RSS is Dead", tech sage Steve Gillmor said in May of 2009. I know that's not true, because I spend a lot of my work and my leisure time reading RSS and other forms of syndicated content feeds."
If you're not familiar with Really Simple Syndication (RSS) - it is, in the simplest of terms, a powerfully simple technology that delivers new content from multiple websites to one single place you've subscribed to RSS feeds from. RSS has not changed the world in the ways its early adherents hoped it would, but it continues to change dramatically the lives of some of us unafraid to play around with it a little. Below are the 10 most exciting RSS and syndication technologies of the past year.
There are a lot of repeat appearances from 2009 and 2008, but there are some new tools, too. Did we miss any thing important or exciting? Any power user tips you'd add?
Selected coverage: Flipboard, New "Social" iPad Magazine will be Powered by Semantic Data
Flipboard is a well-funded iPad app that turns Twitter and other streams of content into a beautiful "customized magazine." Many people have tried to go deep on the visual impact of feed reading on the iPad, but none have embraced the possibilities as gracefully as Flipboard.
You know how I use Flipboard? I read my usual Twitter and Facebook streams through it sometimes, but it's the curated topical Twitter lists that work best on this service. I've got a Twitter list of hundreds of geotechnology pros that serve up incredible topical links. The Twitter list of anthropologists I grabbed from Tlists? What a great magazine they make every Sunday morning!
Web page pre-loading in the background, integrated social media sharing and commenting, video, image collages - the user experience is really hard to beat and it's only getting better. OPML import is the only thing that the 15 of us in the world that like to play with OPML files could ask for more.
ReadWriteWeb's 2010 In Review:
Selected coverage: How to Build a Social Media Cheat Sheet on Any Topic
RSS overload getting you down? Give Postrank a feed and it will give you back a brighter day. This service, which has been on our best of list every year we've written one about feeds, is invaluable. You plug in a feed and Postrank will score every item in it based on the relative social media engagement that item has seen (comments, inbound links, mentions on Twitter and a lot more). Then, you can subscribe to a filtered feed of just the most-discussed items on any feed.
We use Postrank about 15 different ways here at ReadWriteWeb. It's awesomeness cannot be surpassed. Watch this space, you'll see us use it some more ways in the coming weeks and months.
Not Dead Yet Factor: Postrank's main home page is now a publisher analytics fancy service. If you want to run other peoples' feeds through it, like a sophisticated strategic thinker able to defer immediate gratification for one technology step in exchange for far greater opportunities, then visit http://postrank.com/main.
Selected coverage: Real Time as a Service? Check Out What Notify.me Is Working On
The battlefield of RSS to IM/SMS/email delivery and alert services is littered with bodies - the field of battle between those services and the cold reality of monetization, that is. There are a small number of people who appreciate the delivery of a substantial number of RSS feeds within minutes of their publication, but it's not an insignificant number. It's services like this that keep all the tech blogs you read feeling fresh, readers. Other people in other fields are learning to appreciate them as well.
Notify.me remains alive, despite its own determination to die this summer. The company is now focused on selling advanced services to large, paying customers; it's expensive shooting RSS feeds all over the web by IM and SMS for free.
In July, 2010, the Notify.me team threw up its hands and said it was shutting down its free consumer service. A minor cry for help arose and thankfully, the company changed its mind. It said it was going to start charging people a small amount of money. It doesn't appear to have done so and the messages are still coming.
Let me tell you what a service like this is good for, outside a journalist's immediate interest: I once led a workshop for non-profit organizations where one participant worked in communications at a local women's advocacy organization. In that workshop, we grabbed the RSS feed for the New York Times and we ran it through a filter, filtering for keywords related to the field she worked in. We then took that filtered feed and we put it through Notify.me, setting it for multiple forms of delivery.
The plan, then, was for her to get an SMS whenever the New York Times wrote a story related to women's issues. She could take a look at it, and if appropriate, could call the local newspaper people she knew. "I don't know if you've heard," she could say (they probably hadn't, so soon), "but there's this story breaking on a national level. If you're interested in a local angle, our Executive Director is an excellent source and would be happy to get on the phone with you if you like." The reporter has been looking for something to write about all day and you lay a timely, high-quality interviewee in their lap. Boom! Now repeat a few times and what have you got? You've got an organization that people in your area associate with the issue because you're regularly cited as a source in the local media - because you were the first to know.
Not Dead Yet Factor: It's not dead yet. Someday it probably will be. Another service will have to take its place, or we'll all have to learn how to roll our own.
Selected coverage: The Dream Team Quietly Gathering Behind Real-Time Service SuperFeedr
You've got online content and you want it in real time. You want it in different formats. You want it marked up with geolocation data that corresponds to place names occurring in free text. You want it all and you want it for a fair price. What does it mean? Maybe you want SuperFeedr. It's like FeedBurner was for bloggers, but much more developer-focused. The company adds features all the time and founder Julien Genestoux is one of the most agile technologists you'll find online.
Not Dead Yet Factor: Barely born yet, but backed by BetaWorks and Mark Cuban, that's good for something. Plus Genestoux builds features so fast that he'll likely fit whatever need real-time feed geeks find they have, well into the future.
Selected coverage: Facebook Could Become World's Leading News Reader (Sorry Google)
If you read RSS feeds and you know it, you probably use Google Reader. It's ok. It's pretty good, even. It's not that exciting, but it serves a whole lot of people very reliably and capably. It has survived while everyone else has not. This year we saw former market-leader Bloglines and former innovation leader Newsgator Online close up their RSS readers and send everyone to Google Reader instead. Other services use Google Reader as a place to sync up.
Not Dead Yet Factor: Google almost never kills anything, and there have to be a lot of people internally at the company who depend on Google Reader, too. Unless they've all given it up for Twitter.
Selected coverage: My6Sense & The Geek Who Rode His Blog to the Edge of the World
You're on your phone and you want something good to read? They say that small screens lend to high-quality recommendations of well-targeted content - so why would we read Twitter and Facebook?
My6Sense is a mobile RSS reader that syncs with your Google Reader account (all of it, not just the first one thousand feeds like so many imitations!) and then watches how you interact with the items. It knows when you are reading, it knows when you've shared a link. It then offers two views of all your subscriptions: their most recent posts and the My6Sense recommended posts. The service learns from your behavior over time and offers a quality mobile feed reading experience.
Not Dead Yet Factor: It's probably a slow burn, the company is focusing on monetizing a commercial API. That's a good business to be in.
Selected coverage: How to Use Blekko to Rock at Your Job
Blekko is a platform for collaboratively edited vertical custom search engines. It eats OPML files, among other things, and its outputs include RSS feeds. You want a feed of updates from 10 key medical sites whenever any news about a particular issue is written about? Blekko can do that. You want to track a collection of blogs that cover a particular topic and get a ping when they write about one company, one concept or one keyword across all their blogs? No problem. It's great.
A custom search engine creation service with RSS feeds. That deserves a place on this list.
Not Dead Yet Factor: It just launched. When it launched, I said it was too beautiful to live long, but its CEO has been around the block many times and tells me he knows what he's doing.
All RWW coverage of Facebook
Facebook's syndicated updates from friends, families and media organizations are the single most important way that hundreds of millions of people around the world relate to the power of the feed. The company tried to do a lot this year, but it's hard to know how drastic the users' experience will end up being. None the less: Facebook Places alone represents the introduction of a radical new type of knowledge into many peoples' lives (where the people you know are right now) - and it's coming to them by feed.
Selected coverage: Run Your Own Twitter Clone: Status.net Launches Public Beta
When you hear about Diaspora, when you hear about Status.net, OStatus is what's under the hood. This open-source amalgamation of communication technology standards is like Twitter for networks that are disconnected, but interoperable. "People on Different Networks Following Each Other" is the OStatus slogan.
What does it mean? Interoperability means social networks compete on features, not control over your friends, because switching costs are removed. You lose nothing if you switch networks.
OStatus didn't take off like a Tweeting rocket ship this year, but it saw some continued growth, development and attention. Someday, maybe someday, the asynchronous micro-messaging that so many of us find so much value in will break out of the clutches of one single company (wonderful as you are, dear Twitter) and become a real communication platform like the telephone. That's probably as crazy as imagining a time when AT&T customers can call Verizon customers though, isn't it?
Not Dead Yet Factor: It's not dead yet.
Selected coverage: How Yahoo's Latest Acquisition Stole & Broke My Heart
Point and click on almost any field on almost any Web page and Dapper will give you an RSS URL you can use to subscribe to updates from that field, if and when the content there changes. It sounds like a simple thing, but it's incredibly powerful.
Dapper has been one of my favorite services for years and was joined by Needlebase in the DIY data extraction world that has so much potential.
In recent years, the devil bought Dapper's soul, turning it into a semantic advertising platform in order to monetize its core technology. Then Yahoo bought the whole company this Fall, which will allow the core feed-extraction tool to remain open, at least for a while longer. To use this incredible tool, you've just got to sneak in through the back door at Open.Dapper.net.
Not Dead Yet Factor: It's not dead yet. Maybe more alive than it's been in years, in fact.
Yahoo Pipes - definitely not dead yet. The company released an experimental 2.0 version of this wonderful spaghetti pipes tool for RSS magic this year, but few people noticed and the company itself says its products aren't production ready. YSQL is a better bet, if you're comfortable working with that. If not, well - Pipes isn't dead yet.
Twitter - One of these days! Annotations! Meaningful location as a platform! This year had high hopes for Twitter's technology. The year ended up being about better up-time, a prettier Web site and the company's nascent ad sales efforts.
OneSpot - This content recommendation engine does a lot of things, but my favorite thing it does is look at any set of feeds you give it and then suggest thousands of other feeds it believes are related. It's easy to curate a few hundred top blogs in any field that way.
That's our list - how does it compare to yours? What's coming down the line that you think might shake things up in RSS and syndication in 2011? Let us know in comments.