What if your company were making major changes to the way it communicates, but you never got the memo? Something like that is happening with RSS (Really Simple Syndication), a Web-based subscribe/publish protocol.
RSS has until recently been associated mostly with Web logs or blogs, a grassroots phenomenon of thousands of individuals publishing digital daily diaries. Using an application called an RSS reader or aggregator, anyone can subscribe to an RSS feed. When new content is available, it automatically downloads and displays in a window.
As it did with Web browsing, Microsoft came late to the RSS party. Without a third-party add-on, there is currently no way users can subscribe to RSS feeds in Microsoft's Outlook or Internet Explorer.
But that may be changing. Microsoft has just launched seven official RSS publications of its own, including feeds on .Net Framework, Visual Basic .Net, Visual C# .Net, Visual C++ .Net, Visual Studio .Net, and XML Web services. A seventh feed is called "Recently Published on All of MSDN" (Microsoft Developer Network). You can subscribe to these feeds at the site of Tim Ewald, an MSDN developer at www.gotdotnet.com/team/tewald/#nn2003-04-01T06:03:44Z.
I believe this is just the beginning of a tectonic shift that your organization must plan for. Soon after Microsoft made its move, other corporations such as Cisco Systems and Fawcett Publishing started their own RSS-compatible streams.
Dave Winer, the coinventor of RSS, says he was happy to find out that Microsoft's new feeds don't use proprietary tricks. As a result, the Microsoft feeds are compatible with any RSS aggregator.
When aggregators become widespread, many b-to-c newsletters will switch to RSS and drop now highly unreliable e-mail. I wrote three months ago that ISPs such as Hotmail and Yahoo, trying to stop spam, shunt to a junk folder or simply delete 25 percent of newsletters requested by subscribers (see "More e-mail scandal," Jan. 6, page 22.)
The spam tsunami is forcing many e-mail recipients to build "whitelists," accepting messages without question only from approved senders. Interestingly, RSS subscriptions work exactly like whitelists. By design, spammers have no way to push their material into anyone's RSS reader.
How will you support end-users who want to receive RSS feeds? The numerous aggregators that have sprung up vary widely in their degree of enterprisewide manageability. Is any application that can handle RSS acceptable? Or do you need to establish corporate standards? Those are subjects I'll examine next week.