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Re: [Asrg] 6. Proposals - depracate all list/bulk mailing and changeto RSS

2003-12-01 07:55:36
At 12:11 PM -0800 11/30/03, Bill Pease wrote:
 >Email is being abused as a broadcast medium.  By deprecating all mass
mailings, and going RSS (i.e. pull feeds), we will cut the rug out from
under the feet of so-called "legitimate bulk e-mailers".  Such a thing
will no longer exist by definition.  They will stick out like sore
thumbs.  Legitimate communities of interest can use RSS or internal
usenet feeds or web-bords or whatever.

To recommend that "legitimate communities of interest" abandon their current communication practices and switch to a distribution mechanism that has virtually no market penetration seems as extreme to me as attempting to redesign SMTP from the ground up to cure the spam problem.

RSS feeds have a long way to go before legitimate email publishers (such as all of my company's clients - member-based organizations like AFL-CIO, Public Broadcasting System, American Red Cross - would be willing to abandon push email for pull news aggregators.

I guess we each see things from our own perspectives. I see the BBC, the Guardian, most tech news operations, and nearly ever 'blogger' on the planet using RSS and marketers moving to it as a means of escaping the problems of email.

It should be noted for readers that you are coming at this from the perspective of a company which sends unsolicited bulk email for profit and goes so far as to maintain a fraudulent .org domain registration in support of that endeavor.

In summary:

Audience Reach Limits:
*RSS readers have very limited market penetration (<5%), requiring installation of additional software into email client, browser or desktop

That is remarkably like the 1993 argument for remaining with Gopher. HTTP/HTML client penetration was lousy.

Feature Limits:
*Limited to no support for graphically-enhanced content
*Limited support for variety of content types typical in newsletter publishing

These apply to email far more, and for both media are client-bound. One way in which RSS is an improvement in this area is that an increasing number of organizations are starting to treat email with 'rich' content as spam, and simply dropping it at the mail server. RSS clients are just specialized HTTP clients, so that sort of risk is essentially zero. The issue of aggregators not directly supporting rich content is more complex -- see below.

*No support for content customization or personalization based on subscriber attributes

False. It has to be worked a different way than with email but customized RSS is no harder than customized HTML. You have to think of it as a web application, not a mail-merge project.

*Limited support for tracking subscriber interaction with content

That is more limited with email than most people in your business care to admit. Tracking anything other than whether a user intentionally follows an URL in email was never very reliable and is persistently becoming less so, to the point where the claims of some people in the email marketing business regarding things like 'web bugs' is now bordering on fraudulent.

*No support for various transactions that can be enabled within email (e.g., donation, viral marketing).

It seems that you have missed out on how RSS clients get used and on what an RSS feed actually is. They are typically not total replacements for web clients and the full web-based versions of content, but rather a way for users to see an overview of a publisher's current content with every item having a link to the full content. Anything that you can do on a website can be syndicated (i.e. *ADVERTISED* to people who have affirmatively chosen to see your ads) with RSS.

It is true that today there is not enough market penetration of decent clients to flip a switch and move every mailing list of every flavor to RSS, and that the way clients currently exist for the most part is a hindrance, but it is pretty clear that this is a short-term issue. There are already developers hooking in aggregators to Outlook and combining them with web browsers. RSS is an easy addition to modern browsers because it is an XML application, and it takes very little in the way of extra smarts to make a web browser parse RSS and present it in a useful way.


for some balanced discussions within the email publishers world about the potential advantages/disadvantages of RSS as a distribution channel.

I find it interesting that aside from the issue of whether people have clients now, which is a real but very likely quite short-term issue, nearly all of the cited disadvantages are concerns exclusively for marketers. This points at a significant problem for email marketers because as varieties of bulk mail which are not so marketing-oriented join the bloggers in using RSS and abandon any need to think about the entire issue of spam, bulk email will become increasing only a medium for marketing of various sorts (including that done by entities like PBS and the American Red Cross) and simply whacking all bulk email at the server level will become increasingly attractive to most mail server operators. Right now, that's a hard decision to take on a policy level but an increasingly easy decision to implement technically. As the balance of benefits to recipients versus benefits to sender shifts increasingly away from recipients, people who serve recipients will find it easier to make that policy decision to the detriment of senders.

Bill Cole bill(_at_)scconsult(_dot_)com

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