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Saturday, June 18, 2005
The Importance of RSS
“Unfortunately, Google’s well of good data is being poisoned by the likes of comment spammers, trackback spammers and adsense mongers. And while Google, the other search engines and the blog software community have been fighting the good fight with ideas like nofollow, Typekey and stop gapping, I think Google knows that when it comes to blogs, they’re losing the semantic ground. And I think they’ve known this for a long time, because for the last year Google has been resting their hopes on a new medium of information—really simple syndication. The technologically capable know it as RSS.
If you think about it, rss feeds are a librarian’s wet dream (and make no mistake that Google is essentially a library, check that mission statement out again). An RSS feed is a blog distilled to its core essence. If you look at the output of an RSS feed in a reader, you’ll see no comments, no trackbacks and (for the most part) no design. It’s the better blog. It’s pure data.
And so RSS feeds provide Google all the goodness of blogs without all the semantic garbage that might come with a system open to users that are not the content provider. RSS feeds provide Google clean data, good data and thanks to wide-spread adoption by companies and the major blog software entities, lots of it
If RSS is getting face-time at the expense of search, Google has something to worry about. And it makes sense. From personal experience, I know my daily routine to keep up with the information overload doesn’t really involve searching anymore, but subscribing. Thanks to services like Del.icio.us, Technorati and Digg.com, people are spending a lot less time actively searching and more time passively reading what’s being updated in their readers
In the race to find what deserves face-time, services like Del.icio.us, Technorati and Digg.com in combination with the rapid adoption of web apps like bloglines, newsgator, feedster and kinja are making Google’s search seem very, very slow. And it’s all being accomplished with RSS technology
Let me give a concrete example based on our experiences here at Particletree. When we launched this site, we knew that the tutorials and information we were gathering and creating were good—that they would be somewhat valuable to the web development community. The problem was that we didn’t want this useful, time-sensitive information to sit around for days (or even weeks) waiting to be picked up by search bots and then found by people accidentally or when they were desperate for a solution.
So I proposed that we turned to Del.icio.us to expand our readership. Every time something went up on the site that I felt would be good enough for a wider audience, I added it to my Del.icio.us account with the appropriate tags and descriptions. Our goal was to try and get a feature on del.icio.us/popular by the end of July and to our surprise, we accomplished it in less than a week. After two weeks of diligent posting and tagging, Google gave us a little over 50 referrals while Del.icio.us gave us over 700.
I think the reason Del.icio.us is so successful at bringing the appropriate audience to good material is because they track the changing web by using people to calculate what is essentially ‘page rank.’ They get access to decent fuzzy logic for a fraction of the cost and the democracy of the system allows anyone to get their idea of what deserves face-time into the system almost immediately.” [particletree, via Dave Farber’s Interesting People mailing list]
Kevin Hale makes some really interesting observations in this essay, so you should read the whole thing, especially if you don’t understand the all of the hoopla about these sites. One thing I think he missed noting about the del.icio.us vs. Google traffic example is the disparity in the number of users between the two sites. Far more hits from the site with far fewer users helps illustrate his point even further. And I certainly agree that Feedster and the like make Google seem slower.
And if Hale is right about all of this, it makes you wonder if this isn’t just one more place librarians and our expertise aren’t going to be found, even though we should be. And don’t we already have goldmines of data that could be found in these services if we just started tagging them (in addition to the structured searching we already provide)?
Oh, and someone already left a comment about the whole “Google as library” part, although no one called him on his assertion that there are no comments in RSS. Especially good since Hale ends the essay by referring back to the “why” of all of this for Google – Adsense revenue.
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