Originally built to distribute syndicated news, RSS instant notification promises a host of other uses-including innovative marketing for your business.
The fast-spreading Internet standard lets you instantly publish or receive bits of text. While it's now used to show the latest news and blog updates, "there's no limit to what you could use it for," says Rebecca Lieb, executive editor of the ClickZ Network, a division of research firm Jupitermedia Corp.
Depending on whom you ask, RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summary, or RDF Site Summary. Created by Netscape as a simple way to swap news between consenting Web sites, RSS is based on XML, the Internet's master language, and comes in several variants.
To see RSS in action, download and install an RSS reader (also known as an RSS aggregator) from the Web. Some readers such as AmphetaDesk are free; others offer free trials. Open the reader, and you'll see a few sample RSS "feeds" with the latest headlines for each. Depending on the reader, the headlines may appear in your browser, in a separate application that looks much like an e-mail application, or within another application such as Microsoft Outlook. Simply click on a headline to bring up its associated Web page.
While this will appeal to the news junkie in you, RSS' marketing skills may prove more powerful for your firm. In the simplest example, you could spiff up your Web site by adding RSS feeds from news services or blogs that will intrigue site visitors. More strikingly, in the future, RSS may handle marketing tasks where e-mail now falls flat, says Jeanne Jennings, an e-mail marketing consultant in Washington, DC. As with e-mail, visitors can sign up for marketing alerts (for instance, useful product news plus discount coupons). Unlike e-mail, visitors can rest assured that they can't be spammed. If you don't like what you're getting via RSS, just pull the plug.
Of course, there's a chicken-and-egg problem: Relatively few people use RSS software. But that may change soon, as RSS support is integrated into other applications such as IM and e-mail. "RSS is going to be a big deal," says Lieb. "People need to start thinking about it now."