Category Archives: Industry

Internet, RSS and Personalization industry stuff

You may have caught the news yesterday that Yahoo Publisher Network has added support for ads in RSS feeds. If you are a YPN beta user, you can now (in addition to having ads on your blog or site) include ads within your full post RSS feed.

This makes me think about the broader question I get asked a lot: “how do I make money with my RSS feed?”. I see that the answer is simple, but it might not be what you expect.

There are a few different ways that you can use RSS to build your business (and its not all about ads)…

  • The Golden Rule: Your feed IS ALREADY an ad
    Just like an email subscription, or a direct-mail piece, your RSS feed allows your brand name, your content, your services to be delivered right into people’s “homes”- their home pages, their email box, or their RSS reader. If you are blogger, your feed is an ad for you, your thoughts & skills – if you are a bigger company – it makes sure that people see whatever it is that you are good at, on a regular basis. It is a great way to develop a “communication channel” to people who want to hear what you have to say. Be sure to remember this as you seek to monetize your feeds further, there’s a balance you are striking with your consumers – be sure to respect them or you’re feed will be in the trash bin.
  • Model #1: RSS as a Traffic Driver
    Most people publishing RSS today use it as way to get people to come back to their site regularly and they already know how to monetize traffic on their site. RSS is a way to convert your once-in-a-while visitors into repeat daily visitors. You give up headlines and summaries (the model popularized by My Yahoo!) and people see the headlines every day and click through when they see articles of interest. You see increased traffic from these users, and your page views per user and revenue per user go up. This model is used most by traditional publishers/media companies.
  • Model #2: Commerce Feeds
    To me, this is one of the most interesting new areas for RSS. Traditional and upcoming commerce sites are using RSS as a way to get new products, deals of the day, or other interesting commerce in front of users regularly. Surprisingly, consumers are eating this up. One of the most popular modules on My Yahoo is woot! – the deal of the day RSS feed – every day they put a new product on sale through the feed, interested people click the link and buy the products. Some other great examples: Ben’s Bargains, Y! Shopping new DVD releases and iTunes top sellers. Consumers looking to buy a category of stuff get a great experience and you get sales. This model is used most by commerce companies with large product catalogs or small deal-focused companies.
  • Model #3: Full post RSS feeds with ads.
    This is a new area where we all have a lot to learn. The question is this: what if all of your content was consumed off of your site, how would you monetize it then? RSS allows you to publish your entire blog post or your whole news story and let consumers read that in their full-post reader, on their mobile device or wherever. To the user, they get the ability to read offline and to have a uniform presentation. Some people say that in the future all content will be syndicated this way – others say its untenable. So what a lot of people are trying is to ship ads along with the content. Some sites actually syndicate the same ads that appear on their site, some sell sponsorships to a feed and others are using contextual advertising right in the feed. Support for contextual advertising in feeds is what the Yahoo Publisher Network just launched. They are just starting with bloggers, but you add a few simple lines of HTML to your blog’s RSS template and voila! you are making money on your full post feed. I’ve got contextual YPN ads running in my feed as well, so if you read me in a full-post reader, check-em out. This model is mostly used by bloggers (who mostly publish full text) and a few blogger-like media sites like and Gawker media’s properties.

So when you take a look at it, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to building your business with RSS. One thing is for sure – if you are thinking about doing all the models at once, you’ve got it wrong. Look for the model that meets your needs and focus on making it successful. If you are Purina and are focusing on RSS feeds with Pet Tips, you clearly are following the golden rule: your feed itself is the ad. To try to add in more ads wouldn’t make sense, could dilute your brand message and isn’t focused on your core objectives. If you are a small topical publication, maybe you want to focus on contextual ads as your best way to monetize your content and allow users to consume it wherever. And maybe if you are a large media company, model #1 suits you just fine.

So take the time, focus on your goals and your brand image, try some things and remember that you and the user are building a daily relationship – don’t violate their trust and end up in the “unsubscribe” bin.

Here is my bold statement:

By the end of 2006, all content on the web will be available in a subscribable format (RSS, Atom, whatever).

This is both a challenge to the industry and a firm belief that we can make this happen.

But then I see this post from Cori Schlegel. He looked at all the tech companies that presented at a conference and found that sadly, only 4 out of 32 offered their news, press releases, etc via RSS. Cory wrote:

Now, I know I’ve been drinking the kool-aid, and I really didn’t expect all of these companies to have blogs, but I thought more than 1 in 10 of participants in “a one-day showcase of early-stage innovation” would be able to see the value of providing their news, white papers, and other timely information in RSS.

I’m not sure that the world really needs to subscribe to info about some of these companies (nor do many care) but the point of RSS is that even if there are only 30 people in the world who care, let them subscribe. It’s odd if we are living in a world where traditional media companies “get it” before the tech companies do.

So, if you have a site with regularly updating content, make it available via RSS now! Its easy, some of your customers will love it, and we’ll all be one step closer to making this true:

By the end of 2006, all content on the web will be available in a subscribable format (RSS, Atom, whatever).

I spent all of last week in NYC for two conferences: BlogOn and the Empowering Brands conference. The audience for BlogOn was primarily PR folks and marketers, and the other’s audience was primarily marketers and ad agency folks. The biggest takeaway for me was a reminder of how those of us in silicon valley get caught up in our own echo chamber. While I often talk about personalization, blogging, RSS and some of the major shifts in consumer behaviour we’re seeing, there are a large number of people still learning the basics. Fellow Yahoo Jeremy Zawodny attended a totally different conference and had the same feeling. It’s both a clear reminder of how far we have yet to take this and how much opportunity exists out there for this to reach a large audience of folks that don’t yet know about all the great stuff going on on the web today.

I’m heading out to New York for two conferences where I’ll be speaking.

The first is BlogOn 2005 on Monday & Tuesday (10/17 & 10/18). I’ve been on their advisory panel and I’m also speaking at a session. Last year’s blog on was a great event, but clearly targeted to the industry types talking to ourselves. This year, BlogOn aimed for a broader audience and attracted more media/advertising/publisher types to balance the crowd out. I’m very interested to see how the interaction turns out this year.

The second conference is part of a series called Empowering Brands Conference and its audience is largely Ad Execs and publishers. The topic is “Personalization: The Next Big Thing”. As you might guess, I completely disagree with the title. Personalization is already big. In so far as “One-to-one marketing” was the “next big thing” in 1994 – then this is old news to marketers and ad execs. However, I do look forward to sharing a little of our view of personalization with this audience – and get them to focus on putting the consumer in the center of the experience – not themselves.

If you are in NY and will be at either conference, be sure to say hi.

While reading USA Today yesterday on my plane ride home, I read this great quote in an article about Web 2.0 by Kevin Maney:

It had all new buzzwords. Remember “B2B” and “push technology”? Now it’s “user-generated content” and “AJAX”. Until last week I thought AJAX was a cleaning fluid…but no–it’s an acronym for something you use to get money from venture capitalists.

Funny. I definately felt some of the late 90’s creep into last week. New startups abound, people building features instead of businesses, lots of hand waving and back-slapping. I feel very optimistic this time around, but Web 2.0 was enough to make me worry a bit that folks just can’t wait to go overboard.

After getting back from all the Web 2.0 hubbub, I’ve finally been able to dig into what people have been saying about the RSS research that my team did. It’s always amazing to see how people pick up on these things and what people focus on.

Scoble wrote:

Of the big three companies (Google/Microsoft/Yahoo) Yahoo is definitely getting RSS the best…It’s suprising to me that the big companies still aren’t taking RSS totally seriously. Yeah, Microsoft is putting RSS all over the place. Yeah, you can spit out MSN Searches via RSS. Which, actually, is pretty advanced and interesting. But Yahoo is going further.

Thanks Robert. But I do disagree about one point: I think that the upward climb in RSS isn’t gonna come from the very valuable tech adopters, but from the masses. The “unaware RSS users” look just like the rest of the internet population and they love the benefit of pulling this stuff together from all over the web.

Tom Markiewicz wrote:

This is the first RSS study I’ve seen the finally takes into account the great mass of people who are actually using or have seen RSS, but don’t know it…The fact that 12% of users are aware of RSS is actually a great sign….The best part is this number will only increase.

Tom, I’m not sure that awareness of RSS is all that important and I don’t think that number should increase. My mom shouldn’t care about XML or RSS, but should should care about tracking what she cares about.

Steve Rubel, said RSS Needs to Become Seamless:

RSS (with or without MP3 enclosures) has to become seamless before it becomes useful to the masses. Even Google hasn’t mastered that yet. I am using Google’s personal page to access my favorite feeds and I was disappointed to see there’s still quite a bit of a learning curve for the average bear.

Steve, we gotta get you using My Yahoo! for that. And I agree that we as an industry need to make it easier.

Niall wrote:

The biggest surprise to me was the value of the browsable feed in each tool’s built-in listing. Blog authors should be aware of their placement within such listings and perhaps consider a paid listing for increased subscriptions.

I’m not sure how I feel about paid placement for RSS feeds in readers. I hope that when this does finally happen, we all take the lead from how the search industry has done it: seperate and clearly marked as sponsored content. Jeremy has a different take.

Alex Barnett tries to extrapolate the data:

If you’re only going to read one sentence of this post and have the remotest interest in RSS, then take this away with you: the number of RSS users in the UK and US is now at a staggering 72.8 million…worldwide this is 275 million (see estimate details below).

Staggering if you think about it that way. Dunno if it holds up, but the logic makes sense. This is big and only getting bigger. And Alex makes the great point that this research is US only and that we really need data outside the US (My Yahoo! RSS is already in over 15 countries, but the data doesn’t cover that)

Last point about XML buttons. Sean Bonner said it simply:

Not only do those orange XML buttons not work, it actually makes people run away from your site.

Other coverage:

UPDATE: Here’s a couple more I missed:

My team at Yahoo! recently partnered with Ipsos Insight on research into how many people on the Internet are using RSS (whether or not they know the “RSS” term) and how they are using it. We presented this research at our Web 2.0 party and then posted it online at our Publisher’s Guide to RSS (it’s over on the right side).

I was happy to see that much of the research confirmed what a lot of us already felt:

  • Only 12% of the internet population has heard the term RSS
  • Only 4% of the population has heard of AND uses RSS
  • 27% of the internet population uses RSS but doesn’t know that its called RSS.

After hearing all of this at the event Bob Wyman asked “we’re not Yahoo!, what advice can you give us based on this research?”. This research confirms other research I’ve seen and what I’ve said for a long time: consumers care about the benefits of RSS, not the technology. Focus your message on what your service does for consumers, not how it does it.

There’s tons more great info in the research so be sure to check it out, but a few more highlights:

  • My Yahoo! was the #1 way that “unaware” users used RSS (no surprise)
  • Among “aware RSS users” – the people “in the know” – My Yahoo! was also the #1 RSS reader! (a bit of a surprise with all the talk of other aggregators)
  • And about that orange XML button? Only 4% of the internet population ever clicked on it and half of those people said they either left the site or forgot what they did afterwards. We’ve got to make this easier for folks – we are losing 1/2 of the users who WANT to subscribe to content.
  • So how do people add content to their reader?
    • Over 50% use the list that comes with their aggregator. So if you are publishing feeds, you better make sure you are in everyone’s search index.
    • 27% used Add to My Yahoo! buttons to add feeds (that’s great for Yahoo! and jives with what we know: over 8 million web pages have that button on it already) but I still think there can be an more easy, open industry-wide way to do this better.

My hope is that this research can get out there to publishers and to other tech/rss companies and we can all begin to really take RSS to the next wave. Yahoo!’s been aggregating RSS for almost two years and other companies for even longer than that. Now as more companies are joining the party, we all need to come together and figure out how to take this to tens and hundreds of millions of users…

This week is the Web 2.0 conference here in San Francisco. My company is a sponsor and my team is holding a small cocktail party on Thursday night to review some great research on consumers and RSS usage.

One thing i’ve noticed though, it seems like the conference organizers have realized there’s no better way to hype market the Web 2.0 conference than to get everyone blogging about the “What is Web 2.0?” question. So, of course, I’ll join in…

Richard McManus does a great job of laying out the simple point: no one seems to agree what the answer is.

Tim tries to lay it out simply:

Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an “architecture of participation,” and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.

And I actually kinda like that definition, but I still believe it focuses too much on technology. Yes, there are changes in technology, but what I’m seeing is so much more important: a shift in mindset. Looking at the Web 2.0 Meme Map that has been floating around, my favorite bubble here is:

“it’s an attitude, not a technology”

In my view, Web 2.0 is in many ways a return to the early days of the Net (is that Web 0.9??). The technology was simple, but the principles for the industry were there: enable people to communicate, enable people to connect, enable people to discover, enable people to express themselves and share. When we did that and enabled people, they did great things, created great content and left behind valuable information that we could use to build better products and a business around.

Web 2.0 is just the modern view of this premise: Put consumers at the center of the experience. It means building services around people in a thriving community (ala Flickr or even PageRank) and putting the consumer in complete control with a platform that enables them to easily do whatever they want, however they want.

Whatever you wanna call it, the midset is simple: focus on the consumer first and the technology second. That “attitude” is so much more Web 2.0 than any AJAX interface, API or hot little startup out there.