Email to RSS…okay, maybe I was wrong

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I’ve noted a couple of times that I don’t see a real long-term value in email -> RSS conversion; it’s handy for the short term (as with situations like my roll-your-own RSS feed approach for sources that only provide their content via email), but longer term…I’ve not seen much future there.

The devil is in the details, however, and a post pointing to an article on Google’s internal use of blogs and related tools seems to have just built a new little neural pathway for me — one that connects some stuff that I didn’t think worked together.

On Friday I posted on possible uses for RSS in the corporate world, noting that most of the ideas that I’ve seen discussed didn’t seem to really gain anything by adding RSS to the mix…they’re good ideas, but they can be boiled down to “make sure that people have easy access to the information that they need,” which doesn’t have to involve RSS.

That corporate RSS article has been stuck in my head over the weekend, the Google/blog article started bouncing off of that post, and then I took a look at my inbox.

I’m sure that many people are familiar with the phenomenon: of the many, many messages that come into my inbox, there’s only a relatively small subset that actually require a direct and immediate respose. Many more are CCs, where I do want to know what’s going on with the thread, but it doesn’t immediately affect me: I’ll most likely be a passive consumer of the thread, rather than a participant. Other threads are idea farming, where nothing may come of it for weeks or months, but a new addition is made every few days, along the lines of well, what if we applied foo to this bar…client X mentioned it today, and it fits with what we were talking about in this thread last week.”

So what if you made use of an email -> RSS gateway for these scenarios? Rather than copying everybody and their mother on an email, you copy rssGateway@yourcompany.com, which generates a per-subject line RSS feed of each thread. When you need somebody new to contribute to the thread you don’t have to go through that godawful process of finding the most complete version of the thread to forward to them (assuming that everybody didn’t delete that key message that summarized the discussion so well), because the history is right there in the feed. You also allow people who aren’t directly copied on the email thread to check for updates on the topic as frequently (or infrequently) as they want by subscribing to the feed (or adding it to a Web interface, whatever).

You wouldn’t want this done for every email discussion, obviously, but there are certain types of corporate email use that could be significantly enhanced by an RSS gateway like this. You’re not replacing email — because people will still be able to use nice, familiar email to contribute — but rather improving the usability of the information that’s being communicated through email.

Just a thought. Talk amongst yourselves.

Content and Anti-Content

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Yesterday I dropped a del.icio.us link to this short Wired article on RSS into the feed.

Today I noticed a post on the RSS Weblog that mentions something in the Wired article that seemed bizarre: Andy Baio is quoted as saying “RSS is a syndication format. It’s not well-suited to carrying ads. […] It’s designed for syndicating content, and content only. No navigation, no design, no advertisements.”

The RSS Weblog correctly points out that this statement doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If I may be blunt, advertising is content, especially from the perspective of a syndication format; RSS doesn’t care what the data is, it just syndicates that data. Why in God’s name would advertising content be somehow less suited to RSS than movie reviews, poetry, or police reports?

One might make a resonable argument that many current RSS users would prefer that advertisements not be included with the content they’re getting via RSS, but to say that a string of words intended to sell a product is “less suited” to this syndication format than a string of words intended to convey an opinion about what is appropriate for syndication via RSS? That’s fucking absurd.

Okay, now we can move on. In a happy coincidence, shortly after reading the post above, I came across two other interesting posts on ScriptingNews.

First, Dave Winer posted his musings on why advertising in RSS is boring. If I may summarize in my own inimitable fashion, it’s currently boring as a topic of discussion because advertising is just content.

Ads are no more or less interesting by virtue of coming to you through an RSS feed. If your creative sucks and doesn’t render correctly for the viewer, then your ad sucks. Doesn’t matter whether they’re viewing it as part of an RSS feed, a Web page, or in a print magazine. I’m sorry to have to say it, but there are limits, even to the power of RSS: advertising is not magically transformed into something new and exciting by syndication technology.

Hmmmm…actually, now that I think about it, maybe Andy Baio is on to something: maybe ads that are passed via an RSS feed are automagically fucked up and wrong because they’re just not suited for RSS. I’ll think about that and report back to you all on that later, but back to the main thread…

The second post that caught my eye was DW’s note that he had gotten a comment pointing out that sometimes people are actually looking for advertising. It’s a little sad that this has to be pointed out, but what can you do? In any case, let’s accept that sometimes people actually want to see advertisements. Not all the time, and not all advertisements, but content does not become “bad” just because it’s “advertising.”

Though…if there is some mysterious transformation that takes place, converting “advertising” words into content’s disfigured, evil twin — anti-content, if you will — that might explain why RSS is ill-suited to handling ads: RSS is intended to syndicate content, so if advertising is anti-content…I think that the pieces might be starting to come together for Baio’s theory…

Now, in preparation for the final portion of this evening’s entertainment, I’ll point out where I agree with Andy Baio: RSS is a syndication format.

I mention this point again as preparation for your reading of this post on possible corporate uses for RSS. You should read it, but for purposes of narrative flow, I’ll oversimplify by saying that the author is excited by the prospect of RSS as as distribution mechanism for things like sales leads, customized reports, internal corporate communications, and other actionable events or data points.

I’m down with that. Totally cool. But I have to ask: sending sales leads to people via RSS could be a cool idea for your company, but why is it better than sending them using your current procedure, whether that’s via email, CRM Web portal/application, or smoke signal? What’s that? You don’t have any structure in place for routing sales leads to the appropriate people? Ah. Okay, then.

The issue that I see with the entire post is not that RSS is unsuited for any of the functions that are outlined, but that it doesn’t necessarily add anything to them, either. All of the meat of these ideas is tasty, but it’s not RSS-flavored; these ideas are all about making sure that you’re effectively analyzing, understanding, and sharing information within your company.

If you’ve got a company where all that stuff is already happening, then you’ll be well prepared to decide whether RSS distribution offers benefits for you. If you’re at a company where those things aren’t happening, you really shouldn’t be thinking about how to distribute the information — figure out how to find that information, who needs to get it, and when they need to get it, first.

Truste XSS Vulnerability / Won’t Someone Give del.icio.us Some Money?

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I was just planning on a quick little del.icio.us link for this cross site scripting vulnerability that is shown corrupting Truste’s “click to verify” privacy seal program. Not really huge news in and of itself, though a little troubing.

I know and like some people who work at Truste, but they’ve picked a tough job for themselves. Because there are pretty direct financial benefits to finding ways to appear legit when you’re not, there are always going to be more resources invested in trying to expliot systems like Truste than resources invested in keeping such systems ahead of the scammers. The payoff for improving these systems is largely intangible: reputation, really, which is not negotiable currency in most places. (As long as we’re on the topic, the places where reputation is a real currency are generally the most interesting places to be, but that’s a different discussion entirely.)

But anyway, the real problem is that del.icio.us is down again. I think that the service is great and use it constantly, but del.icio.us appears to be a victim of its own success: they’ve gone down three or four times in recent memory, which is getting close to the level of “if I can’t depend on it being there, I guess I can’t use it” for me.

I haven’t given much thought to how one might try to actually generate revenue by operating del.icio.us, but perhaps someone else could, and put them in touch with some friendly angels or VCs? :) I don’t want to give up on del.icio.us, but the outages are getting to be a pain in the ass.

Whenever the site comes back up I’m going to check and see if they’ve set up a simple way for me to give them some money, but it’s going to take a lot more than what I can afford to give them…

Him Name is Hopkin Green Frog

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It’s no All Your Base are Belong to Us, I’ll grant you, but there’s something very soothing about clicking through the pages of lostfrog.org this morning.

I suppose that one might say that I, too, feel like I misplaced my metaphorical frog at some point last night. For what it’s worth, I did actually lose a lizard when I was about ten years old. We lived on the sixth floor of a seventeen story apartment building. I must have forgotten to put the top back on to the terrarium that the lizard lived in; what I remember most clearly is coming back into my room and seeing the lizard climbing up the outside of the windowpane, heading for the seventh floor. Okay, it’s definitely time for more coffee…this is getting even weirder than usual.

Token Election Night Post

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From CNN.com:

Posted 8:04 p.m. ET, November 2
Latest CNN projections indicate Bush will win Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma, and Kerry will win New Jersey, Illinois, D.C., Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Massachusetts.

In other news, CNN projections also indicate that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, that situation comedy “The Golden Girls” will not return to production, and that cannibalism will not be legalized in Nebraska, Oregon, or Minnesota.