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Going geeky: real-time RSS

RSS logo
RSS logo
The original headline for this post was going to be something like “RSS in the clouds”, but my internal monitor said that it was a bit extreme and techie.

And that’s what’s interesting, RSS has been around since 2001 thanks to Dave Winer who came up with the standard. Yet even with a beautiful Common Craft how-to video (below) to show us the way, it’s not something that has ever really come into common usage or common terminology outside Tech Land (if you really want the usage figures I can dig them out to show you).

But, if I say “Google Reader” or “keeping track of your favourite blogs, websites n’ stuff in one place”, you’ll have an idea of what I mean. RSS (Really Simply Syndication) is the thing that often powers those types of services. You’ve probably even seen the orange icons around the place, like the one above.

Cue that Common Craft video, which points out how useful this all might be:

Since 2001 RSS aggregators have been equated with new ways of consuming news on the web, described in terms such as ‘River of News’.

NOTE: At this point readers should be aware that updates to this form of RSS are every 15 -30 minutes or so and not in real time.

And what does that river look like?

For the purposes of this post I visited my Bloglines account – something I’ve not done for months. It’s laid out a bit like an email reader. I have 132 feeds within 10 folders and 16,933 unread posts. And that’s with Blogline’s limit of 200 posts per feed. That’s a lot of reading, and not necessarily very focussed reading at that.

Which is possibly why the likes of Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook and other social networks, where members recommend links to each other and information is in smaller digestible chunks, have subsumed RSS aggregators. The real-time nature of these services also enables conversation and discussion around a posted item.

So, why am I writing about all of this now?

This week real-time RSS has been the talk and excitement of Tech Land as WordPress launched this capability for it’s .com and .org options by implementing RSSCloud. This down-to-earth blog post by WordPress explains more.

To read the RSS feeds of WordPress blogs in real-time at the moment you will need to download either Dave Winer’s River 2 or LazyFeed. I’m sure in time others will follow.

The question is: will you?

And for those running websites with RSS, the question is: should I enable this?

Whilst I can’t answer the first question, other than guess probably not given previous evidence of RSS readers and usage, I can possibly answer the second question.

Ian Betteridge (via Twitter, note) pointed me to this post by Rogers Cadenhead, who questions issues of scaling and firewalls. He gives the following example:

I publish the Drudge Retort, which has around 16,000 subscribers, including 1,000 who get the feeds using desktop software on their home computers. If I add cloud support and all of my subscribers have cloud-enabled readers, each time I update the Retort, my cloud update server will be sending around 1,050 notifications to computers running RSS readers — 1,000 to individuals and 50 to web-based readers.

That’s just for one update. The Retort updates around 20 times a day, so that requires 21,000 notifications sent using XML-RPC, SOAP or REST.

Imagine that for my 132 feeds in Bloglines.

WordPress’s backing shows that this is something to take seriously. But without further development, the decision will be down to server load and money versus the opportunities that real-time updates might bring for your offering, taking into account those who use your website.

Is social media a fad?

If you are looking for a summary of why social media is currently considered de rigeur look no further than this video by Socialnomics. The video aims to answer the question: “Is social media a fad?”. It neatly summarises recent statistical data (with a bias to the US) and the extent to which social media is being used across the web and web connected devices. It’s definitely worth watching and I shall be using it in my next training class to kick things off.

As Kara Swisher points out, it’s slick, but social media is “more like a financial dud so far”.

This is a viral video to promote a site (and book of the same title) regarding how social media “transforms the way we live and do business”, yet there are few references to the trickier questions of finance and business. Whilst social media services themselves are gathering huge audiences very few people have managed to make the sums add up. Watching the video new to the subject you might also presume that social media is a new phenomenon that’s sprung up in the last few years, not something older than the web itself*.

To answer the question “is social media a fad?”, it’s worth taking time to understand Gartner’s hype cycle. This is used by the company to estimate how long technologies and trends will take to reach maturity, and help organisations decide when to adopt. Their cycle has five phases:

  1. Technology trigger
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations
  3. Trough of Disillusionment
  4. Slope of Enlightenment
  5. Plateau of Productivity

Below is the graph by Gartner for emerging technologies, taken from their latest report, courtesy of We Are Social. It shows how different elements of the social media phenomenons mentioned in the Socialnomics video are in different stages of the hype cycle.

Particularly worth noting is that e-book readers (like the Kindle) are currently at the peak of inflated expectations, whilst wikis are on the slope of enlightenment.

Source: We Are Social
Source: We Are Social

So whilst social media may be statistically more than a fad, and that certain elements are possibly coming towards the end of the hype cycle, the video glosses over that what makes media social. Media is made social not by technologies or websites but by people. As Mark Earls points out:

People not things shape fashions.

* For example, the discussion forum, Usenet, used internet technologies that pre-date the web.

UPDATE 24/08/2009: This review about the video over at ZDNet is worth a read too.

The crisis in human resources

“There’s a crisis in human resouces”: that was the central message of Sir Ken Robinson at the London Business Forum today.

Talking to business leaders about his latest book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Sir Ken described how most adults are unaware of what they are capable of and that most believe that work is something that has to be got through, rather than enjoyed. He believes that many people are detached from their talents and sense of purpose. Those who love what they do and have a personal sense of fulfilment are “in their element”.

Continue reading → The crisis in human resources

And whilst we’re thinking about the future…

Steve Bridger has put together an excellent presentation for the Third Sector Forum, challenging notions about how charities should operate in the future, within a more social and participatory media world.

The presentation is very much in tune with the work that Made By Many have been doing with Amnesty International (see this previous post), and it distills some very complex issues into something clearly understandable.

What’s more, much of what’s said is not just relevant to the third sector but to any other sector where transactions are the primary way of operating.