Robert Andrews has been publishing a blog about technology and the media from his home in Cardiff, Wales, since 2001. When he started out, Andrews, 26, would spend a couple of hours each morning trawling the Web in search of subjects for his opinion pieces. Now, thanks to a humble Web format called Really Simple Syndication (RSS), most of what he needs is ready and waiting for him on his desktop when he logs on. Andrews uses a downloadable software called a news reader to subscribe to feeds from RSS-enabled websites that match his interests in new technology. Whenever those feeds are updated, an outline of each new story appears automatically in his reader along with a link back to the full content on the originating page. It's kind of like customized, one-stop information shopping. "RSS means stories from all my favorite sources just pop into my news reader as soon as they're published," he says. "I no longer have to spend ages scrabbling around lots of different sites every morning."
Andrews is one of a growing legion of Web users who've embraced Really Simple Syndication, and this burgeoning movement has convinced a new breed of online entrepreneur that RSS might also turn out to spell really stunning success. As the Web grows ever more labyrinthine and unwieldy, an increasing number of sites are turning to RSS to make the quest for content whether it's stock tips, headlines, sports news or even the latest iTunes fast and easy. Given that RSS users are easily identifiable and telegraph their specific interests, it's no surprise that advertisers are salivating, too. "We think the future of news delivery is going to be a mixture of specific brands [like CNN or the New York Times] and aggregated RSS feeds," says Jim Pitkow, CEO of Moreover, an Anglo-U.S. firm that's been deploying RSS for corporate clients for over five years. As evidence, Pitkow points to the fact that Yahoo.com, which assembles much of its news content into RSS feeds, attracted more visitors in July 2004 than CNN and MSNBC, the two largest online news brands in the U.S. Traditional media firms that have migrated to RSS are more circumspect. "We are embracing RSS, but we don't know yet if it makes people come to our site more or less often," says Simon Waldman, director of digital publishing for Guardian Newspapers.
Though RSS has been around since the late 1990s, it has only recently gone mainstream as the popularity of blogging has surged. But RSS is not just for bloggers anymore. Big media players are paying attention, too. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Britain's Guardian and Daily Telegraph and, yes, TIME.com all now offer some content via RSS feed.