RSS and the Homepage

ESPN.com has a heavy homepage.

Advertising is everywhere, ESPN Motion starts up, and all kinds of sexy content screams for you to pay attention to it.

As a user, it's an overwhelming and sometimes frustrating experience (Joriss even went so far to call ESPN the anti-Google). As a Disney stockholder, I appreciate that ESPN is doing what it can to maximize revenue. As an employee, I want to find a balance between these two tensions.

Especially considering how popular RSS is becoming.

Thanks to RSS, I notice myself visiting top-level homepages less frequently than I used to. RSS makes aggregated content available when I want it to be (think TiVo for the web), which obviates the need to visit sites frequently to check for the latest news.

This isn't a new idea, but it's one that is worth examining a little deeper.

What does this mean for site metrics like traffic, time on site, visitors, and visits?

And what about business metrics--will big sites be able to meet impression commitments? Will ad revenue suffer because visits to the prized piece of real estate decrease?

How will RSS affect promotional strategies? How will users find content or products that they didn't know they wanted until an interesting headline or picture caught their eye on the front page when they were visiting for the sixth time that day?

The devil's advocate will ask if these questions are even relevant. Will anybody but media junkies really adopt RSS aggregators? Reliable RSS adoption numbers are hard to come by, and nobody is sure when the different growth curves we've seen will plateau.

I don't even pretend to have most of the answers (that's why I'm asking the questions!), but here are some thoughts:

  • RSS adoption will increase, even among those who aren't media junkies, and especially among the younger set. Why? Because user-created content is growing (Flickr, personal blogs, Halo 2, all support RSS, for example), and people need increasingly efficient ways to allocate their attention and stay current on the happenings in their personal spheres.

    Plus, timeshifted content consumption is a trend that isn't going away. Heck, it's all the younger generations have ever known.

  • The relevance of a site's front page will decrease, especially if it provides a user experience that impedes the completion of tasks. RSS will result in people visiting a site's internal pages directly from their aggregator.
  • Conversely, internal pages will be even more important. Displaying relevant content on those pages and figuring out ways to maximize revenue given the redistribution of traffic will separate the Governors from the girly-men.
  • It's better to cannibalize your own business than to stick your head in the sand and let someone else take your business from you. So whatever the future of RSS holds, it's better to adopt it, experiment with it, and publicize it sooner rather than later.
  • Quality niche blogs that have active, participatory audiences and that serve the long tail frequently drive the discussions around a new story after it has broken. Including or calling out the best content from these sites presents a big opportunity. It's how sites like Jason Kottke and BoingBoing have become so popular: they consistently link to interesting content and visitors reward them with traffic.
  • There has to be a better way to display a discussion that spans several blogs without having to click through to a bunch of different sites. Aggregating several blogs' trackbacked posts on a subject so that they can be displayed on one page seems like a more efficient way to consume content. Again, this presents an opportunity. Has anything like this been done already?

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Comments (Post | Latest)

1. Noah Brier said on Dec 1 2004:

I think this is what Waypath is attempting to do. They include snippets from entries in their links to other sites. Check out this sports news one to get an idea of what I'm talking about. It's not perfect, but it's better than just using the first however many words. There seems to be some logic behind the sentences they choose to use and it provides a fairly good summary of the entry.

Also, you might be interested in an article on RSS I wrote for American Demographics Magazine titled "This Way App".

2. kareem said on Dec 1 2004:

Noah-
Waypath looks interesting; I wonder how effective it is. Come to think of it, it wouldn't be difficult to build out for a company doing search.

Getting an error on your article; would love to read it if you wouldn't mind emailing me a copy.

Thanks!

k.

3. Noah Brier said on Dec 2 2004:

Not sure what's up with that link, appears to be down. If you just email me I'll send along the article (couldn't find your email address anywhere on the site).

4. Jim Frasch said on Dec 3 2004:

Saying that ESPN's homepage is "heavy" is an extreme understatement. I can understand the business reasons for wanting to draw people's attention to various things, but ESPN takes it so far that it's almost humorous.

I'll never forget the day I realized that story headlines on news articles were Flash. That was the day I stopped visiting ESPN.com... pretty much, ever.

I did, however, add some of the ESPN columnists to my MyYahoo! start page, and read their content when it appeals to me. I think this is basically confirming your point about how beneficial RSS can be to those who understand it and want to be able to utilize it.

About

Hi, I'm Kareem Mayan. I co-founded eduFire, an online video tutoring company.

I've done time at ESPN and FIM.

I advise WorldBlu, helping them build democratic companies.

I moderated a council for Creative Good.

And, I helped bring Barcamp, a technology un-conference, to LA, which is where I live. I am now living and working in cool cities around the world.

More about me.

Opinions stated here are mine alone.

Contact: blog -at- reemer

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