Branded RSS readers or IE 7?

Newsweek has announced a branded version of NewsGator’s RSS feed reader that is designed to make it easier for readers to sign up for and read RSS feeds — including, of course, those from Newsweek itself, which come pre-loaded in the reader. NewsGator is pushing this kind of thing as part of its “private label hosted solution,” a kind of micro-publishing system for “old” media like Newsweek and SFGate, the online arm of the San Francisco Chronicle. There are others out there too, like the downloadable reader application The Guardian has developed, called Newspoint.

While the NewsGator reader seems like a smart move for Newsweek, it’s not clear to me that a branded reader is the way for most people to go. For one thing, as Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 points out, the version being offered by Newsweek isn’t all that easy for “newbies” to wrap their heads around. Sure, you can read Newsweek feeds, but it doesn’t make it easy to find or add new ones (The Guardian’s app comes with a directory that includes a lot of popular newspaper and media feeds). I know Steve Rubel likes the idea of branded newreaders, but to me that makes it seem even more like a naked attempt by Newsweek to piggyback on the buzz around RSS and get people to read its feeds, without really helping them get any further ahead in terms of understanding how to get anything else.

That’s why — much as I hate to suggest it — Internet Exploder 7.0 might be one of the best ways for RSS newbies to get involved in it. It finds feeds and makes it easy to add them, and then you can see them in a sidebar and read them that way. Scott and some others said when IE7 first came out that the RSS implementation is lame because it isn’t that different from old-fashioned bookmarks, but in a way that’what part that makes it easier for people to get their arms around it, conceptually speaking. Before all you Firefox fans flame me, I know the Fox can do the same thing, but the reality is that most people still use IE and will for the foreseeable future.

Whatever people use, it’s important to find ways of making RSS easier for people other than geeks, or the real advantages of it as a micro-publishing format won’t be achieved. A friend of mine shared with me recently an email from a senior executive from a major retailer asking what RSS was, and why people were suggesting that his company should have some feeds — and even after my friend described what it was for, and how it could help his customers, he still didn’t get it.

In other words, there’s is still much work to be done. Cynthia Brumfield of IPDemocracy has some thoughts too.

Google changes the RSS landscape

One reason why people pay so much attention to what Google does is that it can change the landscape with a single move. Take the whole RSS feed-syndication thing, which — despite the relative popularity of Bloglines.com and NewsGator.com and their ilk — is still in its infancy as far as the bulk of Web users are concerned. That’s why things like Yahoo adding RSS support to its email app (much as I dislike having feeds in my mail) make a difference.

Now, the ever-diligent Niall Kennedy has managed to reverse-engineer the API (application programming interface) that Google uses in its Reader application, which sparked the interest of a couple of Google staffers — who said the company is close to releasing its API for public use. (Paul Kedrosky says the API announcement is also a way for Google to deke around criticism of its reader).

I’m not a programmer, but I think this could change things dramatically. For one thing, it could make it even easier for a few smart people to come up with easy-to-use feed readers — apps that are light-years ahead of Google’s own reader, which I happen to think is lame. As Niall has pointed out, Google has already made it relatively easy to come up with an Atom feed for your blog of choice, since Google’s app takes whatever feed it is given and converts it to Atom.

As more than one person has pointed out, RSS (or Atom) is plumbing — hopefully Google’s move will make it easier for people to just use the facilities instead of worrying about what format the equipment is based on. Phil Wainwright says he expects that RSS readers as we know them will eventually disappear (or be absorbed). So maybe Scoble is too late in his attempt to get Microsoft to buy NewsGator.