When Did You Last Build a Car?

Many techies have told me that media companies would be wasting their time to produce a customized edition for each reader, that search engines or RSS already make this unnecessary.

That amuses me. What they’re saying is ‘There’s no market for pre-built cars because people can assemble cars themselves.’

What those techies forget are that:

  1. Unlike themselves, most people (the vast majority of humanity) aren’t technies who are fluent in the use of search engines and RSS.
  2. Most people don’t want the time and work of searching for each item of interest. Instead, the vast majority want it all packaged and routinely delivered.

Neither search engines nor RSS aggregate across topics. Neither has the layout capabilities of paper (or digital paper). Search engines are ‘Pull’ vehicles that take time and effort to use.

A lot of techies nowadays tout RSS as the solution for publishers. However, a RSS feed is a one-to-many ‘Push’ publishing vehicle that sends to all recipients whatever is of specific interest to its publisher, not necessarily whatever is of specific interest to each recipients. A RSS feed doesn’t allow each recipient to receive only those individual postings by that publisher that directly interest that recipient.

For example, I recently dropped a professional friend’s RSS feed because only one in about every 12 to 15 of his postings actually interested me. The one item might be on a jewel, but I got tired of wading through the chaff about other topics, even among postings that were supposed to be in the topical category. Mind you, he’s an A-list blogger, not someone meanderings. I’m finding the same unsatsifactory ratio on most of the dozen other topical RSS feeds to which I subscribe — more than 50 percent of the postings don’t really interest me. Although that ratio is better than with the printed generic newspaper I receive each day, it’s still quite bad and below even.

The model that I suggested in my March 4th article in Online Journalism Review is the opposite: It’s not a one-to-many RSS feed from a publisher. It’s not each user collecting many RSS feeds from many publishers. Instead, it’s a unique many-to-one feed from all relevant publishers to each reader.

Those reasons are why I’ve never thought that today’s RSS technologies are a solution for publishers. Today’s RSS is merely another method of pushing whatever content the publisher (be that a newspaper publishere or a blogger) wants, when instead the real solution is to give whatever the user wants.

Believing that search engines and RSS are the solution is another example of the unfortunate hubris among some techies. I call that hubris outrecuidance (“Ou-tre-qui-dance”), a little known English (and French) word meaning excessive presumption. Many techies presume that just because they were early adopters of the Internet and 600 million people nowadays use the Internet, then whatever these techies are now using will be used by hundreds of milions of people in the near future. It’s as if the seamen of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria were taking credit for the subsequent mass immigration to the Americas. No, the reason why 600 million people nowadays are using the Internet isn’t that techies were first to use it. There instead are behavioral, economic, and other reasons — which can apply differently, even negatively, to whatever techies might adopt use.

I mention outrecuidance because too many services meant for the mass of humanity are being designed by techies for techies. Instead, know the people and know what they want.

3 Replies to “When Did You Last Build a Car?”

  1. Good comparison with car buying there…

    As a regular user become techie I can see the “well we do it, so other folks will too” aspect, but the thing about RSS is that there is the potential for it to be as personalized as you mention.

    There’s no technological reason why RSS can’t be generated on the fly… perhaps by search terms.

    The only things stopping you from seeing “Get this search in RSS” on a site’s search page (or Google) are momentum and knowledge.

    See Adrian’s custom feeds for an example

  2. Chris:

    Thanks for point me at Adrian’s custom feed experiments; those are the beginnings of the types of RSS feeds that I’d like to see.

    If every RSS publishers used that technology, consumers (and we are all consumers) would find it easier to get what they want. However, the consumers would still have to subcribe to each and every of their choice of publishers.

    The ideal would be one feed that the consumer could subcribe to and get his choice from a spectrum of choices of what to receive (i.e., all items, or all items that mention a particular thing, or all high priority items plus all items about those things, etc.)


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