This week’s interview is with Google’s Dick Costolo. We discussed RSS Feeds, the way they are being used, and how monetization of feeds will evolve in the future. Please feel free to comment on the interview below.
Recently I put a podcast together with Pheedo’s Bill Flitter. Bill is the CEO of Pheedo and shared his insights on how RSS is being used, and also provides advice on promotion of your feed. Once you are done reading or listening, you can comment on the podcast below.
One of the questions you see swirling about the forums and blogs these days is whether or not you should Noindex your RSS feeds to avoid duplicate content problems. The source of the problem is that RSS feeds are being crawled by the search engines. In addition, many people are now recommending that you include the entire content of your articles directly in your feed. You can read more about this in my recent interview of Rick Klau of FeedBurner.
So if the search engine sees the content on your site, and also sees it in your feed, will that being seen as duplicate content? There certainly have been instances of finding RSS feeds in the search results of the search engines. For those of you worried about this possibility, you can see Yahoo’s spec for Noindexing RSS feeds here. My understanding is that both Google and Yahoo! will honor this Noindex request of your feed.
But let’s step back, and think about how search engines try to deal with duplicate content. They are always trying to figure out who the authoritative source of the content is. It should be pretty obvious to the search engine when it’s crawling an RSS feed, and it should also be relatively obvious that the RSS feed for a site’s content is not the authoritative search.
Rick points out, as I did above, that it’s really obvious to a search engine when it is crawling a feed, and that feeds are not the authoritative source of content. In addition, providing a feed often helps a search engine more rapidly find new content on your site.
Adam Lasnik commented that during his time at Google that he had not hard of any instances of a site being negatively affected by a duplicate content issue with an RSS feed.
Based on this input, I would conclude that there is extremely little risk in letting your feed get indexed. After I first learned about the issue, I did move forward and Noindex our feeds here at STC. But then, after the conversations with Rick and Adam, we became convinced that it’s just not a problem, and this is the recommendation we make to our clients as well.
One of the things that I have not been paying enough attention to is the upcoming release of Internet Explorer 7. This is one of the good things about SES. It helps me get a broader picture of things than I tend to get in my day to day work. While there, I got a better understanding of one of the key features of this upcoming browser update from Microsoft. You can get the feature review of IE 7 here.
That is, RSS auto-discovery. RSS has been historically the domain of advanced users for a variety of reasons. For one, most users have no idea what it is. Two, they don’t know where to look for it. And three, when they open an RSS file and see XML, they assume that they are looking at a broken page. That’s a lot of big obstacles to adoption.
IE 7 includes improvements that address these problems. For one, RSS feed links are going to made much more obvious to users, so they do not need to know what RSS is. And when a user looks at an RSS file, they will no longer see XML, they will see a rendered page. This does appear to attack many of these problems head on.
This was discussed in detail in the SEM Via Communities, Wikipedia & Tagging session at SES. This session had Rick Klau of FeedBurner, Stephan Spencer of Netconcepts, LLC, and Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit.
The panel seemed to feel that IE 7 could cause a big leap in RSS consumption. I agree with them, and think that it will in fact cause a significant step up in usage. However, I also think it will be a while before the average user fully appreciates the advantages of subscribing to content.
The premise of subscribing to content is an excellent one, and I for one am in to it. The idea is that there is way too much stuff available on the web to try and read everything out there. So you want to pick off the sources you trust most, and you want to be notified when those sources have new stuff for you to read.
Much like the newspaper being delivered to your doorstep, RSS allows the content you have selected to be delivered to your browser, with all your trusted sources of content aggregated together. Unlike newspapers, you get to select the sources of information you trust most. Very cool. As a side note, even though very few people have picked up on it, this is what the subscribed links portion of the Google Co-Op program is all about.
But I suspect that the concept of subscribing to content will take some time to become mass market. There are a lot of users who do not yet have 10 sites they like to check on every day. For those of us in the business, it is real, and it’s compelling. And it wil become a part of nearly everyone’s daily routine in time, but this could still be 10 years down the road.
For the record, we advise our clients to get on board with RSS now. Locking in long term relationships with your customers who are into the model sure seems like a good idea.