Businesses have had the idea that "content is king" pounded into their brains for years. If you want to thrive online, you have to have compelling content that people want to read. The other side of that coin, however, is that you have to be able to get that content in front of them, and there are certainly plenty of ways of doing so. The problem is that not all of these ways of getting content in front of people is all that easy. RSS, even if it has not gained mass mainstream adoption, has long been one of the easiest ways of getting that content in front of the people that truly want it. If someone subscribes to your RSS feed, you can rest easy knowing that the content is going to be pushed to the subscriber without any algorithmic filtering obstacles.
Do you intend to encourage customers and readers to subscribe to your updates by email? Let us know in the comments.
As you probably know, Google has dealt a major blow to RSS by announcing that it will shut down Google Reader this summer. Also, as you probably know, a variety of other services are stepping up to the plate to try to become your next reader. Still, there is some debate about just how much longer RSS will continue to thrive, because when a major Internet force like Google calls it quits, how can we really know what to expect?
For a while, it looked like Google Reader wasn't the only piece of the RSS puzzle that Google is killing. The RSS Subscription Chrome extension disappeared for a time, but apparently that was just a mistake, and it's back up. Still, it's clear that Google is actively trying to make people use RSS less (and Google+ more), and unfortunately for a lot of users, they'll probably succeed. That doesn't mean that many of us die hards won't continue to use the format for as long as it's around, but you have to wonder how many will use the Google Reader closure as a stepping stone to a completely alternative means of consuming content. Many casual users will probably take some time to better optimize their experiences on Twitter, Facebook, and other social services, and completely stop relying on RSS. Maybe that's for the best (some think so). Maybe not. Either way, for a lot of people, it's not going to be an easy transition.
Some of us are wondering if Google will continue to support RSS for Google Alerts, another important tool for bloggers.
“I have multiple alerts set up to alert me through Google Reader," writes bradnod on reddit. "I do not want to change it to email because I have enough emails in my inbox already. I was just curious is Google is going to phase this feature out or allow the RSS feed to other feed readers.”
You don't have to use Google Reader for this feature, but the question remains: will Google continue to support RSS for alerts? The odds seem a little better that they will keep the RSS option, now that the Chrome extension has come back, but we have asked Google about it, and so far, they haven't responded.
The only other option for Google Alerts, as of right now, is email. Email. The time-honored method of online communication that just won't die, no matter how many social services come out of the woodwork. Email continues to thrive, and doesn't appear to be in much danger.
Email, like RSS, doesn't rely on one company to continue working, which is probably one of the main reasons it has lasted so long. Some think this bodes well for the future of RSS too, and maybe it does, but RSS doesn't have anywhere close to the user adoption that email has. RSS, while a fundamental part of the web for some of us, just isn't required for the rest of the web and user identity like email is. Long story short, email has a lot more going for it, and it's not going anywhere.
Could a significant percentage of Google Reader users turn to email as their alternative of choice?
"I think email alerts have been growing in popularity anyway, since they create a true one to one connection between the blog and reader with a daily use platform that is unlikely to ever go away," TopRank Online Marketing CEO Lee Odden tells WebProNews. "Also, there's very little competition in the RSS to email space, which is also growing. I'd be surprised if several of the RSS reader platforms don't jump in to fill the inevitable void of FeedBurner's RSS to email or at least to meet the growing demand."
“The popular theory seems to be that people will move on to another RSS reader, and life will go on as usual," writes Michael Surtees at Mashable. "I'm not that optimistic. RSS is not going to evolve, and I doubt it will get better. It's basically dead now that Google has decided to stop supporting its Reader.”
“I'm looking for an option that doesn't rely on RSS but can still tell me when a site has been updated," he says. "The ideal service would then let me organize those sites into specific lists.”
Is it possible that email could be what he is looking for? Interestingly, he doesn't mention this at all in his article, and the truth is, I totally get why. Many of us already have tons of email, and don't want to add to that with all the content that is entering our Google Reader interface (even if that's possible, which it probably isn't). Still, email is the RSS alternative that works for virtually all Internet users. The only alternative. Why do you think it's the only other option for Google Alerts? Not everybody is on Facebook (and certainly not the web's other social networks), but just about everyone has email. You need email to sign up for the social networks.
It could be cumbersome, particularly if you've set up a lot of folders in Google Reader, but could it be possible to migrate to an email-based habit of news consumption? It's not as if the concept is new or foreign to most. There's a good chance you're probably already subscribed to some email newsletters, but expect to see publishers and bloggers more heavily push for newsletter and alert subscribers with Google Reader going away. And don't be surprised if a lot of blogs that don't currently have newsletters suddenly start offering them.
Some of the most authoritative voices in social media and content marketing view email as a major piece of the alternative strategy. Chris Brogan had this to say on his blog:
“Turns out Google Reader is going away. As a user, I’m very sad. As a provider of content for you, I have to make sure I’m helping you. So, if you’re getting me via RSS, could I invite you to subscribe to my email newsletter? It really is where I share the best ideas I have.”
Copyblogger's Brian Clark tweeted this after Google's announcement:
Move your Google Reader people to email. That is all.
— Brian Clark (@copyblogger) March 13, 2013
Copyblogger's Jerod Morris elaborates in a post on the site, "What you need to do is — by being awesome — sell your readers on why now is the best time to subscribe to your email list. Not for you, for them. And it’s precisely because of Google’s decision to drop Reader. All Google Reader users are feeling an immense lack of control right now. I know this, because I am (was) a user of Google Reader."
Clark responds in the comments to a skeptical reader, "You can’t coerce anyone to do anything. But you can 'invite' them into your email channel. What would make it worth their while? What additional incentive would make them allow your content into their inbox while others are excluded?"
That's truly something to think about. Now might be a good time to step up to the plate and give readers a little something extra in return for becoming part of your mailing list.
Morris adds, "And the idea here is not to coerce customer behavior. It’s to offer solutions to the problem and let people choose the one that works best for them. A lot of people will like the security and certainty of email, especially right now, but they may not consider it an alternative if not reminded that it is."
In the same comment thread, Copyblogger's Sonia Simone chimes in, "Opponents of email are vocal (and I hear you, I get too much email too), but bloggers who provide the opportunity to subscribe via both methods report that their email subscribers are consistently much more responsive. RSS is a great tool for many, but you want to make sure you’re providing both options."
Bloggers have already been encouraging users to sign up for email newsletters since Google's announcement, and not just Brogan. There are plenty of examples out there. Graham Cluley from Sophos writes, "Our stats tell us that many of our readers choose to follow Naked Security's RSS feed via Google Reader. Of course, there are alternatives to Google Reader which you may want to try out - but if you want to ensure that you never miss a story from Naked Security, can we suggest that you sign-up for Naked Security's daily newsletter? Our free daily email newsletter gives you access to all the stories we've written in the past 24 hours, and ensures that you never miss a thing."
That's just one of a many possible email formats - the one-a-day. Expect to see more options from more bloggers and publishers.
One major advantage of gaining more email subscribers is that you're not relying on any one company to continue to support them. Email is universal. It's going to be interesting to see how RSS gets along without an Internet giant like Google supporting it. Some feel there is plenty to be optimistic about - not just the resurgence in interest in the medium and the sudden rush for superior products from companies offering alternative feed readers, but the fact that one company isn't dominating the landscape any longer. This is certainly one way to look at it.
Either way, I don't think anyone would recommend that bloggers and publishers stop offering RSS feeds anytime soon. That doesn't mean you can't give readers a better email option or at least give them the option to consumer your content that way if they so choose.
Is email a viable alternative to RSS for your needs? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Image: Chris Brogan's blog