April 24th, 2007

RSS Has No Value Without A Filter


The irony of the video RSS in Plain English is that it is simultaneously one of the clearest and most engaging explanations of RSS I have ever seen and also a vivid demonstration of why RSS has not gone mainstream — how can something that takes 3.5 minutes to explain be a killer app?

Translation: Why run around sipping from multiple water fountains when you can drown drink from one giant fire hose?

He’s the simplest way I can put it:
There is NO value to having information come to you in one place when the result is TOO MUCH information for you to sift through.

Or even simpler: Without a filter, RSS has no value.

Any questions?

Comments (33 Responses so far)

  1. restano ancora un fenomeno marginale, che non è riuscita a sfondare a livello di massa. Qualcuno sostiene che a intimorire sia il nome (sicuramente non felicissimo, e poi in italiano non abbiamo ancora una traduzione valida); qualcun’altro, come Scott Karp, li trova troppo complicati da spiegare a chi non è geek, e quindi inutili. Certo è che è più facile utilizzarli che spiegarli. Spesso mi trovo a parlarne con persone che usano quotidianamente il web, ma le facce restano per lo più perplesse.

  2. Täällä

  3. RSS Has No Value Without A Filter – Scott Karp comments on the ‘RSS in Plain English’ video… Amazon set to launch online music store – More on Amazon’s DRM-free music store from The Times Amazon set to launch DRM-free music store?

  4. There are two types of Internet users, those that use RSS and those that don’t. This video is for the people who could save time using RSS, but don’t know where to start. Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 says this video’s length (he thinks it’s too long) explains why RSS hasn’t caught on with the mainstream yet: how can something that takes 3.5 minutes to explain be a killer app? Perhaps saying, “RSS is the difference between driving to Blockbuster

  5. RSS Has No Value Without A Filter  - Apr 24, 2007  - Scott Karp

  6. Watching this video is good for two reasons (commoncraft.com) EconSM: Economics of Social Media (econsm.com) In Memory of James Kapteyn (facebook.com) Steve Rubel has an essay on the topic (micropersuasion.com) the video is clever (publishing2.com) To girls, ‘Sassy’ meant something more | NPR (npr.org) when you start playing with charts and graphs of Technorati data (businessweek.com)

  7. 3:50 PM [IMG] Scott Karp / Publishing 2.0: RSS Has No Value Without A Filter

  8. Link Blog: RSS Has No Value Without A Filter » Publishing 2.0 added on 2007-05-14T04:56:59Z. courant.com | RSS Translates Into Info On Savings added on 2007-05-05T20:04:13Z. Adobe myFeedz – an RSS Aggregator That Learns from You at Digital Inspiration added on 2007-02-20T02:55:55Z.

  9. English is that it is simultaneously one of the clearest and most engaging explanations of RSS I have ever seen and also a vivid demonstration of why RSS has not gone mainstream — how can something that takes 3.5 minutes to explain be a killer app?” Scott Karp “In the meantime, here is the best example of explaining RSS that I’ve seen. Thank you to Common Craft for creating this video.” Dawud Miracle. “This video falls in the footsteps of his previous video on RSS in Plain English which spread across

  10. Makes sense. That said, I do think this video is a really good primer.

    Is all content equal? If not, then an RSS reader is not the right place to consume say a new lead that showed up in your Salesforce Database, your subscribed media channels, a competitor acquisition, and a heads up about a traffic jam on your route home.

  11. Sameer,

    Most RSS readers do allow you to group feeds into folders, categories, etc., but the overarching theme of most RSS explanations still hinges on a “cram it all in one place” approach.

  12. Scott,
    I find it hilarious when people say they subscribe to one thousand or so RSS feeds, like it’s some sort of bragging right. I’ve got about 100 and I can barely keep up with that. I’m a pretty good skimmer, too. I find that RSS just ends up working best for a very small, finite list of sources, including key search-engine queries I care deeply about. In addition to those few key feeds, I think the real killer app — which gets no credit — is social navigation. I find, consume and interact with content based on my social network, across multiple platforms, including email, blogs bookmarking services, etc.
    – Max Kalehoff

  13. Scott,
    Beleive me, I’m with you – our raison d’être’ is to enable content to be filtered and consumed where it makes sense depending on the importance of each peice of content is to the consumer. Folders/catagories in a Reader can only go so far :).

    That said, I still think that moving from ‘visiting’ web sites to consuming sections of websites in one place is step 101 for many many people. In some ways that’s how many of us RSS hounds were drawn to feed reading in the first place way back when. It took some time for us to realize that our RSS readers were starting to look like that pile of unread magazines on our coffee tables.

  14. I think unfiltered rss has a lot of value in it’s own, a value that of course depends on your particular information habits. For someone who visits a lot of randomly updated sites where 50% of visits are “nothing new, dang”-stops, a couple of 10-20 feeds only frees up time without resulting in unmanageable TMI, that surely must have some value? For me, tracking some 150 sources, unfiltered feeds is invaluable since many of my feeds only updates weekly or even monthly. Though recently I have created some keyword-filtering Yahoo!-pipes for the high volume feeds which had too many uninteresting items so I see the value of filters (a _working_ social filter would be nice) but it’s pretty provoking (I’m writing this..) and imho, wrong, to say that “without a filter, RSS has no value”.

  15. The problem with RSS is the same as with HTML.

    Explaining it tends to focus on single uses – RSS Readers or making web pages, respectively. These explanations tend to miss the massive versatility of both technologies though. HTML is much more powerful than your grandmother’s web page, obviously. So to is RSS – it’s not just for reading blogs, but it also powers widgets, holds MySpace together, brings weather and traffic info to your browser, etc.

    And the key similarity is that when implemented right, the end user shouldn’t even be aware of it. No one needs to know HTML to use a web browser. Hell, they don’t even need to know HTML exists. It needs to become the same with RSS – people need to be able to use the applications without knowing about the underlying technology. The fact that we need a video like this says to be that the applications (aggregators, at least) just aren’t there yet.

    Within the use of “aggregating blog posts”, I absolutely agree with you – it’s too easy to wind up with a flooded reader and there desperately needs a way to filter and sort the content on something other than a by feed basis. (Yahoo Pipes comes tantalizingly close to offering this, but I just can’t bring myself to run every feed I subscribe to through there).

    I want to manage my feed reading the same way I do Gmail, but sadly no one has yet given me the ability to do that.

  16. Information overload isn’t a flaw of RSS, it’s a flaw in the reading applications. feedrinse.com

  17. Mattias,

    One of the problems with how RSS is pitched to mainstream users — as is the case in this video — is that it assumes everyone information habits are the same. It would be MUCH more useful to demostrate the value of RSS around specific use cases, such as your habit of visiting lots of infrequently updated sites. That said, most people probably aren’t in the habit of visiting lots of infrequently updated sites.


    RSS as a publishing technology, like HTML, is indeed very versatile and something that should not need to be explained. But because websites still have these prominent navigational links that invite people to “grab the feed” or “syndicate,” there remains a huge communications gap.


    Since mainstream consumers require a reading application to subscribe to RSS feeds, i.e. RSS doesn’t exist for them outside of these applications, that is, I think, a distinction without a difference.

  18. You make a good point about how tech-savvy people need to be to understand and use RSS, and that the video (and most pro-RSS statements) do not take into account the reading habits of anyone that isn’t in the tech or media industries.

    However, I don’t agree with your fire-hose example. Personal information habits are the key for this, or any other technology. Would you prefer to receive email in 12 different accounts so the fire-hose doesn’t overwhelm you in a single account?

    Would you prefer to shop for sweaters in 12 different shopping centers so that a single shopping mall doesn’t overwhelm you with choice?

    There needs to be a balance here – software alone cannot solve human stupidity or inability to manage basic information processes.

    That said – i certainly agree with you and the other commenters that RSS has a ways to go before it is easily adoptable by mainstream audiences.

  19. [...] My friend Scott Karp thinks the video is clever, but thinks it’s ironic that it takes 3.5 minutes to explain a killer app. Actually, Scott, [...]

  20. [...] Karp mentioned that RSS has no value without a filter. RSS already has filters, but most people probably do not use them to their full potential. Your [...]

  21. RSS won’t go mainstream until webmasters better understand it and can convey the benefits to their users instead of believing it is the holy grail to getting more web traffic. Sadly, I think a lot of bloggers just check the box to add a feed to their template without understanding RSS.

    As for filters, I think many types exist, but most people will rely on self filtering. They’ll scan the headlines and click through or move on. Some will use the more advanced options like Yahoo! Pipes, ZapTXT, Feed Digest and to name a few.

    At what % of usage, does an app become a “killer app”? And does the user have to recognize that they’re using RSS? I suspect many My Yahoo! users don’t.

  22. I think the best analogy is:

    RSS is to the internet what Tivo is to the television. It’s an almost perfect analogy in that they both accomplish the following:

    1. Push the content you want towards you and save you from having to surf.
    2. Allow you to hone in on what you want.
    3. Increase the usefulness of the medium by an order of magnitude.

    The *only* problem with this analogy is that the people who still don’t know exactly what a Tivo does are the same people we’re all trying to turn on to RSS. Ugh.

  23. I agree with Aaron – it’s not the fault of RSS, it’s a fault of the readers.

    Scott what filtered reader do you use? :)

  24. [...] barred. I encourage you to go in and ask Dick a question.Update: see this post by Dave Winer on “why RSS has not gone mainstream.”Labels: RSS, Seeking [...]

  25. Based on how killer app has been used in the past, RSS is no killer app.

    And it doesn’t need to be (unless that’s where you’re hoping to get rich).

    I’m not a “mainstream” type user but I use many of the tools, such as feedreaders (bloglines, newsgator, yahoo), that regular folks might be tempted to use and, so far, they’re all a disappointment. For that matter, so is RSS.

    I use Feed Digest to mix some feeds for some semipublic projects I have going that are really for my own use, for example: fluxresearch.org

    I’m finding that a good way to keep up with select blog and news feeds but some feeds don’t play well with others so I can’t even mix in everything in that I want.

    What I’m trying to get at here is that RSS feeds and tools don’t really function well enough to serve advanced users needs even after a lot of tweaking. And even though services like mobile phones have shown us that folks are willing to accept lower grade service if it adds useful functions and is understandable (i.e. it’s a telephone with poor call quality but high mobility). The RSS-osphere combines just enough conceptual confusion with so so service to keep it out of mainstream awareness.

    RSS needs two things to go mainstream:
    improved coding and services
    ubiquitous use in the school systems

    Or maybe three:
    RSS apps that have relevance to kids

    Fortunately, for my part, it doesn’t matter how mainstream it gets. It’s not like folks necessarily improve their coding and services just because they’re popular!

  26. If you decided to peek at my example of mixed feeds it’s fluxresearch.com not .org. It’s not anything special but now I have an excuse for making a couple more quick points.

    RSS needs a filter? But I thought the bloggers were supposed to be doing the filtering.

    It would be interesting to look at how people achieve their desired outcome of getting the news they want. It might expand the idea of filtering. It seems to me that I filter news when I choose or don’t choose a feed source, when I go to Digg and use their filtering, when I rely on a recommendation via a blog that I trust.

    Perhaps looking at all the ways people actually achieve the function of filtering could lead to better forms of feeds and feedreaders as well as new products.

    Mike D:
    “RSS is to the internet what Tivo is to the television.”

    You mean, RSS allows me to copy content to watch later?
    Wait, you mean, the Tivo allows me to syndicate my content to other sites?

    One of the difficulties is that the end user doesn’t actually interact with RSS feeds, they use tools that use RSS. Really, focus on the tools and what they provide, not the feed and how it works, and you’ll have a much better chance of reaching a mass market.

  27. Regarding Clyde Smith’s comment that

    RSS needs two things to go mainstream:
    improved coding and services
    ubiquitous use in the school systems

    Would the answer to ”improved coding” be the migration of content over to XML from HTML?

    Just curious.


  28. Clyde: You said —

    “You mean, RSS allows me to copy content to watch later?
    Wait, you mean, the Tivo allows me to syndicate my content to other sites?”

    I wouldn’t conflate the ideas of RSS to content *producers* and RSS to content *consumers*. I think there is much, much less of a problem with producers knowing what RSS is and how they can use it. If they produce, it is their job to know and they will eventually find out. Even in the case of amateurs with Blogger blogs, the RSS feeds are already built in.

    It’s consumers who need the most handholding, hence the Tivo analogy. “Syndicatable”, “shareable”, etc aren’t the killer apps of RSS for consumers. Customized, cached, push content is. That’s exactly what RSS is and that’s exactly what Tivo is. To me the only thing consumers need to know about RSS right off the bat is this:

    “Instead of constantly checking web sites to see what’s new, choose the sites you like and have the new stuff pushed to you automatically so you can read it whenever you want.”

    Period. That’s it.

    There are a million other uses for RSS but that’s the instant turn on for consumers. The “oh shit” moment, so to speak.

  29. [...] semplice possibile che cosa sono gli Rss, come funzionano e perché è utile usarli. Scott Karp applaude lo sforzo ma lo considera allo stesso tempo una chiara dimostrazione del perché, così come è, questa [...]

  30. [...] quale riassume alcune perplessità riguardo all’uso della tecnologia RSS. In particolare cita Scott Karp, secondo cui una tecnologia che richiede tre minuti per essere spiegata (riferendosi al video qui [...]

  31. [...] davvero di uso diffuso? E’ quello che si chiede, con un pizzico di voglia di provocare, Scott Karp: è abilitante ma dev’essere ancora abilitata. E’ davvero così? Alcune risposte e [...]

  32. [...] davvero di uso diffuso? E’ quello che si chiede, con un pizzico di voglia di provocare, Scott Karp: è abilitante ma dev’essere ancora abilitata. E’ davvero così? Alcune risposte e [...]

  33. [...] thought this article by Publishing2.com writer Scott Karp was particularly interesting, as it was basically my thought [...]

Add Your Comment


Receive new posts by email