Communications Enterprise 2.0

Kick my RSS – How to make Enterprise 2.0 RSS work

newspaper_feed_256x256The RSS debate – enterprise disruptor?

I’ve just been dragged into the RSS debate. However, I must admit when I saw Marshall Kirkpatrick’s ReadWriteWeb (RWW) had written a lamentation on the death of corporate RSS R.I.P Enterprise RSS, that I simply didn’t bother reading it. However, a ‘Tweep’ from Dave Winer prompted me to read this post: Incredibly RSS is dead! Here, Phil Jones reckons RSS is a no-no not in my backyard technology for the enterprise:

We *imagined* that social-software would burst the enterprise. Instead, the enterprise resolutely rejects it. No senior manager (who has a certain amount of “between-ness centrality”) wants to legitimize the automated software streams that would route around him (or her), bypass the company’s official PR outputs, bypass the company’s official sales department’s inputs.

There’s a certain resonance with reality there, but I don’t buy the whole argument. RSS may have limited rollout in the enterprise, but I don’t think we can dismiss the whole bag of social media so easily. Yes for sure there are as Phil appears to know only too well, those who fear and loath the power of social media and its ability to transcend the normal corporate boundaries. What this misses is that the desire to control and batten down communications is a trait that can impact all communications and to my mind it’s a negative one. What such control can’t do is stop all communications and whilst many might fear the power of a blog to support an employee’s communications, they should equally fear the power of a one-to-one phone call. Or, put another way, social media create new channels but anyone can still send out a career-limiting e-mail…

I come to praise RSS, not to bury it

So back to our friend the feed that is RSS, why are RWW saying it’s no more? The quick answer is they’re not:

We love RSS and this makes us really sad. If much of the rest of the world wants to ignore this technology, though, it’s their loss. It’s our bread and butter. Neglecting RSS at work seems to us like pure insanity.

But they say, but, against all odds it hasn’t taken off. And this is completely against all logic, in fact given the competitive advantage RSS provides RWW think it’s nuts.

Any company that steps up to make serious strategic use of such software should be at an immediate advantage in terms of early and efficient access to information.

Marshall cites Forrester’s Oliver Young, who having wrongly predicted that 2008 would be the year of RSS, largely agrees and wonders if something has gone fundamentally wrong here. What has gone wrong though they ask – maybe it’s duff technology, maybe it’s too difficult, maybe it’s a fear of acronyms. I’m not convinced on the latter, acronyms go awol given a bit of tlc or even gbh.

High Stakes

The stakes are high here, massive competitive advantage and the chance of pundits like me getting rich quick here as Neville Hobson acknowledges:

What would make RSS grab attention within the enterprise? Heh, if I knew the exact answer, I’d be sitting back and picking up those royalties!

Well, I sure could do with some royalties, in fact as of today I could do with some regular income, but in the spirit of openness (if not humility) I’ll share what I think is going wrong here.

The acronym could easily be replaced, as e-mail did with SMTP, and I prefer the term ‘feeds’ or even ”webfeeds’. There is also the problem of explaining what RSS does and Neville describes well the penny-dropping moment when the advantage of RSS is understood:

You can see people getting their ‘light bulb moments’ when you illustrate the simple example of getting content from their ten favourite websites automatically delivered to them rather than having to visit those ten sites individually to see if there’s anything new.

What’s really gone wrong

So why oh why not use it? Is it the technology, there seems to be some large agreement that the RSS vendors haven’t quite got it right yet. I’ve tried both Attensa and Newsgator and both a OK, but neither really integrates into the electric working patterns of the average office bod. For sure Attensa has an Outlook plug-in but I don’t want RSS in Outlook, even if it’s in its own folder. And what I don’t want is a separate application, nor really do I want it in a web page though there are some very nice reasons for being able to make an enterprise Netvibes type thang, which I’ll talk about in a future post.

I don’t want these things and I know that a lot of other people in the enterprise don’t want them as I’ve actually gone out and talked to people about it and surveyed them. The feedback was a lot of confusion with some – ‘RSS what?’ etc but also, equally a lot of people asking why there wasn’t more use of RSS. This was despite the fact that I’d made sure that in my sphere of influence, almost every single web based news channel had RSS feeds available as standard. RSS was ubiquitous and it was still only being used by a small %. So some hadn’t a clue, others wanted more, but it still didn’t connect up.

And this to me is where the enterprise class readers and aggregators fall down – they don’t connect. For sure they might connect up backoffice, Attensa certainly does with Active Directory and auto-subscription and more metrics than you can shake a dirty stick at. What they don’t connect up with though is working patterns. RSS becomes another application to open up and use, it’s somewhere else to have to look to find information.

How to fix it

So what the vendors need to do is synch up the RSS readers with how people want to work. Attensa goes the right way with the Outlook plugin but it’s with the wrong app, it should be with the browser. I’ve written about this before Flock vs Chrome RSS and sung the praises of Flock’s built in RSS reader but not thought about it in enterprise terms.

The fact that Flock integrates RSS into the browser means it becomes part of the browser experience. The feeds I subscribe to become dynamic automatic bookmarks in my browser. This I like, it’s not another app to learn and I can use the Flock reader as a base while jumping from page to page (something that is lost in a pure web page experience.

Some may differ about Flock or prefer another way of reading their RSS, but I stand by the fact that what’s needed is a way of integrating RSS into working practices. Until that happens it won’t take off – it will be another chore rather than a helper. When RSS does become a true boon, the results will be immediate and of immediate benefit.