What is RSS? An analogy

Back in the summer of 2006, after I had just started blogging, Joe Thornley took me for lunch to chat about all things social media and communications related.

Over the rather injudicious choice of garlic-laden shrimp linguine (mine) and the rather better choice of pizza (his), Joe said something that really struck a chord.

He said that the release of IE7, and its built in RSS feed detector/reader would hasten the adoption and acceptance of social media – something that is, after all, built on the back of the principle of syndication. Really Simple Syndication.

Truth be told, I only had an inkling of what RSS was but this chat resolved me to find out. Thankfully, I had a little bit of time on my hands – I was waiting for my work permit for Fleishman-Hillard Canada to come through – and so I did my research. Unfortunately for anyone who’s spoken to me since, I found out way too much information and “learnt” RSS, rather than “understood” it.

So when I was asked “what is RSS?” in a presentation, I probably left the audience member more confused than before they asked me the question. That experience resolved me to think of a succinct, understandable analogy of my own that I could use to explain this very cool technology.

Here it is:

Your Web content is like water in a lake. Lots of people want it and you want them to have it. They want to drink it, swim in it and play water polo in it.

But, to get it, they need to visit the lake, fill their buckets and then go back to their homes to use it.

RSS enables your audience to create a stream from your lake(where the content is) to their home (where they need the content).

How does this analogy work for you? Would your mother/grandmother understand it? How about your boss or client?

And to continue the analogy to define RSS’s importance to the organization:

Why would you make people walk up hills or through forests to get to something you want them to use? And once they had made the effort to get to the lake, how would they feel if, there was nothing for them to drink?

From my perspective, if you care about people caring about your content, RSS is a must have.

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20 Responses to What is RSS? An analogy

  1. Very poetic of you Ed.

  2. [...] read Ed Lee’s post on What is RSS? A simple way of explaining the benefits of syndicating your [...]

  3. Like it, Ed. I’m not sure I’m even going to use it myself, I think I’ll just point people to this post instead.

  4. Hi Ed,

    Good analogy.

    Here’s another. RSS is like the self-addressed, postage-paid subscription forms that are inserted in magazines. Once you’ve filled one in, the magazine will be delivered directly to you and you’ll never have to make the trip to the local magazine store and search for your favourite magazine again.

  5. I think this is a great analogy, and quite poetic. In fact, I’ll probably steal it (with attribution, of course.)

  6. I think I will steal it WITHOUT attribution. ;-)

  7. Brendan says:

    This is pretty nice. I guess you would say, then that RSS is the plumbing that delivers the water to people instead of them going to the lake, right? I may use this, but I do think people might get confused – I can just imagining them saying “But what have lakes and water got to do with PR?”

    An analogy I’ve used that is reasonably close to RSS but closer to the ‘tech’ domain is that of other people who use feeds. Weatherman don’t go out to look at the weather – they’ll have a weather feed bringing the info to them. Traders don’t go from site to site looking for financial figures – they have feeds, maybe multiple feeds for news and financial markets. This often works. But in case it doesn’t, I’ll use the Lee Lake Gambit!

  8. [...] this link to read Ed’s full article about [...]

  9. [...] this link to read Ed’s full article about RSS. [...]

  10. Daryl Tay says:

    Agreed with you 100%! Sometimes I’m idly surfing and find a couple of blogs of interest, but if they don’t have RSS, I’m very unlikely to go back to check them out again.

  11. [...] What is RSS? An analogy « Blogging Me Blogging You (tags: 58ninety 58ninety-account 58ninety-tech rss subscription) [...]

  12. Agree with Donna. I will be stealing this. Not sure about the attribution (ok, I like you, I’ll attribute it to you).

    I recently saw Chris Anderson speak (he of Wired Magazine and The Long Tail fame) and he also had a brilliant way of putting. He says we used to have to go out and find stuff – news, sites, etc… RSS enables the Web to come to you.

    Same difference.
    ;)

  13. Ian Ross says:

    Hey Ed. I like the analogy. However I still struggle with the issue of ‘lots of people’ Who are they? Are they my target audience? Are they influencers or followers?
    I’ve spent a few hours searching the web for demographics on who is currently using RSS and find myself coming up empty . There is an old Yahoo/Ipsos Reid survey from 2004 that says 12% of web users are familiar with RSS, and 4% use it (among other interesting insights). But any idea who is using RSS in 2008?

  14. buckpost says:

    Ed,

    Another question – aside from explaining what RSS does – is what to do with it other than consume content. How can RSS be leveraged effectively from a marketing perspective?

  15. Ed Lee says:

    I’m really pleased that this analogy seems to have resonated with people.

    Brendan – I love your analogy. i think it’ll make a lot of sense to some of my colleagues who are more…analogue inclined!

    Ian – excellent question. I’m going to be trying to find some stats for everyone over the next few days.

    Mark – from where I’m sitting, RSS is, or will become, as important as email in a marketer’s arsenal. many of the things that email can do, RSS will be able to do – i hope! – and more. RSS seems to me, to be the ultimate opt-in tool and once a (potential) customer has opted-in, there are myriad things you can do to increase his/her engagement. this is completely in tandem with my belief that if if you’re in the marketing-as-promotion business, you’re in the content producing business. and RSS is just another channel for people to get your content.

    i think i’m going to have to think some more about this for a later post though!

    ed

  16. jvoth says:

    Thank you for this insightful analogy! I’m a senior in Public Relations and I’m in a class this term all about social media. We’ve heard about RSS and the concept is more clear with the analogy of the water and a stream.

    With the growing popularity of social media knowledge for a PR person, it is important to understand all of the technology behind it. Even though RSS stands for Really Simple, the concept can be hard to grasp because it’s an alternative to what Internet users are used to.

  17. [...] a great analogy for RSS, from Ed Lee (edited slightly): Your web content is like water in a lake. Lots of people want it and you want [...]

  18. [...] few Toronto PR bloggers – including Dave Fleet and Ed Lee - have recently posted some great plain language explanations to help me better understand RSS. [...]

  19. [...] What is RSS an analogy : Une analogie intéressante et divertissante du RSS délivrer par Ed Lee de Blogging Me Blogging you. [...]

  20. [...] Understanding Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is at the heart of social media. To that end, Internet communications specialistEd Lee has come up with an uncomplicated analogy to help you better grasp this elusive technology. [...]

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