With Apple’s announcement on June 8 that it would be launching a News service based on RSS feeds, the media world has been all atwitter about what it means for the future of article distribution. This service, which will be integrated into iOS9, has the potential to be a boon for publishers large and small. But the channel Apple will be using, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), has stayed basically static since its creation more than 15 years ago. Maybe it’s time, with what will become even wider-spread adoption, to demand an update that allows our content to more fully shine.
The raw simplicity of RSS is its beauty, so any upgrades need to maintain that simplicity. But we can create additional function without sacrificing RSS’s usefulness.
Can an old dog learn new tricks?
If you view the source on the webpage of an RSS feed, you’ll see its simple structure: Title, unique ID, content creator, maybe a date stamp, a link, the content or excerpt of the article, and perhaps a category. Some feeds include photo or comment information as well.
Simple as it is, fitting the many different types of information — and their data fields — into its rigid structure is confining at best, and a sorry mess at worst.
If you check out the archives of the W3C, the global arbiter of web standards, you’ll find that version 2.0 was adopted in 2002, and since then… nothing. Maybe the powers that be thought RSS was so simple, and so perfect, they didn’t need to go back. Or perhaps the advances in web design through the intervening iterations of HTML and CSS meant the consortium’s corps of engineers have had their eyes on too many different balls to give the web’s lonely stepchild much thought.
But with Apple’s vice president of product marketing, Susan Prescott, promising “the best mobile reading experience, ever,” what better time than now to think about the potential, the possibilities? These possibilities behind the curtain make life for non-technical people—the ones who want to see those pesky infographics and sidebars integrated into the articles they’re reading, or find their kid’s soccer field on time without getting lost—that much easier.
While it’s true there are hundreds—if not thousands—of disparate apps and services that specialize in aggregating everything from news to sports scores to prices of consumer goods, RSS has maintained a key position in the content distribution playing field. It may be more than two decades old, but it remains a reliable, long-established way to publish a tremendous amount of content with ease and deliver it automatically to subscribers. RSS has stood the test of time, and not only would these ideas benefit Apple’s News app, but they would benefit all kinds of publishers for all kinds of content.
In a perfect world
Let’s start with my pet desire: ERSS, or RSS for events. How useful would this be for every online events calendar? With real working fields for time/date, geo-points, and location information, I can save this information into my phone’s calendar without having to copy and paste.
Want easy stock quotes? SRSS can give us all the detailed fields our parents used to read in the papers every morning.
Sports. SRSS. Yeah, we’ll have to work on that acronym so you’re not mixing up your stock options with the latest Mariners scores. But having box scores in a simple format would be awesome for fanatics. Breaking out the minute detail by each sport needs a bit more thought, but surely there’s a way to have RBI by inning easily mapped in.
Shopping and retail. RRSS. Think about this – wholesale and retail prices, categories, SKUs, item descriptions, promotions – the catalog and price-comparison sites could go crazy! The potential benefits to stores large and small, whether it’s to set prices based upon their competition or for some enterprising folks to build real-time price-shoppers while eliminating the back-end work, is huge.
Food and Recipes. FRSS. A friend of mine writes a food blog, and his recipes get mixed in with the rest of the content. If he could easily pull that out, recipe sharing would be much more convenient for an easy, on-the-go app or to call up how much baking soda I need while in the midst of baking cookies.
Academia and white papers. ARSS. You know, all those citations need to get cited and people need to be thanked. How multiple citations would be integrated into each feed record can be debated, but separating out that data makes formatting so much easier. Taking care of that now really is a pain in the, well, you know.
Keep it simple, keep it relevant
That’s just a start. I’m sure there’s plenty more I haven’t thought of. From the perspective of a publisher, if I want my content to be viewable, I want it to look as graceful and as close to the original source as possible. Raw content is great, but not being able to separate the headline from the subhead or the byline from the dateline is a pain in the butt.
From the perspective of a developer, if I’m building to post my different content models onto different types of device or screen mode, I want it done in a way that my boss, the publisher, won’t come in and yell every time some bake sale shows up as taking place in the middle of the ocean. To have an accepted global standard at the ready as I’m building my products makes my job that much easier.
Maybe this sounds like a bunch of BSS. RSS was designed to be really simple. We can keep it simple, but we can also make it relevant.