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RSS The Oprah Way

Posted on 6.03.2008
When first introduced, RSS (Real Simple Syndication) was touted by a vocal few as a great salvation of time for the wider Web community. And by all accounts, it delivered. It gives us the ability to consume massive amounts of information in a short period of time while also archiving that information for use at a later date. It's hard to argue against the value RSS provides for those aware of its capabilities and benefits. However, most people outside of the Internet sphere of influence are not using RSS, much less know what the heck it is and how it can benefit them. It's time to change that.

The challenge for website owners is in expressing to users the value of RSS and why they should sign up for our feeds.

Raising RSS Awareness
For many, RSS is neither real nor simple. Brilliant in conception, it is often hopelessly confusing for the beginner. But RSS can provide a good source of traffic, loyal users and higher website subscriptions. That is why it is important to walk website visitors through the steps of locating, subscribing and reading feeds.

Sample explanation pages are the norm for some websites, although still not common. These instructions pages often vary in scope based on the technical sophistication of users but should always highlight what RSS is and how the audience member can benefit, while explaining in no uncertain terms how a person goes about subscribing to a website's feed. In my opinion, nobody has done this better than media mogul Oprah Winfrey. On her website, in lieu of dry and technical jargon, Real Simple Syndication becomes "Ready for Some Stories." It's simple, easy to remember and to the point, opening up the possibility for more users to understand and benefit from the syndicated content. Below is an image from, detailing and demystifying RSS.

A continuing challenge when it comes to raising awareness for RSS, is that since its initial conception, website owners and marketers have presented or announced the availability of RSS feeds most often through bright orange icons or through "chicklets" - small icons for individual feedreaders. The problem is that many users don't know what these mean - it's foreign, intimidating and Web professionals are committed to using the same methods of RSS promotion. While it is important to make the presence of feeds available, too many of these cryptic symbols and options for subscribers may render a campaign to increase RSS subscribers futile. In the end, simply offering RSS in a way that is in line with how users consume information (for example email) will go a long way towards raising awareness. Take a lesson from Oprah - she knows her audience, knows how much they could benefit from RSS and knows how to explain and deliver it with as much ease as possible.
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