My mom was intrigued by my blog. As an extension of the conversation about my blog, I made an attempt to explain RSS to her without using the actual term “RSS.” Here is the explanation, recorded as accurately as I can remember it:
Blogs are cool and people can read them by directly going to the address of my site. However, the real cool thing about blogs is that you can subscribe to them.
Imagine the way that your newspaper works at home — you are delivered news articles printed on paper every day. Every morning you wake up, go down the driveway, and the newspaper is there full of articles.
Now imagine the ability to be able to subscribe to my blog. Instead of going down the driveway, you simply pull up your page of subscriptions. All of my articles would update in real-time, so as soon as I write an article, it will show up new on your page. You can not visit your page for a few days, and just like newspapers in the driveway, the articles will pile up until you read them or throw them away. Lots of big companies even offer their news articles to be read in this way; you can do it with The New York Times and CNN.
The penetration of this subscription model is really low because it’s in the early adopter stage — it’s estimated that something like 3–5% of US households even understand this subscription thing. I think people get turned off or don’t get excited about it because all of us early adopters use fancy terms for the technology behind it instead of explaining it in english.
You have to imagine why this is so powerful. You subscribe to the stuff you want to read and that’s it, so the people producing that stuff are targeting their most powerful consumer, the consumer that has opted into reading the stuff they are producing. You retain the power, unlike newspapers, where if you do not like the stuff that someone is producing, you can stop subscribing to that particular person.
BMW Films was one of the first to really pioneer the opt-in model with their films; people that visited the site wanted to see the films by the producers that BMW hired, and wanted to see BMW vehicles featured in those films. It’s a powerful thing.
Does that mean mom is going to rush right over to Bloglines and open an account? I hope so, but probably not unless I walk her through it. RSS has to get easier and more transparent and more automagical before people like my mom really adopt it; e-mail suffered the same sort of adoption cycle when it was first introduced.
So how do you judge when RSS goes mainstream? Maybe it’s when your parents start using it (even if they don’t know that they are).