IT needs to get on board with RSS

I often like to say that the goal of an IT department is to stay off the obituaries page and every so often try and get in the headlines. RSS is exactly the technology IT needs to make some headlines, and now is a great time to start using it.

By now you've heard of RSS, or Really Simple Syndication which can change the way business users aggregate and read information from the Web and give companies a new way to deliver their messages directly to customers.

The use of RSS by most companies is nascent at best (and that's why now's a great time to get on board). Most IT shops are giving little thought to what RSS means to their mainstream customers and instead are targeting only sophisticated users. This is a mistake, because RSS is a technology with mainstream appeal, not something only for the enthusiasts.

RSS is, of course, all about syndication, and that means there's all sorts of content that you can send to users. While most RSS users started out by subscribing to Weblogs and later added news content, RSS need not be limited to these types of applications. Think out of the box and take advantage of the flexibility of the format. With support for secure protocols, customers can gain access to all sorts of information that's relevant to them via RSS. Whether that's the Sunday circular with links back to a Web site for purchase, a record of financial transactions in real time or lists of travel specials, RSS opens up a whole new world for maintaining a dialogue with your customers.

But IT can't just put the technology out there without articulating the potential benefits to users and explaining some of its confusing aspects. Although browsers and other tools are becoming more RSS-aware there are still plenty of ways for users to be confused. Among them are the very different RSS subscription buttons on sites. Make recommendations that point users to browsers or online services that will let them subscribe to feeds, and walk them through the process.

Like the Web itself, RSS is a sea change in online technology. The simple nature of the format, combined with the overall benefit to end users, is something every IT shop needs to point out to its internal customers.

Michael Gartenberg is vice president and research director for the personal technology & access and custom research groups at JupiterResearch.

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