, we see a lot of the usual efforts to retain interest. There’s the most popular slot on the right, the related stories below, and then below that More From This Series. There are also links to subscribe to the podcast of the series, and to the RSS feed for this series.

This is all good. But it’s just the start. Let’s break down what these elements are:

  • The twitter/facebook like buttons are fine. But these are just ways of driving non-users to  to the same individual piece of content–in other words, this page.
  • The related links are ways of driving casual users to other internal content.
  • The podcast/RSS are ways of converting casual users to regular users of the content.

By defining them like this, it’s clear that only the last one really has any long-term objective to it. If we can get a user to subscribe to the podcast or the RSS feed, then we have actually got a loyal user–someone who is likely to spend more than a few minutes a month on our site, and to actually demonstrate some loyalty to our brand.

(Included in this last section is the Facebook page for a publication too, but I’m not going to go into that here.)

Now it’s probably no accident that RSS and podcasts are in steep decline. (Evidence for the decline is anecdotal, because usage of readers like Google Reader are still rising, but the rate of increase is falling, according to this piece on Quora; besides, a lot of other RSS readers have died off: Bloglines was closed down last September and NetNewsWire was sold earlier this month.)

Searches for the term RSS on Google have been falling steadily since 2006:

And podcasts haven’t fared much better. Their hey day was 2005 and 2006:

I think it’s no accident that both peaked around five years ago. That was the era of Web 2.0, and now we’re into the era of Social Media, which is dominated by Facebook and Twitter. Again, no accident that both use RSS, or used,  but have since moved on, or tried to move on.

The bottom line with both RSS and podcasts is that both have had their day. Both are a little too nerdy for most people: RSS is still way too tricky for ordinary users to master, and podcasts may be relatively easy to grab from iTunes, but still require a degree of managing that clearly doesn’t sit well.

Web 2.0 has moved on, and as social media has become more popular, and the tools for using it more user-friendly, podcasts and RSS have been left behind.

But, and here is the key point, Facebook and Twitter haven’t replaced them. RSS was/is a way for me to get your content to come to me. Facebook doesn’t really offer that, and neither, if you think about it, does Twitter.

For me to see your content I have to go to your Facebook page, or, alternatively, wait for it to pop up in my user feed. The latter is true of Twitter.

RSS allowed me to decide which of your content I liked–assuming you offered more than a single feed–and then to be able to access that on any device I liked. Podcasts were similar, but for audio and video. Now both are more or less dead, and, at least in terms of building loyalty to media channels, we’re not only back at square one, we’ve allowed other platforms–Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+–to place themselves between us and our reader.

I think this illustrates the weak thinking that media has tolerated. We need, somehow, to develop successor tools to RSS and podcasts that help us to build pipes direct to our readers/users.

Some people are trying this with iPhone/iPad/Android apps. It’s a start. But it doesn’t scale particularly well: The more apps there are, the less time people will spend on them.

And, more important, it’s still making a fundamental mistake by assuming that our readers are interested in us as a brand. They’re not. They’re interested in the channels we offer–thinking of them as seasons, I hope makes more sense, because we don’t just watch anything on a channel, we watch shows we like.

So we need to break down our content in this way, and then develop tools–apps, if you like–which cater to this desire and interest in content that is directly related (not automatically selected, or ‘may be related’) to the content that a user is interested in.

This is not that hard. NPR could build an app which helps to make it easier for anyone interested in the StoryCorps series to get all that content in a more straightforward way than RSS or podcast.

But it shouldn’t stop there. Measuring interest in a series should spur imaginative regeneration, repurposing and forking of content. The piece I mentioned, for example, had clearly resonated with the audience and should be paired with follow-up stories. Indeed, the StoryCorps corner of the NPR website should be a brand in itself, a community where editors regularly interact with readers and find ways to turn those casual users into regulars.

This is not rocket science. It’s simple math. At the moment we’re allowing other platforms to determine what people read on our website, and when they do drop by, we rely on HTML code, widgets and buttons to try to keep them.

Worst, we think merely about ‘keeping’ in terms of ‘sticky’: distracting the reader by luring other stories in front of their nose until eventually they get bored, or go home, or die, or something. I use the same tricks to entertain my 9-month-old. We need to be smarter than this.

Thinking our content in terms of ‘series’ might be a good place to start.

Email Wins Over RSS?

I’ve been obsessively watching email subscription to my blog via Feedblitz and while we’re talking modest numbers here, it’s great to see people signing up. (It’s on the left hand side of the blog below my smarmy mugshot.) Much more personal somehow, than an RSS subscription.

Which doubles the pain when someone unsubscribes. Was it something I said? Something I didn’t say? The way I said it? What’s the etiquette on this?

Email subscription to blogs is actually a pretty useful tool. It may look like a step back from RSS but actually it has its uses. I use it for those blogs that I definitely want to read, and can’t afford to ignore (knowing that some days I’ll only get around to checking my RSS reader once or twice.) Email I’ll always read. And most feeds look nice in Feedblitz.

But maybe Feedblitz has missed a trick. Given email is a two way street, wouldn’t it be good to make the Feedblitz subscription more interactive? Allow readers to comment on a post just by hitting ‘reply’, or at least to offer feedback to the writer (especially when they unsubscribe a day after subscribing.)

Staying Productive in Your Underwear

I’m researching a piece on how to cut back the amount of stuff you have to read, particularly RSS feeds. So I have spent the morning reading blogs related to the tools I’m writing about. In the process, of course, I find more than 20 new blogs that are interesting enough for me to add to the feed reader that I’m supposed to be in the process of thinning out. It’s the online equivalent of packing up all your stuff in newspaper ready to move and then sitting down and spending the whole day reading fascinating news items on scraps of year-old newspaper.

Anyway, I realise I should write more about working from home, something I’ve done (the working from home, not the writing about it) for more than five years now. Here’s a great bunch of tips from Kevin Yank, who’s based in Australia although, yes, he’s a Canadian:

He recommends maintaining your morning routine as if you’re going to the office, unplugging the TV, and, most interestingly, purging your work PC of distractions. His home PC, meanwhile, “constantly checks my personal email, downloads podcasts, fetches low-priority feeds from a plethora of distracting web sites, and is replete with cute little apps that generate eye candy and always seem to need upgrading when I should be doing something else.”

Great idea to have two computers if you can manage it. Although I’m divided on whether it’s possible to divide work and personal stuff these days. Doesn’t one feed off the other? I found myself yesterday arguing fiercely with a friend from a major U.S. bank who said she was not even able to access web-mail on her work computer. To me this is daft; limiting workers’ access to such things merely panders to lazy IT staff and undermines the chances workers will be well-informed, motivated and well-connected. Of course, as smart phones take over these kinds of connectivity roles — email, IM, VoIP, presence, RSS, blogging, photo taking and sharing — all these efforts will be worthless anyway. Then we’ll have to check our phones at the door. Or work from home.

Anyway, I like Kevin’s ideas. The more professional you make your environment, the better you will function. Now I’m off for a lie-down.

Interview With The Guy Behind The Klips

In today’s Asian Wall Street Journal and in WSJ.com (subscription only, I’m afraid) I talk about widgets — sometimes called dashboards — as an alternative, or addition, to RSS.

Here is the transcript of an email/IM interview I did with Allan Wille, president and CEO of Serence, the company behind Klips:

The new Folio looks good. what’s the main new feature in this version?

Based on customer feedback, mostly from Content Providers, images and a richer content experience were very key. Much of that had to do with increased branding capabilities as well. So images are likely the BIG feature in KlipFolio 3.0. Enterprise to a lesser extent were also asking for images – charts, graphs that can tie into CRM or other enterprise applications

 

why would someone go for Klips over an RSS reader or similar device?

We are positioning KlipFolio as a dashboard – a personal dashboard for consumers or an digital/business dashboard for enterprise. We are not an RSS reader, and I see our paths moving appart, such that the two products –KlipFolio and an RSS reader– can exist in parallel. Klips are intelligent agents, where the value lies in their ability to inform and alert users of complex data. Klips are very good at allowing personalization of content, and persenting users with alerts to critical data. Of-course Klips can do news feeds, but the differentiation there is less apparent, and in some cases, an RSS reader will do a better job.

 

You seem to have a lot of European users. is that right, and if so, any reason for that?

KlipFolio started to have sucess with a number of key German news outlets – Tagesschau, Heise, Spiegel Online etc … this started back in 2002, when RSS was not quite as hyped as it is today. I believe this gave us significant visibility among other content providers in Germany and Europe, and has led to a very large European userbase, and subsequently a good source of leads and customers. North America was hesitant to try new technologies and as RSS was adopted by more and more content providers in NA, Klips were caught in a difficult differentiation battle. With the features present in 3.0, wer are looking to overcome these challenges in NA.

 

You’ve been doing Klip for a while, and while as you know I’m a fan, it doesn’t seem to have caught on as I might have expected. I don’t see that many Klip buttons on websites. any thoughts on that?

When you compare the visibilty of Klips to RSS, you are quite right – it seems to be taking a back seat. It is important for us to continue to get the Klip buttons out there, as this is a major marketing program for us. Again, it is a question of differentiation, of added value over RSS. 3.0 will be addressing much of this, and we need to aggressively make sure we educate key content providers of the value – a trend we are seeing though is that the major content providers are contacting us not for simple Klip publishing, but more so for the development of branded desktop clients …

 

Related to the last one, where do you see the market for this? it seems to be different fields you’re playing to, from the RSS on a stick audience, to the secure corporate feeds…

Interesting question – our markets are (a) Content Providers (ie: CNET, Kluwer, Penton, Spiegel) for branded versions of KlipFolio (branded KlipFolio, downloadable from their sites, with their Klips bundled), (b) Enterprise (Wells Fargo, Advanded Telcom, Curtiss-Wright, NDR) who license KlipFolio Enterprise as an internal dashboard, and, (c) Application Vendors (Connotate, BizActions) who wish to OEM distribute KlipFolio as their own product, sublicensed to their customers (in other words a channel play). End users are not a market for us – they are a source of leads.

 

Critics might say that because its proprietary software, Klips are a step backwards, locking users and providers into something that’s Old Economy.. any thoughts on that?

It’s not proprietary. Anyone can build and publish Klips. We publish our APIs, and a full SDK free of charge, and with no need to register. We use XML and Javascript. Konfabulator, Apple dashboard, and Macromedia Central (or Adobe now …) are more like Flash (as a mini-application environment). I must say it’s very cool, and I have tried it a number of times, but the inconistency of the interfaces have ultimately gotten in the way. I do think it will attract a number of Content Providers due to it’s brandability.

 

Where do you see this space (Klips, but also RSS, Konfabulator etc) going? Do they at some point move off the desktop?

I see a clear short-term trend where RSS readers are going to be melded into browsers and email-clients. I see them as becoming more capable of rendering html (and soon video, and audio), where their value as an “alerting” tool become less apparent. I also would consider this a very dangerous time to be an RSS reader client company – even for the forerunners, I don’t see competitive advantage, or amongst themselves, competitive differentiation. Longer term, I believe RSS will become an important background technololgy — and enabler — much the same way html is today to the web. RSS will not be a house-hold name among the early majority and on. There will be readers and alerting tools on various platforms and form-factors (and likely powered by xml/rss/whatever), but people won’t be calling it rss.

 

What are the most exciting uses you’ve seen of Klips? How do you use them yourself?

On the consumer front, I find the email watchers (the hotmail, yahoo, gmail and pop3 mail) Klips to be very exciting – they are secure, access complex data and present users with dynamically generated setup options. One the enterprise front, two very interesting ones are a company that is using a Klip to alert their call-center agents of key data from their CRM system, and a bank who uses Klips as part of their work-flow system to increase productivity and review speed. Where the Bank’s internal processes saw documents, policies, forms, and client applications being worked on by many employees and managers, the current work-flow system put the onus of moving forward on the employees and manager’s shoulders and relied on email to notify them when a document was edited, or in need of approval. We improved on this process by working with their work-flow application where each individual user is now alerted to pending documents, policies and applications via KlipFolio – it’s relevant to what the manager or employee is responsible for, and a popup alert ensures they take action, and of-course with a single click from the Klip, they can jump right into the familiar work-flow system.

 

So far there are only a few 3.0 feeds. what else is in the pipeline, feed-wise?

We will be updating all of the email Klips, the stock tracker, eBay monitor Klips and as with Betanews, we are working with a handful of key content providers globally to update their Klips. In general we will be focusing our efforts on more service oriented Klips, and encouraging our community of developers to do the same – part of our efforts to differentiate.

 

How do you make your money from this? And how would you characterise the journey so far? I first wrote about Klips more than 3 years ago, and a lot has happened on the internet since then. Are Klips struggling to keep up with these changes?

The hype of RSS has both helped and distracted our progress. On the one hand, RSS has educated the markets, and generated interest in desktop alerting. On the other, RSS has made our position more difficult to define – educating the market that we are not an RSS reader, but rather an alerting dashboard targeted for commercial purposes. The markets are more conductive – more educated, more financially willing, and more competitively driven. Also, I truly believe that in our space – alerting dashboards – we are positioned as one of the best players.

I’m not sure it’s a matter of keeping up with RSS – we support RSS among other standards. One thing we have found is that real-customer deals are hard to find the closer you get to RSS – it’s a very early adopter marketplace – lots of hype, not much real value or money yet. As we distance ourselves from RSS we find the client conversation is more focused on solving real business needs.

As mentioned in an earlier answer, we target content providers, online retailers and premium content providers as our KlipFolio Branded customers; application vendors, service providers, ISPs as our OEM customers; and corporations as our KlipFolio enterprise customers. We have a solid base of customers in all three areas and (with out venture funding I might add) are profitable.

You are right – lots has happened, but I think the interesting stuff is yet to happen. Same goes for Serence …

 

 

Thanks, Allan.

A New Version Of Awasu, The Innovative RSS Reader

One of the more impressive RSS readers, Awasu, has a new release out —– 2.1 — with some interesting new features:

  • archives feed content.
  • search of your archived content.
  • search agents that constantly monitor your feeds for content of interest.
  • support for podcasting (enclosures) and
  • native support for Atom feeds.

Awasu is available in free, advanced and professional versions. It also supports several plugins which let you monitor individual pages, see your email, scrape parts of pages to make a feed and combine several feeds into one. More RSS readers here (sorry for the weird formatting on that page; scroll down to see the directory).

I have great admiration for awasu, but I’m not yet a full convert. But Taka, the guy behind it, definitely has a vision and you’ll be surprised by the innovative features he’s packed in there.

RSSpam, And The End Of A Medium’s Innocence

Will spam kill off RSS?

I’m a bit late spotting this, but I noticed today that Moreover’s RSS feeds contain a lot of ads. 2RSS.com noticed the same thing about a month ago. In fact there’s already been quite a discussion about the phenomenon, since not only Moreover does it. Indeed, there’s some talk that Blogger is actually inserting ads into the news feeds of its users.

What’s worrying is that all this is going on without much thought towards — or the consent of — the end-user. Moreover’s feeds, for example, not only include no AD: prefix that may help the user get a sense of what is actually part of the feed and what is RSSpam, but they also configure the spam so that every time you update your feed — or your RSS reader does it for you — the same piece of spam will pop up. This means, as this example from the Jason Murphy Show illustrates, large quantities of spam per valid item.

All this shows a lack of thought and consideration for what is still a very new medium. If you want to kill off RSS, Moreover has the answer. Of course, there’s also the need for these guys to make money. But this is not the way to do it. Ads are better served within the content, so that, for example, if you click on the item itself so that the full content loads, the ad itself will appear along with the content.

Another point: Folk argue whether ads included in RSS feeds are spam or not. I say anything that’s sent to you without you agreeing to it is spam. (I don’t recall agreeing to it when I included the Moreover RSS feed in my reader, although I’m willing to stand corrected. The only time I’ve had to click on something to acknowledge the existence of a user agreement was with the Telegraph feeds.) Folks need to be consulted before they sign up for a feed that it includes spam.

The bottom line here is that this grapeshot approach to ads in RSS feeds endangers the medium before it’s taken off. Apple are including RSS in a very interesting and imaginative way in their new OS but there aren’t going to be many takers if feeds are polluted by too many ads that aren’t even contextual (I noticed ads for free golf clubs and microdermabrasion, whatever that is, in my Moreover feed on East Timor news). Keep pulling that stunt, Moreover, and you’ll lose everyone’s interest very quickly. RSS was supposed to be the answer to mailboxes full of rubbish, not an alternative means of delivering that rubbish.

Another, Fast And Light, RSS Reader

Here’s another free RSS reader.

Rocket Technologies Inc., ‘a leading international provider of current news search and content delivery solutions’ today launched its web-based Rocketinfo RSS Reader. The web-based bit means that folk on company networks who aren’t allowed to download software could use it.

Actually I’m impressed. The reader runs on most browsers and platforms and is amazingly light on its feet. And fast. You can do keyword searches and save them as RSS channels or feeds. You can easily find RSS sources or add a news source or weblog that is available in any version of RSS or Atom. An impressive array of news sources and blogs (sadly not this one) are already listed, but not yet subscribed to. And it’s free, at least for now.

The downsides: Not much configuration possible, and you can’t import OPML files (i.e. collections of your feeds). And you have to register an email address with RocketInfo first. I’m not sure whether RocketInfo is collecting information about your browsing.

A New Way To Gather News

An excellent way to collect news, particularly if you’re U.S.-based.

The new Topix.net doesn’t look that great, but it’s simple and easy to configure. Most importantly, you can grab topics as XML feeds, straight into your RSS reader (or to your Yahoo homepage if you prefer). If you live in a U.S. town, you can grab local news in the same way, just by entering your ZIP code. I like the way you can revisit recently toured categories easily: They’re listed in a box on the right hand side of the screen.

Oh, and it’s all free.

The Commercialization of RSS

The future of newsfeeds: Trackable RSS.

The biggest drawback to the commercial exploitation of RSS feeds — items from blogs and other websites, parceled up and delivered to users who request them — is that there’s no easy way for the producers of the RSS material to know very much about what their customers are doing with it — even, in many cases, how many people are subscribing. This could all change, thanks to IMN.

IMN, Inc., a ‘direct marketing company’, has come up with a tool (afraid no URL yet available for this) that “transforms an RSS feed from a one-way news stream into a two-way marketing tool that lets marketers and feed subscribers learn from each other”. I’ve read the press release several times and I don’t quite understand how this works, but I think they’re pushing it to call it a “Trackable RSS Feed Capability”.

What I think happens is that the user can click on an item in an RSS feed in whatever aggregator (a program for reading and collecting RSS feeds) which will then take the user to a webpage for the whole document. It’s there, I think, that the tracking bit kicks in. Or as the press release puts it, “Marketers can then use IMN’s content tracking and reporting capabilities to learn subscribers’ preferences, segment them accordingly and then respond with even more relevant and meaningful content that the subscriber will welcome and value.”

All this, the press release says, would involve some significant tracking — read monitoring — of the user’s habits, including giving “each subscriber a unique identifier so that IMN’s reporting engines can track and analyze individual behavior. Marketers can then respond to individual subscribers via the feed, email, or the companion microsite using IMN’s dynamic content capabilities with truly personalized information and messaging based on the learning.” That does sound a bit like the end of RSS as we know it: Anonymous, untainted, anarchic.

I guess it’s inevitable (and somewhat hypocritical of me, given I make use of Amazon’s excellent software to guess what I might be interested in) but I still kind of hope that the pioneering sense of goodwill among the RSS and Blogging community may linger a little longer. But as IMN say, “marketers consider aggregator service subscribers who sign up for RSS feeds highly qualified target audiences.” That, and the fact there’s no spam filters on RSS feeds, make us a very desirable front lawn to park on.

A Way Forward For RSS?

Here’s an interesting twist to RSS (Real Simple Syndication, a way to channel material into feeds) that shows the format could have a life beyond blogs.

iUpload, “a net-native content management solution provider”, has just introduced a free service that allows companies to avoid the legal pitfalls and technology filters of the spam world to send content to users who want it. MailbyRSS allows the company to send content out by email, which is then converted to RSS, which the subscriber can then add as a feed to his/her RSS feed reader. Benefits? It bypasses the whole blog thing, it is easy to update, it avoids their usual emailings getting caught in spam filters (or in contravention of the new CAN-SPAM Act).

Not a bad idea. Though a wonderful tool, RSS is still stuck in the slow (read: unexploited commercially) lane, but something like this may help push it out there. The great thing about RSS is that control remains with the user, who doesn’t have to hand over any personal data — even an email address — to get a feed, and can pull the plug any time, simply by deleting the feed. It’s the antidote to spam. Now there needs to be a way to build and manage RSS content, something MailbyRSS may help to achieve.