Melanie Baker
Community Manager
AideRSS
For those of us who live and breathe tech, it can be easy to forget how different our online habits are from those of the average internet user. We at AideRSS, and folks like us, have assimilated RSS into our information processing and now look ahead at how to improve it. Bring us more of what we want to know; save our time and attention (or do those things for our audiences and customers). We talk about RSS going mainstream, though it hasn’t gotten there just yet.
And so there we are at one end of the spectrum — the innovators — already thoroughly accustomed to technology many people have barely even heard of. We know what RSS is, how it works, what its applications are, and what it doesn’t do yet that would be really, really cool.
At the other end of the spectrum are people who don’t know what RSS is, how it works, or potentially don’t even do enough online to need it. Many of those folks are what you’d call a “missionary sell” for those of us working in the space.
In the middle, though, is ripe, juicy opportunity. People with pains we can alleviate, workflows we can enhance, and time we can save. However, to borrow from George Bernard Shaw, we must get at these people through their own level of interest and experience, not ours. The techies want to know everything, but our potential mainstream audience does not.

Just make it work. Read What Matters. Okay… here’s your list. It’s important to remember as well that the corporate world often falls squarely within the mainstream based on level of interest and pains they want to solve.
As a result, it’s a strange balance our company has struck, working to build a service that is friendly even to newcomers to RSS, but at the same time working with and keeping our existing fans happy, many of whom are extremely tech savvy (often developers themselves).
Fundamentally, however, what we’ve focused on building for the future of RSS is flexible enough to be valuable at any level of technical familiarity. It’s just that some people will set every filter to “Best” and forget about it, and other people will integrate the PostRank API into entirely new applications.
Being techies ourselves, though, makes product planning challenging. We want to build bigger, better features and take on the juicy challenges posed by our techie audience. It’s hard on the ego, then, to learn that a majority of your audience may not understand or want those features.
Ultimately, though, it’s not about us. Sure, we’ll go on playing with cool, bleeding edge stuff and pushing each other to deliver ever more interesting developments. But a lot of the cool stuff will never see the light of day. And even in internet time, a lot of cool stuff won’t become mainstream potentially for years.
In the mean time we all have bills to pay. And the money? It’s mostly in the mainstream. With the average joe and the average company who are just trying to get the job done the best way they can.
My guess is that the future of RSS won’t look terribly sexy to some of us. And there won’t be just one tool that provides the perfect solution. To succeed we will need to provide the same “Wow!” moments to mainstream users that we once experienced. And, let’s face it, we can’t NOT tinker, so under the hood… there’ll still be some pretty cool stuff.
Blurb: AideRSS, Inc. is a Canadian startup located in Waterloo, Ontario. They launched the service in July, 2007, allowing everyone to tame information overload by ranking and filtering their RSS feeds to Read What Matters. AideRSS’ algorithm is based on the “5Cs of social engagement” providing a PostRank score to blog posts, news articles, and other forms of online content based on how much audience response sites’ content received. In addition to the service on its website, AideRSS provides a widget, a Google Reader extension, and has released an API to allow developers to add PostRank functionality to their own applications.

2 Comments

  1. Great post. I have a completely non-technical audience, so my challenge is to try to get them the tools to do even the most basic of activities, but I am starting to draw them into the more interactive tools as we go along by making it dead simple.
    I love tinkering too, so we just move forward bit-by-bit.
    I just wonder about RSS — does it really seem like it is starting to break into the mainstream? Even as a developer it took me some time to wrap my head around the tools and the workflow of using RSS, so I am just not sure I see it as the future for most web users. Perhaps you are creating great tools that really enable this though. I haven’t taken a look at what exactly you are doing.

  2. Hi Simon,
    The tools aspect is, I think, the key. Mainstream audiences don’t want tools that require too much configuration or customization or thought. They want their info and they want to get things done and they want things to just work. So I think the key to mainstream adoption of RSS is to make it disappear, and in a lot of ways it already has – Facebook’s mini feed of friends’ activities, for example. I doubt many people login, see that, and think, “Hey, RSS at work!”
    If we can provide ways for people to reap the benefits of information management within the sites and applications they already use (or will come to use), I think there’s a lot of opportunity. But for those of us who deal with the back end of the web as well as the front end, it’s hard to wrap the brain around being that far removed from the source of our info and activities.

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