A Way Forward For RSS Content

RSS is one of those technologies that’s hard to explain to casual users of the Internet. When you tell them they can have their news and site updates in the form of a feed, direct to their desktop, they usually ask

a) can’t I do that already? I thought I could do that already.
b) you mean like email? I don’t want more programs on my computer. Or
c) OK, sounds good but what kind of things can I get?

Don’t get me wrong. RSS, or something like it, is the future. But it’s a hard sell to folk who haven’t downloaded a program in their life (more people than you’re care to imagine; I wonder what the stats on that look like), or to folk who are so worn out by spam they don’t want to sift through more bits and pieces arriving on the computer. But even if people do like the sound of it, RSS still doesn’t lend itself to grabbing information. It’s great for folks looking to read what other people are writing, or even keeping up to speed on general news, but it doesn’t quite have the customisation necessary to lure ordinary folk. Not everyone considers reading blogs in another format to be their idea of fun.

This may be changing (not the idea of fun, the customisation of RSS.) Klips, an RSS-type desktop feed from Serence, have introduced modules that include feeds of more specific, user-defined data, allowing you to track selected currencies, UPS and FedEx packages and stocks. (While I love the design and simplicity of Klips, I don’t think they work for large bodies of information, such as blogs and news, so expect to see Klips move more and more in the direction of small clumps of changing data, such as traffic reports, flight departure and arrival times, or hot deals, scattered around your desktop.)

RSS could do a lot of this too, but so far hasn’t. You can harvest a lot of information via RSS but most of it is passive: You can’t tailor it too much. Either take the feed or don’t. This will change, and already is beginning to, thanks in part to a guy called Mikel Maron from the University of Sussex. He’s come up with a way to deliver some of the personalized data from your My Yahoo! account to an RSS feed, a neat trick that arose from his university studies. (If you’re interested in the technical aspects, here they are in PDF form.) So far his feed — which is not related to Yahoo! in any way — can handle market quotes, weather and movie listing, depending on how you’ve configured your Yahoo! account. But of course his approach offers great potential for funnelling all sorts of personalized data straight to your RSS browser. Let’s hope Yahoo! support, or even buy, Mikel’s efforts.

(Thanks to Chris Pirillo’s LockerGnome RSS Resource for pointing out Mikel’s site.)

Update: More Office Woes

 My latest column (subscription only; very sorry) was about Microsoft Office 2003 and how, despite all the upgrades, a lot of old bugs never get fixed. That and why does every new feature appear to be more of a money spinning operation than a time saver?
 
Anyway, I’m not the only grumbler: Chris Pirillo, of Lockergnome fame, is also having problems, with Outlook 2003. “If you rely on POP3 or IMAP, you’ll be just as disappointed with the lame UI bugs and inconsistencies that plague Microsoft’s latest client”.

Link: Amazonian feeding frenzy

  Amazon RSS Feeds
 
 
If you want to stay on top of what’s available from Amazon here’s a great way to do it, courtesy of one of the best technology ‘news you can use’ sources out there: Lockergnome. Chris Pirillo, who runs Lockergnome, has set up Rich Site Summary (RSS) feeds  — if you’re not sure what those are, check out my recent column on the topic — of new products on Amazon.com, from baby gear to videogames, all organized into topics.