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Personalized Feeds (or more on Open APIs)

October 5th, 2007 by Jacob Ukelson

 I just read an interesting study on the problems with existing news RSS feeds from the University of Maryland’s International Center for Media and Public Relations. I think it is a great example of how user’s can’t depend on the organization that creates the content to provide access to the content in the form or format most useful for them, and why the ability for users to create their own feeds is so valuable. To quote from the study:

“This study found that depending on what users want from a website, they may be very disappointed with that website’s RSS.  Many news consumers go online in the morning to check what happened in the world overnight—who just died, who’s just been indicted, who’s just been elected, how many have been killed in the latest war zone.  And for many of those consumers the quick top five news stories aggregated by Google or Yahoo! are all they want.  But later in the day some of those very same consumers will need to access more and different news for use in their work—they might be tracking news from a region or tracking news on a particular issue.

It is for that latter group of consumers that this RSS study will be most useful.  Essentially, the conclusion of the study is that if a user wants specific news on any subject from any of the 19 news outlets the research team looked at, he or she must still track the news down website by website.”

Bottom line, as long as we depend on publishers as both content providers and access providers we as consumers of content won’t be able to get what we need in the way we need it - just like with APIs.  The only way to solve the problem is to allow users or some unaffiliated community to create the access to content (or API), as opposed to limiting that ability to only the publisher.  As web 2.0 paradigms catch on with the masses, turning more and more of us to prosumers, this will become more and more of an issue.  Publishers that try to control access will lose out to those that provide users the to tailor the content to their own needs. Publishers need to understand that this benefits both them and the users.

I see signs that this is actually starting to happen (in a small way) with the NYTimes and WSJ both announcing personal portals for thier users. The jump to personalized feeds isn’t that unthinkable…

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