Ready for RSS?

What if your company were making major changes to the way it communicates, but you never got the memo? Something like that is happening with RSS (really simple syndication), a web-based subscribe/publish protocol.

What if your company were making major changes to the way it communicates, but you never got the memo? Something like that is happening with RSS (really simple syndication), a web-based subscribe/publish protocol.

RSS has until recently been associated mostly with web logs or blogs, a grassroots phenomenon of thousands of individuals publishing digital daily diaries. Using an application called an RSS reader or aggregator, anyone can subscribe to an RSS feed. When new content is available, it automatically downloads and displays in a window.

As it did with web browsing, Microsoft came late to the RSS party. Without a third-party add-on, there is currently no way users can subscribe to RSS feeds in Microsoft's Outlook or Internet Explorer.

But that may be changing. Microsoft has just launched seven official RSS publications of its own, including feeds on .Net Framework, Visual Basic .Net, Visual C# .Net, Visual C++ .Net, Visual Studio .Net and XML web services. A seventh feed is called "Recently Published on All of MSDN" (Microsoft Developer Network). You can subscribe to these feeds at the site of Tim Ewald, an MSDN developer.

I believe this is just the beginning of a tectonic shift that your organisation must plan for. Soon after Microsoft made its move, other corporations such as Cisco Systems and Fawcett Publishing started their own RSS-compatible streams.

Dave Winer, the coinventor of RSS, says he was happy to find out that Microsoft's new feeds don't use proprietary tricks. As a result, the Microsoft feeds are compatible with any RSS aggregator.

When aggregators become widespread, many B2C newsletters will switch to RSS and drop now highly unreliable email. I wrote several months ago that ISPs such as Hotmail and Yahoo, trying to stop spam, shunt to a junk folder or simply delete 25% of newsletters requested by subscribers.

The spam tsunami is forcing many email recipients to build "whitelists", accepting messages without question only from approved senders. Interestingly, RSS subscriptions work exactly like whitelists. By design, spammers have no way to push their material into anyone's RSS reader.

How will you support end users who want to receive RSS feeds? The numerous aggregators that have sprung up vary widely in their degree of enterprisewide manageability. Is any application that can handle RSS acceptable? Or do you need to establish corporate standards? Those are subjects I'll examine next week

Livingston is publisher of BriansBuzz.com. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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