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Charlie Wood, RSS as the Information Bus

I wonder how many out there have, upon reading Steve Jobs’ recent commencement address, have reconfigured their life to pursue their dreams. First Richard MacManus cited Jobs’ speech as inspiration. Now, Charlie Wood, VP of Enterprise Solutions of Newsgator, has left his job to start a new venture. Spanning Partners will offer RSS integration services that will expand the use of RSS beyond the mere delivery of posts from blogs to something much broader. At the PC level, you have a data bus which shuttles bits from the hard disk, to RAM, to processor, to video card and back again. In much the same way, RSS could become the virtual delivery bus for information interconnecting all the new APIs which are exposing themselves to the intranet and internet.

This is much the same vision that Microsoft is pushing as part of it’s RSS is Everywhere vision outlined in my previous post. When you start extending the standard to allow for structured content to be exchanged, not just between humans and their readers but between applications and devices, it opens up all sorts of opportunities.

This reminds me of an earlier jam session I had with an engineer at Reuter’s research labs a couple years agon on how structured news feeds from Factiva could automate transactions. In the example we dreamed up, we thought of using Factiva to drive the generation of sales leads for a consulting company. Using filters on the rich meta data that comes with Factiva news stories, an example could be,

  1. Create a filter to select all stories of all new mergers in my key industry with a dateline of San Francisco,
  2. The subset of stories would then be fed via RSS to an API which would read these stories, strip out the company ticker symbols and use them to pull contact information from another database such as Hoovers or InfoUSA for the VP of Sales name and email address at each company,
  3. Use and API to the CRM to check if the prospect was already a client, if not, then populate the VP of Sales contact information into an email template which would address each VP of Sales with a letter of introduction introducing your company’s sales integration services.

All three steps could be done in advance automatically, the salesperson only needs to review the content of the email before sending it off and making a note to follow up.

One quote sticks in my mind from the Channel 9 video mentioned in my earlier post. Precious programmer resources were being wasted as each person had to write their own connector to information. Once you standardize that, the developers can move up the stack and focus on the more interesting task of what you can do with that information.

When market data feeds were moving from analog to digital transmissions, there was a time when everyone was too busy writing feed handlers to really focus on anything more than parsing data. Once the feed handlers were written and commoditized, there was an explosion of creativity that gave birth to sophisticated applications that could throw market data around to drive risk analysis and automated trading applications. I would argue that this enabled the entire field of complex derivative and arbitrage trading that revolutionized the finanancial markets (for better or worse) in the mid-90’s.

Flash-forward to 2005 and we see the same enabler with RSS. Standardize the interface and delivery of information (calendars, inventory, pricing, traffic, reviews, top ten lists, etc.) and then you unleash a flurry of new services that mix and mash the intersection of these pieces of information to create new insight and opportunity.

Pull a list of the top ten albums according to Billboard and cross index with a list of all acts playing at the Warfield in San Francisco in the next two months. If there’s a match, pull together links to reviews from my favorite rock critic and paste them into a page that you call the, “Automatic Concert Reminder” and you’ve got a new service. Add your own unique editorial to each concert and you’ve got a service that adds value and will hopefully attract a readership. Sell tickets via an affiliate link and you’ve got a business.

Microsoft, Longhorn, and RSS

Lots of buzz around Microsoft’s announcement that they are going to bake RSS into the next generation of Windows, Longhorn. If you’ve got the time, I highly recommend you sit through the MSDN Channel 9 video interview with the Longhorn/RSS team taken the day before their announcement at Gnomedex. You can feel the energy and excitement coming out of Redmond.

The video includes a demo of IE 7 and a hacked version of RSS Bandit on Longhorn that shows:

  • autodiscovery (no need to hunt for the little orange chicklet)
  • adding a feed populates a common list of feeds that can be shared by all Longhorn apps
  • Calendar support for RSS feeds of events (click to subscribe to events in Outlook)
  • <treat as> and <sort by> collaboration with Amazon to handle lists
  • adding feed of photoblogs to make a screensaver

More details and pointers on MSDN. RSS Everywhere!