Over the course of a decade, we have changed how we consume news and journalism. Articles like Mashable’s update on Google Reader highlights how our information consumption has taken on a tone of immediacy and documented social interaction. In light of that – it surprises me that major news organizations missed the boat on both RSS Feed Readers and Aggregation site.
If we consider the position that “news” and “opinion” are the content that readers are consuming, and that the physical newspaper or the television broadcast is just the channel to the consumer, then it’s an easy step to realize that if customers want to switch to another distribution channel, then the product manufacturer should support that.
For example, no one says “I buy Warner CD’s” – rather they buy specific artists, regardless of who is distributing the content. There is no loyalty to the channel itself.
Aggregation sites like AllTop, Digg and DailyPerfect aren’t manufacturers of content – rather they have simply re-mix and re-factor the content others create. Thus, they should be treated as just another distribution channel, ones that should have been bought by newspapers long ago.
If you use an RSS reader for your news reading, imagine how different your consumption patterns would be, if you were using an RSS reader that was owned and developed by the New York Times? For me, the NYT would understand from my OPML file that I am interested in Technology, Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation, the NYT could use this to present me with contextual advertising, and could feed that profile information into their own research, to learn how to mould their paper to better meet my tastes. Multiply that by the many people using the same RSS reader, and the NYT would once again own a large number of viewing eyeballs, and would be able to sell/market/pitch other services to me. As it is now, though, my eyeballs are owned by NewsGator.
Aggregator sites have become critical to the news consumption process. Rather than relying on editorial staff and layout artists to dictate what news is more important, we are using semantic technologies and ranking algorithms to let the juiciest tidbits float to the surface. Why Digg or Alltop haven’t been bought by someone like the Washington Post Company boggles my mind. These tools would allow them to simplify their own internet infrastructures (rather than constantly modifying/tweaking their UX, they could let the crowd tell them what is interesting and let that come to the front cover).
Furthermore, by owning the aggregator and feed reader experience, they could own the user’s experience of content that belonged to their competitors. This would give them unparalleled market research and would grant them the opportunity to do things like advertise for their paper, even though the user is reading an article sourced from a competitor’s paper.
Although both the RSS and News Aggregator spaces are busy – News organizations have a significant advantage: advertising. I hear they have a lot of empty advertising space, so it would be a great time to pick up a couple of the afore mentioned web properties (acquiring a great user base) and then leverage their advertising assets to pull more of the early and late majority of consumers into the RSS Reader space.
This strategy won’t lead to more newspaper sales, but it will lead to more advertising and affiliate marketing opportunities, which would translate directly into enhanced cash flow for the newspapers.
So yes – RSS Readers and News Aggregators are 2 great missed opportunities, but perhaps it’s not too late to seize them?