According to online statistics from eMarketer, less than 20% of internet users intentionally read content with the aid of an RSS reader.
Indeed, even frequent internet users have no idea what that little orange RSS square represents and certainly don't realize that there is a big shift brewing in the bowels of online publishing and marketing.
But, that may change more quickly than we all used to think for 3 very potent reasons.
There are advantages to RSS that will compel most, if not all, internet users and content consumers to "learn" to use an RSS reader and start managing RSS subscriptions.
In the same way email eclipsed snail mail for content delivery, RSS will eclipse email as the consumer's choice for opt-in messaging.
If you are an email marketer, the time for you to get engaged to RSS has come, because, whether you like it or not, the wedding bells will be ringing soon.
RSS = Embedded Video (and audio)
I recently was asked to help a small business embed video into emails they wanted to send to established clients.
Their vision was clear:
1. Create a quick video email with a webcam, stick it right into their corporate Outlook email with a Youtube style preview.
2. The customer gets the email, clicks the Youtube-looking video preview and the video starts playing.
3. No landing page, they wanted everthing to happen right there inside the email client, whether it was Outlook, AOL, Gmail, Yahoo or otherwise.
Simple right? Nope...
This is simply not possible with email.
Many brilliant companies have tried various tactics to embed video into email in a way that doesn't consistently get blocked or stripped by the various email providers.
With email, the best that can be done is mimic the embedded video look by putting a video preview image in the email which opens up the web browser and plays the video there when clicked.
Ironically, even this comes at a significant cost because of the technical knowledge needed to make it happen.
So why is this a less than perfect solution?
Primarily because none of us like to be bounced around, we want to view video instantly, seamlessly.
After all, we have been trained to expect this level of immediacy by seeing it everyday on Google's "universal search" and countless blogs.
The good news is, embedded video and audio are part and parcel (fundamental elements) of RSS.
Adding video (and audio) that can be instantly viewed by someone receiving an RSS feed is as simple as adding text.
Readers get what they have come to expect and corporations, as well as small businesses, can provide dynamic, highly personal content without paying a coder or webmaster thousands of bucks.
RSS = 100% Deliverability
I was shocked to see the stats on email deliverability rates for the typical business. The fact is, even if you have come by a person's email honestly (that is - you did not buy a bootleg list of emails from some guy in a dark virtual alley) the likelihood of them actually receiving that message from you is 60% or less.
So, let's say you have a list of 1000 customer emails - which you have worked hard and paid real money to acquire. When you send a message, 400 of them (on average) don't get it. It either automatically lands in their Spam Folder or gets deleted even before it reaches them.
Even companies like Aweber who make a living sending emails for other people and have intimate agreements with email providers like Gmail, AOL and Yahoo, only get a 90% deliverabilty rate - on a good day (they claim %99.4 but I use Aweber and when I factor in the whole opt-in and email management process, at least 10% of my emails are undelivered).
RSS is quite different. If someone has opted-in to your RSS "feed", they will get 100% of your messages. No doubt about it.
This is obviously good for the company but how is this also an advantage for the customer?
Well, have you ever had the frustration of opting-in to something that you were interested in only to find (after searching for a few minutes) that it was buried in your spam box.
Have you ever had to "whitelist" an email address so that each email that was sent wasn't immediately deleted?
Doing this takes TIME... the most expensive commodity any one of us owns.
Once consumers realize there is a simpler way to get 100% of what they want, 100% of the time, and 0% of what they don't want, RSS will start to look like a (pardon the old expression) "no brainer".
RSS = Spam-Free
This may be the "tipping point" that triggers the general masses toward RSS.
Yes, spam is annoying... it takes time to delete... it contains inappropriate messages which make parents steaming mad... and it is the constant burden of corporations and email providers.
Especially due to the last reason, email will not be free forever. You may not have to pay if you send just a few emails to your friends and family each month but if your sending out a significant number of messages... you will pay.
This will be the email manager's final attempt at curbing the clever spammer.
In fact, email providers are already debating and tweaking a platform similar to cell phone companies where you will have a sending quota.
This will only push spamming into a "higher" art form and challenge the suprisingly intelligent geeks behind this modern phenomenon to new technical heights.
All of this will only serve to highlight the value of RSS even more and compel the average folks into opening up a Google Reader account or using the one they goofed around with more often.
However, before RSS eliminates email as we know it, a few things have to happen...
In the first part of this article we discussed the three compelling features of RSS that will lure the mases of content seekers.
Namely, embedded video, 100% deliverability and spam-free information management.
But, before any of us permanently trades in our email account for an RSS Reader, a few things need to happen.
Until then, we will be doing double-duty... checking both our Inbox and our latest feeds.
What RSS needs before it kills email
1. RSS Content Clients (like Outlook for RSS).
As it stands, messages which are sent via RSS are usually composed inside some sort of blog or other similar content management system and published to the world. All the folks who have requested the RSS "feed" then receive that message into the RSS reader they check whenever it is convenient for them. Generally speaking, the entire group of subscribers gets every message.
Now, imagine a software application that works like an email client such as Outlook that allows you to create a message, format it, add video and audio and then send it to just one (or a selected group) of subscribers via RSS...All without having to publish that content to the world.
This would be the silver bullet solution to all the woes of email.
2. RSS to One or Selected Groups
One of the current appeals of RSS is the fact that one can subscribe to an RSS feed anonymously. You are assured of receiving only messages from that person or website (which is hopefully run by a person) and nothing else. Neither the website owner or the RSS service knows anything about the subscriber. This is a good thing and something that will continue to make RSS valuable.
However, at some point, a more personal RSS option should appear which allows the subscriber a choice. In the future, when someone chooses to subscribe to an RSS feed, h/she will have the option of sharing personal information with the publisher, perhaps just their name and a few selected interests.
They will be glad to do this for two reasons.
1. It will allow the publisher to send only content that matches their desired interests (this is actually already possible but very few take advantage of it).
2. It will allow for private RSS communication between individuals and groups with all 3 benefits listed above - embedded media, 100% deliverability, spam-free.
What killer-RSS will look like
In this new more advanced world, you will have your own personal RSS address. Not connected to a business or blog content, just to you personally. Yes, you may be thinking... "just like my email address".
When someone wants to hear from you, they will go to some fancy Web 2.0 service and subscribe to your personal RSS feed. They will sign-up for their own personal RSS feed and then subscribe to yours, providing you with their name (if they are a friend) and perhaps their interests if they are a business contact.
When you want to send them, and only them a message, you'll open up the fancy wysiwyg editor provided by the cool Web 2.0 service mentioned above, create a message and publish it.
Sounds like email right? Exactly...
The difference is, you publish the message not to your public blog but to a private space on the net and to your friend's RSS reader.
So, your friend checks their RSS reader, sees your name on their list of subscriptions, notices that you have published a message to them (and maybe a few other friends) and either reads the message in their reader or in the private space online.
So, as this shift occurs, what we are calling Killer-RSS will be viewed as an upgrade to typical email services with the added benefits mentioned above.
What do you think - will RSS be the email killer? If not, how do you see the RSS - email relationship working out? Visit Web2Center.com to join the dialogue.
By Peter Lenkefi, publishes social marketing and blog promotion tips at http://Web2Center.com .