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Is Facebook the new RSS?

In the late 1990’s, RSS feeds were born. The abbreviation had promise: It was easy to say (“arr ess ess” just sounds interesting phonetically) and it stood for “Really Simple Syndication.” How much more promise could a new technology be when its very name had “really simple” in the title?

Well, this seems like a situation where the name just didn’t represent reality. Unfortunately, it seems that the “really simple” was more about the coding side of things than the user experience. RSS itself has proven to be a powerful enabling technology yet not a very good end-user technology. Too often, developers, the media and the like don’t effectively discern the difference.

The result? Poor mass-market adoption. As someone who leads and guides interactive strategies and programs, I am a big believer in the power of RSS, but I’m increasingly realizing that it’s a niche end-user technology… and beginning to see that Facebook (and Twitter) emerging as the next generation of subscription and syndication services that will serve the mass market.

When looking at on-line content properties, I see an increasingly compelling reason to shift the thinking around content distribution from RSS to Facebook and Twitter. This is not to say that designers should abandon RSS — it’s so simple to implement that it’s hardly worth removing — but the focal point of distribution design should begin to be around these more mainstream feed management systems.

The benefits of Facebook and Twitter syndication are both increasingly obvious and valuable: Getting your content into people’s personal streams (i.e., their “wall”) more seamlessly integrates your content into people’s existing life streams. This is the equivalent of product placement within the show vs. a separate advertisement.

And in both platforms, the ability to socially share an item of interest in a feed is simple — and encouraged — in the interaction model. Meaning that content that has made it into an individual’s life feed has far more viral potential than an item in an RSS feed.

I believe this story is evolving rapidly, where getting information pushed into an individual’s life stream may be more important than publishing it on a website. There very well may be a time in the future where I pose the question: Is the power of the web shifting to the power of the feed?

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