What’s the big deal with Yahoo and RSS?

As TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington was one of the first to report, Yahoo is integrating RSS feeds into its new Ajax-powered Yahoo Mail (which is based in large part on Oddpost, the webmail company Yahoo acquired last year) and into its My Yahoo news and email alerts. There’s no question that this is a good thing — the more traction RSS gets, the better it will work. And as Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web points out, the fact that Yahoo is doing it across its various offerings is a way of “bringing RSS to the masses.”

But is it a good way? Maybe so. Some people sure seem to like the idea, including Charlene Li of Forrester Research, who says it’s just what she’s been waiting for. Even the often grumpy Dave Winer says that Yahoo has “hit a home run.” Michael Parekh seems to like the move as well, although Steve Rubel of Micropersuasion says it still has a few kinks that need to be worked out. Scott Gatz really likes it a lot, but then he works for Yahoo.

I must admit that I’m a little non-plussed by all the cheering (as is Paul Kedrosky)– and it’s not just because I didn’t get an invite to Yahoo’s beta test. Yes, it’s good to have RSS spread far and wide, but it’s not like Yahoo just drank the Kool-Aid on that subject — RSS feeds have been available as part of My Yahoo for at least a year or so, and all the company has really done is incorporate what Oddpost had into its new email service. It doesn’t even have any really cool features as far as I can see. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t feel any particular need to have RSS incorporated into my email — I’d rather use a standlone Web-based reader like Bloglines.com or netvibes.com.

Update:

Russell Beattie is a little over-excited about the whole thing — “insanely excited” is how he puts it — but I must admit he has a point when he says the most interesting thing about the announcement is the part that no one paid much attention to (including me), which is RSS alerts via SMS. News alerts from any blog or RSS feed to your phone, in other words. Now that has potential — and not just for RSS feed spam.

Online classifieds become a battleground

Online-classified service Craigslist.com is extremely popular, with close to 9 million unique visitors in September according to some estimates. So how much is it worth? (figuring out how much various Web services are worth seems to have become a new sport).

Based on Om Malik’s rough rule of thumb from recent deals for companies such as MySpace.com and Weblogs Inc., which he said produced an average value of $38 (U.S.) per unique monthly visitor, Craigslist would be worth about $330-million (by way of comparison, that’s about 16.5 times the company’s revenue, which is higher than the range that Jason Calacanis thinks is reasonable for an online property, but a lot less than the almost 70 times revenue eBay agreed to pay for Skype, based on the $4.1-billion price tag).

The value of Craigslist might be about to go down, however, as the online classified game heats up. There’s Google Base, for example, which admittedly is rather confusing to use and therefore perhaps less of a threat (or more, depending on who you believe). And then there’s a little company whose name begins with “Micro” and ends in “soft.” The behemoth from Redmond is rumoured to be launching a new online-classified style service codenamed “Fremont,” according to various sources, including TechCrunch.

Ask Google for a diagnosis

Plenty has been written — both pro and con — about using Google as a source of medical information. People with rare diseases or those who have been ignored by the medical system have found it useful as a way of dealing with their symptoms and of finding others with the same disease. Doctors, meanwhile, find that they get bombarded by inane questions from hypochondriacs who use the Web to convince themselves they have some life-threatening disorder, and others warn that people who turn to the internet for help can often wind up with inaccurate information.

Venture capitalist and polymath Paul Kedrosky, however, points us to another emerging phenomenon — doctors and other health-care professionals using Google to help make a difficult diagnosis. He links to a letter from the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, in which the author describes how a medical researcher typed a list of symptoms and descriptions from a biopsy report — on a child with a skin ailment — into Google and arrived at the correct diagnosis, which was then confirmed by DNA testing. It’s true that the Web is filled with a lot of mis-information, hoaxes and hype — but the right answer is often in there too somewhere.

Can TiVo change its stripes?

Personal video recorder company TiVo Inc. said Monday that it plans to roll out a new feature that will allow users to choose certain commercials, based on keywords, and then have them inserted into TV shows that they have recorded with their TiVo (Dave Zatz has a description of how this would work, taken from a patent application by TiVo).

That might sound a little odd considering one of the main benefits of having a TiVo is that you can fast-forward through the commercials, but it’s obvious that the PVR company is trying to find new revenue sources and is willing to consider just about anything. This new feature sounds a lot like an attempt to create a kind of Google AdWords model, but with TV instead of the Internet.

Is that even possible? Carl Howe, a former Forrester Research consultant, says he thinks it is “a brilliant idea,” — the Googlization of TiVo, he calls it (he goes even further to say that he sees Google buying TiVo because of the information it will be able to collect based on its new advertising model). Others disagree.

Om Malik, for example, notes that paying users of TiVo — who are already paying for something that others can get for virtually nothing through the PVR offered by their cable company — might be less than enamoured with the new service. AdWords works for Google because its main service is not only free, but is so useful that people don’t mind having ads served to them, not to mention the fact that the act of searching is more closely aligned with targeted ads than, say, the act of watching CSI:Miami.

Stephen Baker of BusinessWeek is also skeptical, as is Cynthia Brumfield from IPDemocracy. And I would have to say I am too — TiVo’s move seems more like a Hail Mary pass by a struggling company than anything else.

Flickr vs. Webshots

Thomas Hawk, a Flickr fan who writes a technology blog at thomashawk.com, recently linked to an interesting post by Norwegian engineer and blogger Eirik Solheim, who compared Flickr — the former Vancouver-based photo site that is now part of the Yahoo empire — with Webshots, a photo site that is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

A chart mapping the traffic patterns from both sites (courtesy of Alexa.com) is quite instructive, in that Webshots has been going steadily downward in terms of “daily reach” while Flickr has been going steadily upwards. Flickr is about to pass Webshots, and the site hasn’t even been in existence for two years.

As both Thomas and Eirik note, this is likely because Flickr is a much better example of a “Web 2.0” service. In other words, it does a better job of taking advantage of the interactive Web. It is easy to use, it has a simple interface with not a lot of cluttered advertising, and it emphasizes community through the use of tags, groups, comments, contacts and so on — not to mention RSS feeds for everything and an open API. A lesson to be learned, and not just for photo sites.

Update:

Narendra Rocherolle, one of the founders of Webshots, has taken issue with the Web 2.0-style comparison between that company and Flickr for a number of reasons, including the fact that he says Photobucket is also growing just as quickly as Flickr and is not a Web 2.0 company. Leaving aside the “what is Web 2.0” question, I would argue that Photobucket is growing because it also encourages sharing (or distributing), just in a different way than Flickr — and both do so in ways that Webshots doesn’t. That is the important point, I think.

Update 2:

A story from Associated Press makes a similar point about Mapquest, although you have to read between the lines. Mapquest is the most popular map site, but is facing increasing competition from Google — in part because of features such as satellite images (which Mapquest used to have, but got rid of because it didn’t think they were useful) but also because it doesn’t have an open API. That means if you want to do “mash-ups” like beerhunter.ca you have to use Google, and I would argue that is a crucial difference — not just in useability, but in the way the two companies are structured — and that in turn ultimately affects how attractive the service is.