Wednesday, July 9, 2003


By Chad Dickerson

Posted July 03, 2003 12:00 AM Pacific Time

It’s fairly common knowledge in pop-culture trivia circles
that the first video to air on MTV was the Buggles’ “Video
Killed the Radio Star,” a song with a title that proved
prophetic in its bold announcement of a shift in the way
music was consumed and marketed. Something similar but
perhaps just as profound is happening with the delivery of
information online with tools that leverage RSS (Really
Simple Syndication or RDF Site Summary, depending on whom you

When I started using an RSS newsreader daily, some remarkable
things happened that I didn’t necessarily expect: I began to
spend almost no time surfing to keep up with current
technology information, and I was suddenly able to manage a
large body of incoming information with incredible
efficiency. My newsreader has become so integral that it’s
now sitting in my Windows startup folder along with my e-mail
client and contact manager. I’m humming “RSS Killed the
Infoglut Star” when I fire up my RSS newsreader in the

My enthusiasm for RSS is relatively new (and as I write this,
the Echo project is developing; regardless of what happens
there, I hope the spirit of simplicity behind RSS survives).
After working with RSS as a syndication format in past jobs
at media companies, I finally jumped in with both feet as an
RSS consumer a few months ago, and I’ve never looked back. On
a very simple level, leveraging RSS means getting the
information I want when I want it, and even the stuff I’m not
interested in can be dispensed in record time. In an age of
spam and cold calls, this is just what the
information-overload doctor ordered.

Over the past few years, the Web itself has become like a
blabbering acquaintance with a million fleeting and
unconnected ideas, and e-mail has become a crowded cocktail
party with a few interesting people whose words are obscured
by the gaggle of others frantically trying to sell various
unmentionables. With more and more traditional media
companies supporting RSS every day and the unmediated voices
of thought leaders such as Ray Ozzie and Tim Bray coming
through my newsreader via RSS-enabled Weblogs, using my
newsreader is like having a cocktail party for busy people
where the conversation is lively and almost always to the

RSS feeds are really just simple XML documents, but this
superficial simplicity can make some think that RSS can’t
possibly be that useful. One description I’ve heard hits the
nail on the head: RSS newsreaders are TiVos for the Web
(credit goes to Phil Wolff for his original statement: “RSS
newsreaders are TiVo for bloggers,” though I think RSS
newsreaders’ benefits extend beyond the blogging set). You
could call an RSS newsreader a tool for “knowledge
management,” I suppose, but such a lofty term obscures the
beautiful simplicity of such a remarkable tool.

RSS is great because I only get information from the sources
to which I subscribe. I only get the updates and changes from
those sources, which means I’m not visiting 30 Web sites to
see what has changed throughout the day. I don’t need any
special software other than an inexpensive RSS newsreader (I
use Radio Userland, which set me back $39.95).

In the end, however, explaining to the uninitiated why RSS
newsreaders are so compelling can be a little frustrating.
There’s a certain jene sais quoi about RSS that reminds me of
how it felt to describe the Web to people who hadn’t yet
experienced it. All I know is that I can’t go back to my old
inefficient ways of consuming information. As the Buggles
sang in the first MTV video: “We can’t rewind / We’ve gone
too far.” And that’s a good thing.

Chad Dickerson is CTO of InfoWorld.

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“The currently accepted trend is to position storage
network management at the hearth of the network rather than
in a decentralized host or array ghetto. After all, storage
is the network.”

–“Storage Insider” columnist Mario Apicella