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RSS and E-mail: The Truth Shall Set You Free

John's article clearly deserves a response. On the other hand, I'm afraid this debate might be getting just somewhat too personal, but I guess that's to be expected ...

Instead of writing a full article I'm just going to counter some of John's statements considering RSS and Dana's article, but really don't care much about responding to the personal provocations. Will I succeed? You can be the judge of that ...

"But you can also use RSS to receive personal messages without spam. As a publisher or affiliate of Q, you get your own private QMTP channel for personal messages. Here's the link to mine. For more information on how the QMTP private messaging system works, click here."

Yes, you can use RSS to receive personal messages without spam. You can do that with other technologies as well ... and quite easily for that ...

But the other question is do you really want to do that? Do you want to force people to use some web form to communicate with you?

The point is that every other option for easy communication falls short in many areas, still keeping e-mail on top. Whether RSS will replace e-mail as the preferred content delivery tool is yet to be seen, but it cannot and will not replace e-mail communications. Believing that it will is not only naive, but goes against all logic.

Communication requires at least two parties - this means that both parties need the same communication technology. Right now (on the Internet) that's e-mail and IM.

You could say that every communication enabling technology has to start somewhere - and give the telephone as an example. That's true, but only if the need to use the new technology is immediate and if the new technology offers huge improvements. When it comes to personal communication and e-mail this simply is not so.

And even is something does replace e-mail as the preferred communication tool, it will need to be something that is easier to use, not more difficult.

To conclude: is RSS adoption anywhere near enough the critical mass needed to use it as a communication tool? No.

On another hand --- new e-mail clients should ease the problems with e-mail, and some future version of e-mail just might take them away altogether.

"And honestly, what the casual Internet user is doing is irrelevant to me or my target market. They only matter to us when they become non-casual users - when they become entrepreneurs."

That might be the case with John, but not with every other internet publisher out here. Please do remember that this is a discussion on a topic that influences the complete Internet market. We cannot simply isolate a single market segment and debate on that ... This is a much larger issue.

At more than 16 million, the self-employed and owners of "microbusinesses" (10 or fewer employees) make up more than half of all businesses in the United States, produce more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars in annual economic activity and make astounding tax contributions ($33.4 billion in 2000) --- Bahl's Business Communications

Yes, but will all these switch to RSS? What we forget is the fact that most of these are not really computer savvy ... and will stick to what they know and already use ...

? RSS usage and news aggregator adoption is very limited at this time. Hence, the reach for your RSS feed is currently shallow.

"So was the use of HTML in email at first. Then HTML became the format of choice for email marketing, but now, thanks to the spam filters set up by your ISP, the only ones who consistently use HTML email are the spammers and scammers and the sheep-shearers. These filters are forcing legitimate marketers to go back to the Stone Age of eamil. The sorry thng about all this is that it has had little effect on the volume of spam."

This is not a very appropriate argument, because when HTML e-mail started being used most of the e-mail clients supported it. HTML e-mail (for the majority of users) did not require new software and a whole new way of receiving content. HTML e-mail was the natural upgrade of the e-mail medium.

It is also not true that HTML e-mail is used consistently only by spammers, scammers and sheep-shearers. Most of the largest (and best reputed) e-mail publications are produced and delivered in HTML.

? RSS is only text. Those great images you put on your site and in your e-newsletters are lost in an RSS feed.

"Excuse me? Take a look at the Daily with a good aggregator like Awasu. I've got lots of graphics. Every artcile has a picture. And RSS is capable of lots more. That's why it's called Rich Site Summary."

This is not exactly correct. The articles John's is referring to are actually HTML and not RSS. RSS is only used to deliver the headline, summary and link to the actual article, which is an HTML based document (or .php, .asp, etc.). In this case the aggregator also functions as a browser and displays the web page.

The actual content is normally accessible through the Web and has no connection whatsoever with RSS.

? There is currently no way to know how many people use your RSS feed and what the open and click-through rates are on RSS syndicated content

"Again, he is quoting the received wisdom about RSS. The stats I get through Quikonnex give me almost as much information as my Webalizer does for my web site. And if I felt it was important, I can set up each article to give me click-throughs very easily. The stats I watch are the number of unique uses of the XML feed (actual RSS subscribers) and the number of people using the online page for the Daily, as well as how may PHPNuke sites are picking up the feed. Being a Nuker, that is important to me and Q set up a separate feed for us Nukers that takes into consideration the specific code requirements of Nuke sites."

Yes, some statistics are available, but not nearly enough to allow for advanced usage metrics.

You don't know the number of your subscribers, you don't know the number of your unsubscribes and you cannot get a reliable open-rate (which you also cannot get with e-mail).

The actual clickthroughs in the articles are not relevant here - that's the Web, not RSS.

When talking about metrics it's very important to distinguish between the metrics you can get from your RSS feed and the metrics you can get from your Web page (which is where the RSS feed takes you after you click on the desired item).

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