(cross posting from Mike Riversdale: Enterprise 2.0 New Zealand style blog)

A massive 92% of Kiwi’s have no idea how (or choose not) use the RSS technology as reported by Russell Brown* Why is that?

(If you’re unfamiliar with the term RSS check out the excellent RSS in Plain English video)

I commented on the NZ State Services Commission blog where Jo reminded me of this amazingly high statistic:

I know, 92% have no idea … and whilst I still a little unbelieving at how high that seems from my experience introducing this “stuff” into organisations I am no longer stunned by it.

Mind you, the “young ‘uns” might not be able to tell you what RSS is but they probably use it in Facebook and the like. Maybe it’s a technology that (like TCP/IP) doesn’t need to be known but just works.

Having said that. I bet close to 90% wouldn’t know what “reader”, “subscribe” or the wee orange logo are referring to. Good thing is, hardly anyone hates it when they discover it … all growth ahead!

The clients I work with are generally not bleeding edge but they are slightly more forward thinking than a lot – as it should be, otherwise why engage with me. They have heard of Wikipedia, they do know something about blogs and they have most certainly looked at Facebook and have some understanding about the ‘social graph’.

When I initially engage with clients I try and gauge where they are on the continuum with one method being to throw the acronym “RSS” at them. Having performed this a few times now I am no longer surprised by the “92%” reported – New Zealand business are still driven by three main applications:

  • Email + Calendar
  • Word / number processing
  • “business specific apps”

(note – I tend to work within “knowledge based” organisations industry’s)

And so it seems that within New Zealand 2007 wasn’t the year of RSS take-up.

But why is that? Especially because, as I said, I work within “knowledge based” industrys and therefore one would expect a higher percentage of workers to have (their chosen) information coming to them and not have to re-invent the wheel all the time by re-doing Google searches.

Before I outline my thoughts on the New Zealand situation you should know that I don’t actually think “RSS” are three letters real people ever care about (as I mentioned in the SSC comment). RSS is a technology, it is geek and it’s not of the real world. However, the ability to “subscribe” is part of Joe Blogs’ world, the ability to “receive updates” is, the ability ‘track changes” is …

… forget the annoying acronym.

What’s important is what you can do with RSS.

source: Surprising RSS usage stats: 50 million-plus users don’t know what RSS is – Debbie Weil, Feb 2006

The “92% of New Zealanders don’t use RSS” may also reflect a version of what Yahoo! discovered in October 2005 (pdf | Google html version):

The real story, however, is the much larger population of “Unaware RSS users” who
consume RSS syndicated content on personalized start pages (e.g., My Yahoo!, My
MSN). 27% of online users consume third-party content on these pages without knowing that RSS is the enabling technology.

My thoughts on the New Zealand situation (in no particular order).

1: Home broadband and wider WiFi is still uncommon
Huh? What has this to do with RSS Mike?

If you do not have a permanent and pervasive connection to the Internet then the behaviour is to “pop in and get out”. This can lead to using the Internet as one would use a research library – have a specific need to be satisfied, get in, get the answer and get out. If one was to visit such a library and they were to offer a radio that would broadcast a special station answering just your queries you’d probably look at them strangely and ask how they knew what to broadcast exactly when you needed.

With a pervasive connection however there is no “popping in” – you are surrounded by the library and would quickly start to appreciate the ability to tune your own radio to the station broadcasting only the sorts of information you want.

RSS is your radio station with the sort of content you want.

2: Organisations are surrounded by impenetrable walls
The majority of New Zealand organisations still operate within the “inside/outside” world view.
There is “inside” the organisation and there is everyone else “outside”. All the information that I need to do my job should exist inside the organisation … and for company specific info it probably does. But it’s the “all” part of the sentence – a large majority of the work we all done has already been done somewhere else and has been shared either by individuals or by those company’s that have a far more permeable wall around their information.

With the information to do my job exists within the wall why subscribe to RSS feeds outside of it – that’s just playing on the bosses time, surely!!?

3: Client software isn’t widely installed
Most people go to work, fire up the PC given to them and there’s nothing on there that would have a clue about RSS. Without the technology to read the feeds there’s no point in teasing people with Utopian views of never having to send emails again and all the information you’ll ever want will come to you just in time.

But then why bother installing software if there are no feeds to subscribe to …

4: Organisations aren’t feeding their staff
Ok, 3 and 4 go hand-in-hand.
As organisations slowly move towards both an Enterprise 2.0** approach (to “knowledge work) and updates company specific applications the amount of information will increase as will the ability to subscribe.

The challenge will then be how to staff know the feeds available to them AND how easy will it be for the staff to subscribe?

A case in hand – Microsoft’s Sharepoint 2007 (MOSS) is an excellent source of RSS feeds and nearly everything can be subscribed to (top work!). However the feeds are generally hidden away on menus AND getting RSS feeds into readers is left entirely in the hands of the user with no Feedburner approach to choosing the reader.

5: Myths and downright lies
Some I have heard from IT staff, users and the like:

  • RSS feeds are huge and will kill our network
  • You can only have one feed at a time
  • Subscribing to feeds outside of the workplace isn’t technically possible
    (the IT Department was horrified to learn this as they were actually advocating RSS over using the InBox)
  • RSS history will overload our storage capacity
  • You have to use a web based reader as RSS is all about web sites
  • Reading RSS is just playing

I think the final comment comes from a deeper, “The Web eh, it’s just a hobby, surely” which I touched upon in my Webstock presentation.

And so, in summary – RSS is a technology that, like “HTML”, real people won’t ever care about. Once the way of “being on the Internet” becomes more comfortable for staff and organisations RSS will be supported, made available and used – this is happening but slower than other parts of the world.

* part of Russell’s Webstock 08 talk and reporting from the ??? report.
** Enterprise 2.0 is the application of the Web 2.0 technology and mindset within an organisation. – more …

Mike Riversdale

I (Mike Riversdale, aka Miramar Mike) have worked all my professional life alongside users of information with my work with software vendors (Business Objects, Sydney), New Zealand government agencies (Department of Corrections, Ministry of Health, Christchurch City Council), charitable organisations (skylight) and private/public companies (Fronde, Etam). My focus is always on the real users and their information demands - I have been called the "people's poet"! Working for Fronde and as an independent consultant my role is to introduce the concepts, educate around the challenges and ultimately help deliver available, findable and useful information to those that need it. I am experienced in the full gamut of Enterprise 2.0 tools and, despite a leaning towards open source, I am totally vendor independent - whatever works for the client!

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