RSS is in its infancy. But the velocity of its adoption confirms that it is one of the most important media developments in recent years.

As consumers take more active control of the messaging and content they consume, reaching them gets tougher. RSS will aid in the active, real-time, automated filtering of an ever-growing supply of content.

First, a definition: RSS (Really Simple Syndication, or Rich Site Summary) is an XML-based format for easily distributing and aggregating Web content (such as news headlines). Users determine their favorite Web sites and a properly configured RSS aggregator will syndicate selected lists of hyperlinks and headlines, along with other information about the Web sites, then display the contents on the user's desktop at regular intervals. The user decides to follow the link or not.

Think of RSS like broadcasting on the Web. When people tell you RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, it is important to understand what "syndication" is. In the case of the Web, syndication refers to the propagation of content. With RSS, content gets to consumers faster than ever.

Speed alone doesn't explain why RSS is growing:

  • It's spamless—nothing comes unsolicited.

  • It's (for the most part) anonymous for recipients (no salesman will call).

  • It makes staying up to date easier (no fruitless searching of favorite sites).

  • It puts its users in charge of the flow of information (pull versus push) while it makes content consumption more efficient.

Those are big customer benefits. They are benefits to marketers, too.

Strategically, RSS adoption means...

  • How customers choose to hear from you reflects their fondness and interests, as well as the effectiveness of your communication in different online channels.

  • As content get easier for publishers to distribute AND for consumers to filter, demand for it grows.

  • Content needs to be further tailored to specific channels.

  • Marketers can leverage and control the flow of information with more precision.

  • Waiting to deploy content via RSS could mean a loss in share of voice.

  • Customers may want to reconfigure their relationship to your content.

Like anything else that's new, however, there are issues with RSS. At this point, only the cool kids are using it.

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Tom Barnes is CEO of Mediathink (, a consultancy specializing in media and marketing strategy and implementation. Contact him at