February 14, 2005

No money in RSS?  

Friday Venkat linked to an interesting post by Jason Calcanis about the Bloglines sale last week, in which he basically dismisses the whole web-based RSS approach to content aggregation because there's no money in it. For him the main problems seems to be that 1) this technology is already everywhere and 2) ads on these aggregation sites are a form of content exploitation.

My own thoughts on this differ some. Web-based and even desktop-based RSS readers are really about choice -- they provide faster access to content, but they also require you to go out and find which content you want aggregated. And yet RSS technology is really just a protocol for transferring information; who ever said the end user has to be involved? What if, for example, a site aggregated content from many different blogs and then presented these to you in the form of a feed or a website? If these blogs were clustered content-wise, this might be of value, both to readers and to advertisers.

Which gets to another question: why is it that bloggers don't get the respect afforded to other kinds of published writers? Obviously there are large tracts of the blogosphere that may not be of interest to anybody, much less worthy of publication. And yet there are other blogs which are actually generating ad-income of their own. When will someone come up with a business model for aggregation that actually pays bloggers for their work? It wouldn't have to be much, but even a small cut of that advertising revenue would probably entice a lot of folks. Witness the number of people who are willing to mar their blogs with flashing banner ads, for what would seem to be small compensation. It might seem like a logistical nightmare to compensate bloggers on a collective site, but there are electronic mechnisms for this like PayPal that drive the administative costs toward zero. And writers don't even have to pay self employment tax on income less than $400 per year.

Anyway, I think Jason Calcanis may be right about Bloglines's business model, but that doesn't mean that RSS technology doesn't have profitable or novel applications -- certainly there are things that we have yet to see here.


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