Recently I was invited by JupiterResearch VP & Research Director Michael Gartenberg to be a part of their new blogging program. The deal: I get a free copy of an analyst report relevant to my specialty and in return I will offer my own blog-style analysis of it. What this means is that a respected analyst firm, JupiterResearch, is reaching out to bloggers and engaging in two-way conversations.
It's a good deal all round - JupiterResearch gets some free open source analysis out of bloggers who are passionate and knowledgeable about the topics, the chosen bloggers get a chance to enhance their reputations and get their voices heard by influential people, and readers find out some valuable information too (from both the JupiterResearch analysts and the bloggers).
The approach I'll take with my 'blog analysis' (I don't know how else to describe this) is to spread out my comments over about 3-4 posts. The reason for doing it this way is that hopefully it encourages an ongoing conversation with not only the JupiterResearch analysts, but also people in the blogosphere. So here goes with Part 1...
The report I'm going to write about is called RSS Readers: Addressing Market Opportunities with an Innovative News Medium. It's dated March 11, 2005 and was written by Lead Analysts Michael Gartenberg and Andrea Wood, with Contributing Analyst Joe Wilcox. So it's a fairly recent report. At 5 pages long, it wasn't as lengthy as I expected it to be. But it's crammed full of useful information. The target audience for the report seems to be business managers and executives - decision-makers and not necessarily technical people (although some probably are).
The subtitle of the report is a hint to what the report will deliver: advice on what the market opportunities are for RSS and RSS Readers. The opening page of the report summarizes the key questions and findings. The key questions revolve around finding out what RSS is, which demographic to target, and what obstacles (and opportunities) there are. I'll look at the key findings in a later post, because in this post I want to focus on how this report defines RSS.
What Is RSS and Where Is It Used?
That was the exact title on page 2 and here's how it panned out. They begin by framing the evolution of RSS in the context of the Microsoft / Netscape browser battle during the late 90's, saying that RSS was "a competitive response [from Netscape] to Internet Explorer’s Active Channels". Dave Winer's UserLand Software is also cited as one of the inventors, so he gets his due in this report.
One thing that stood out for me in the opening paragraph on pg 2 was the last sentence: "Incidentally, RSS grew in popularity as a byproduct of the weblog phenomenon." At this point I wondered if weblogs would be merely a footnote in this analysis of RSS. Hmmm, more on that shortly.
The report then describes what an RSS feed is and how to read it. RSS is specifically referenced as an alternative to web surfing and email newsletters:
"With programs that can read and aggregate different RSS feeds, called RSS readers, users access content relevant to them without surfing the Web or subscribing to e-mail newsletters."
This is putting RSS in a context that most business people are familiar with - browsing and emailing. I'm fine with this, but I was a little perturbed by the sentence that followed it:
"While RSS once was relegated to the collection and aggregation of weblogs, today’s RSS feeds commonly include feeds from mainstream content providers."
The word "relegated" is pretty dismissive of blogs and the quality of content that can be found on the best of them. However I can see why it's necessary to assure readers of the report that "mainstream content providers" use RSS too - because it does show that RSS is being taken seriously by mainstream media. I've used that argument myself when trying to convince business people at my work to adopt RSS - specifically I cited the NY Times and BBC. Nevertheless, in tandem with the "incidentally" remark in the first paragraph, the overall attitude towards blogs in the report is a little worrying. They don't use the word "pajamas", but I was looking out for it. Maybe it just goes with the territory of trying to sell RSS to conservative business folk...
Finally on page 2, the two types of RSS Readers are described: Web-based services and standalone PC applications. I normally refer to them as a) browser-based RSS Aggregators and b) desktop / PC apps. But I like the way the word "services" is specifically used to describe the former - very Web 2.0 ;-) Here is the description of the two types:
"Web-based services provide either a personalized Web page that retrieves content based on user preferences, such as MyYahoo!, or a searchable Web page, like Feedster. Standalone newsreaders include NewsGator, an application that is integrated with Microsoft Outlook. These readers send content directly to a user’s inbox, where it is sorted into folders. RSS applications and services are available in both free and paid varieties."
It's interesting they use Feedster as an example of "a searchable Web page". As I mentioned in a recent post, I believe the RSS Aggregation/search integration strategy is going to be a keenly fought one this year between the big guns: Microsoft, Google, Bloglines/Ask Jeeves (not totally sure whether Yahoo will go in this direction as well as their portal strategy). So will Feedster be able to keep competing if that happens?
Also no mention of Bloglines by JupiterResearch - they cite MyYahoo instead. This reminded me of my post the other day about MyYahoo being much more popular than Bloglines with readers of the Fanblogs College Football Blog (who the owner Kevin Donahue described as "Joe American" and "non-geek"). The majority of the audience for this JupiterResearch report are probably not geeks either, so MyYahoo gets the nod in the report - ahead of Bloglines.
Also noteworthy that Newsgator got mentioned in the desktop agg section, primarily because their product integrates with Microsoft Outlook. Again it's a case of JupiterResearch putting the analysis into a context the target audience is familiar with - email and specifically Outlook.
I'll leave Part 1 of my report analysis there. I'll pick it up on page 3 tomorrow.