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RSS Matters To You: Here’s Why

April 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Newsletter

Mention RSS to non-techies and their eyes assume a faraway look that tells you that you’re better off changing the subject. Really Simple Syndication is seen by most people as being anything but simple. Their early experience with the little orange buttons that grace most websites has been that clicking on them resulted in a screen full of cryptic text that prompted them to quickly close the browser window and take a deep breath.

RSS is widely misunderstood. People think that its main use is by the small number of techies who have the time and expertise to consolidate all their information in feed readers. But the main audience for RSS is machines, which are increasingly incorporating RSS feeds into the information streams that power websites.

Cheeseheads

Let’s look at a silly example: Here’s a page about cheese on the popular website Alltop.com. Alltop is a huge engine of information about nearly any topic you can imagine, yet it produces no original content. All of its information consists of headlines provided as RSS feeds from the websites it indexes. Mouse over any of those headlines and you get an expanded description that tells you whether the information is of interest.

Now head on over to BlogHer, the popular site for women bloggers. Nearly everything at the top of this page comes via RSS feeds. BlogHer automatically collects the latest posts from members of its network and streams the headlines to its home page.

It’s the same at Engadget, which is one of the top 10 blogs on the Internet. Nearly the entire right side of this page is given over to content delivered in the form of RSS feeds.

So you can see that the audience for RSS feeds isn’t individuals, it’s websites. They can potentially magnify your content to reach thousands of other people. It gives you the potential to reach much larger audiences than you could with just your own small online outpost.

Personal Use

RSS also has personal productivity benefits. If you look at my own home page on the right side under the “Speaking” banner, you’ll see a list of upcoming events at which I am presenting. I don’t post this content myself; its origins are this collection of Delicious bookmarks. By inserting a small snippet of code on my home page, I can have items that I bookmark distributed automatically. To add an item, I simply bookmark it, modify the description and give it the appropriate tag. All of the websites that I own are updated instantaneously.

You can even use RSS to feed your own information needs. Look at this page of Twitter search results for the query “global warming.” Note the orange button in the upper right corner. Click it, copy the URL in the address bar and plug it into any RSS widget to display the Twitter search results on a website. Every time you refresh the page, the latest search results are added to the mix.

Nearly anything you read or publish on the Internet these days can be formatted as an RSS feed. Once it’s in that form, it can be syndicated anywhere else. That’s the real power of RSS. It gives you the means to flexibly reuse and syndicate content to reach a much wider audience with very little effort.


Developing Your Personal Brand

A new book by a veteran journalist demonstrates how much individuals can do to elevate their personal brand these days for very little money. Fans, Friends And Followers by Scott Kirsner is packed with useful information about how to create a following online and possibly quit your day job. Kirsner, who writes extensively about film for a variety of publications as well as his own CinemaTech blog, did his homework, conducting dozens of conversations with successful artists who have created enthusiastic followings and featuring their words in a section of first-person narrative interviews that make up the majority of the book. He distills their experiences into 35 pages of advice about how to maximize your search visibility, use low-cost promotional channels and distribute products cheaply. Read my review and order the book on Amazon.


Tip of the Week: Search All

When you want to run a quick search, you can usually rely on Google, Yahoo or Microsoft Live Search to satisfy your needs in seconds. But sometimes you need a search engine that can give you a more holistic view. My favorite new discovery in the category of so-called metasearch engines is Addict-o-matic, a service that aggregates search results from all the major engines as well as Twitter, YouTube, Digg, Flickr, Delicious, Wikio and other social media sites. If that isn’t enough, you can expand the results to include up to 25 destinations. Find out what people are really saying about you.


Just for Fun

Maybe it’s because all of us have been misjudged at some point in our lives, maybe it’s just because this video is a good reminder of the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but Susan Boyle is definitely hitting a positive nerve with the YouTube crowd. Check out the video that’s taken the world by storm this past week.

A Fast and Flexible Approach to Developing Content

October 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Newsletter

One of my clients has been experimenting with an innovative and efficient approach to content development and I want you to know about it.

The company is in a highly specialized and big-ticket b-to-b industry. Its executives are very busy and very well paid. The VP of marketing wanted to develop some thought leadership white papers, but the prospect of pinning down these executives for hours to develop the content wasn’t practical. Instead, the marketing departing is using podcasts to construct white papers from the ground up

Here’s how it works: We schedule a 30- to 45- minute phone call with these busy executives to capture background information and hot topics in their areas of expertise. I then create a list of questions that are intended to draw out the executives’ thinking (journalists are pretty good at this!).

We record an interview of approximately 30 minutes’ duration. An edited version is posted as a podcast on the company’s website, but the marketing group also has the full interview transcribed via a low-cost outside service. Marketing cleans up and reorganizes the transcript and posts the document as a position paper.

Over a series of interviews, an executive’s observations and experiences can be rolled up in interesting ways. Multiple interviews with one executive can yield an in-depth white paper. Or point interviews with several executives can be combined into a corporate backgrounder. Customers and prospects can also subscribe to the podcast series. For the small transcription fee (services can be had for as little as a dollar a minute) and some inexpensive editing, the VP has a series of byline articles from the most visible people in his company.

Rethinking Research
I’ve recommended this approach to more and more clients lately. New online tools enable us to rethink our approach to assembling complex documents. It used to be the process demanded hours or days of research. Now we can take notes in real-time and assemble them later.

Blogs are ideally structured as collections of thoughts, observations and insights expressed in short bursts. It’s fast and easy to capture these brainstorms online. Got an idea? Twitter it for prosperity. When you go back and look at information assembled in this way, you often see relationships that weren’t obvious at the time. Between search, tags and bookmarks, it’s possible to assemble these building blocks in different ways.

Some thought leaders take this to the limit. Marketing guru Seth Godin, for example, is known for writing entire books based on collections of interesting blog posts. The blog is his notepad for ideas that can be combined into coherent themes.

In some (though certainly not all) cases, this is a more efficient way to research a topic than spending hours mining the Web or library stacks. For my client, it’s also a way to repurpose content across multiple media. Maybe it will work for you. What do you think? Twitter me @paulgillin.