NewsGator and APML

There are a growing number of apps that generate APML but it’s a manual process to export this data, just like OPML. We just added a feature to our Sync Engine that enables a persistent APML URL that can be dynamically consumed by applications, and because this is your data, you decide if it’s public or private.

What does all this mean? Well for starters it simplifies the nature of APML data integration but more importantly it provides a vehicle through which you can empower 3rd party applications that have attention features with data that is generated through your use of mobile, web, and dedicated RSS apps.

The Sync Engine is something I have come to appreciate as a legitimate engineering achievement in that it is not tightly coupled into any single endpoint but really stands on it’s own as a service. 3rd party applications can take advantage of our APIs to enable sync services within their application, which then becomes another endpoint the user syncs to.

One of the few disappointments of OPML is that it just didn’t go far enough to enabling a service based approach to subscription management, the same could be said of APML. If we are relegated to a process that requires a user to manually update APML then it will not be sustainable, but of course this is something 3rd party apps can overcome by using our Sync Engine to manage this process.

Back when we announced that NewsGator’s RSS clients are now free, I also mentioned that we’d be supporting APML across the entire platform. Some of our client applications implement exporting APML at the moment…but we’ve now implemented a persistent APML endpoint in our online platform. What this means is, if you’re using sync with NewsGator Online, there is a well-known URL that represents your APML attention data.

[From NewsGator and APML – Greg Reinacker’s Weblog – Musings on just about everything.]


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NewsGator Enterprise Server for Free

We have made available a free version of NewsGator Enterprise Server for up to 20 users. This is not a timed version, it’s free… zero, zip, nada.

This is a pretty rich product, much more than a proxy for RSS feeds. If you are evaluating enterprise RSS you can take advantage of this download to setup a test environment.

This has been a very successful product for us, but the fact remains that we’ve been selling it into the global 2000 segment and not really paying attention to the SME market. It’s not likely that we will ramp up a dedicated SME initiative any time so making the 20 user version available gives smaller companies something they can use and as their requirements and users expand we can upsell them.

Our enterprise customers have a full range of support options, for the free version we are limiting support to forums and our knowledge base.

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Widget Metrics

We’re starting to publish some of the stats that our clients are pointing to as a measure of success for their widget strategies. To recap, we sell primarily to media companies so impressions and interaction rates matter to them. Interaction rates include not only the clickthroughs but also the take down rates, as in the frequency that another site picks up a widget and puts it on their site or an individual takes the widget and places it on their facebook profile page or start page.

We are committed to being as transparent as possible about what benchmarks are being established for viral media syndication. Having said that, this data doesn’t necessarily belong to us, it’s our client data so only when we have their permission to highlight it will we.

The quote I highlighted below when taken in isolation doesn’t necessarily mean much however we’ll be doing more to expose client experiences and best practices, so add our widget blog feed to your reader.

“I like the way NewsGator just keeps on giving, with 66% better [engagement] metrics since our relationship began. Oh, I mean, like, 166%, since there were none when our relationship began. See?”

[From How NewsGator has Helped Discovery News]

The Future of RSS

May 1st was RSS Awareness Day and while I have a seriously vested interest in this topic, I chose not to observe it. Why? In short, I was busy on other business but also I’ve had this subject gnawing at me and it just took a few days to compose my thoughts.

Let’s take a look at the main areas that RSS companies, like NewsGator, focus on and score the success:

  1. Blog syndication: This is game over, RSS is the prevailing mechanism by which blogs are syndicated, and a great many people consume blog and traditional media content through dedicated readers or start pages that have generic RSS capabilities.
  2. Enterprise: Success here has been more elusive. We are doing a robust business in the enterprise but selling a generic RSS platform into large companies is laborious and time intensive. As I have noted before, there is a broad disconnect between IT organizations and how users actually employ technology, RSS is a great example of this divide.
  3. Widgets: Strong success here, we have been deploying a widgets/data service to media companies that is entirely built on RSS technology. We are currently delivering 200 million widget impressions a month at this point, suggesting that RSS powered widgets are a bright spot.
  4. Media: Too many media sites put out partial text feeds, this impairs the ability of companies to build next generation consumption applications that rely on some degree of keyword/entity extraction for semantic features.
  5. Start pages: Great RSS use case here, it is estimated that about 60% of the activity in popular start pages is reading RSS feeds.
  6. Authenticated Feeds: In a nutshell, this is a disappointing area because the overwhelming majority of applications that could deliver personalized and user/password protected feeds just don’t. These applications include all of the popular enterprise applications and even popular on-demand apps like Salesforce.com.
  7. Feed Monetization: Mixed results here, FeedBurner enables dropping in of contextualized advertising but it’s not apparent that many people are doing this with great success. The problem with putting ads in feeds is that it’s to easy for client applications to strip out the ad units automatically.
  8. Desktop Client Apps: Of course we enjoy market dominating success here but it’s not shocking to suggest that desktop RSS apps appeal to a core heavy use audience and growth will be minimal to moderate at best.
  9. Mobile RSS: There are apps for mobile devices but none have really broken out as success stories. It’s my observation that applying a desktop RSS consumption mode to a mobile device is a nonstarter.
  10. Attention Streaming: This is something I am intensely interested in. We, as in a small group of leading companies, are just starting to get some momentum here so prognosis is good.
  11. APML: A promising initiative but while a lot of apps are generating it, very few are actually consuming it. I would also wager that a lot of potential developer partners are probably waiting for APML to move into a traditional standards process before committing. I think this was a failing of OPML as well, lacking a third party to move it forward it just plateaued. A lot of applications use OPML, for sure, but it’s all manual… imagine how much farther along we would be if there was a common feed store that enabled all applications that can consume subscription information to access a subscription, rather than having to update every application with new subscription information manually?

#10 is where I want to start with in terms of continued discussion. Basically the entire RSS market has been built around a use mode of subscribe-then-read, and that is likely to continue as an exclusive model for many users or in parallel to other use modes. The weakness in this approach is that you only know what you know, as in you have know about a feed before you can subscribe to it… and I generally work off the approach that it’s far more likely that the best content on any keyword is not necessarily found in my OPML.

There are an increasing array of companies that are working on a next generation of feed consumption use model, built not around the explicit subscribing of feeds and chronological consumption of content. In order for RSS to get to the next level of mainstreaming we have to think in terms of behavioral filtering of content and discovery of new content sources based on explicit preferences or inferred preferences derived from behaviors. This is exciting for me as a user.

I think one of the reasons why Techmeme has proven to be a consistent favorite is that this next generation model is partly how Gabe built the system. Through using Techmeme I am essentially outsourcing feed discovery to the service and consuming content not based on subscriptions but topics. As a users, ordinary or power, I would like to have a personal Techmeme that delivers content based on my consumption habits, or put another way, my attention streams.

To further develop this model, I would like to see a social dimension develop that pushes up/down content based on a collaborative filter that takes into account my social graph and what they are consuming and rating, explicitly or otherwise. The problem with rating that we need to overcome is that a very small percentage of people will actually score content, so that’s why the attention streams become valuable, through activities they are effectively scoring content.

For enterprises this is nothing but goodness, but unfortunately it will likely be that enterprise users are the last to benefit from these advances because they are dependent upon IT. It will happen but the use cases we have to build to will be specific and in some cases tedious in an effort to get a flywheel spinning that elevates RSS in the enterprise to a strategic focus.

Lastly, RSS is an ideal syndication technology for publishers to take advantage of to expand audience and monetization of content. The missing link up until recently is widget technology, because inserting ads directly into feeds is a nonstarter in my opinion. Charlene Li said it best when she said “wigets are RSS in a dress”. Charlene, who attributed the quote to someone else, wasn’t being facetious or otherwise inappropriate, she was observing something deceptively simple, widgets present a use mode that average users like because it puts them in control while presenting a visually compelling experience.

With traffic acquisition costs being what they are, media sites are unlikely to see significant growth in site traffic using linear techniques like adding more pages and/or better SEO. “Going viral” is popular to say but hard to do, widgets offer a simple and low cost mechanism for publishers to use to drive additional site traffic not by getting site traffic but by dispersing content to a variety of destinations, including social networking pages, blogs, start pages, and non-affiliated websites.

On balance RSS has been an exciting area to mine away in, with a diverse range of target markets, use cases, and a broad array of interesting companies. It’s here to stay but at the same time is begging for a new interaction model to drive broad mass market adoption; it’s still too geek. RSS in media is the ideal syndication technology and with newer technologies like widgets, finally able to be monetized.

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Community Managers and Managing Communities

I wonder how most organizations are handling the role of community manager. I’m curious where a community manager reports. Marketing? HR? Customer service? I wonder how organizations are justifying the cost, and what they believe the role entails for level of effort. How are companies using the role in either direction?

[From On Managing A Community | chrisbrogan.com]

NewsGator has a new community manager. I hired Josh Larson a few weeks ago to take on this newly formed role. The truth is that we were all doing some measure of community management before Josh came on board, we just were not focused on it and a lot of stuff fell through the cracks.

As you can imagine given my background in corporate blogging, this is an area that interests me greatly, but it’s not just about blogging on behalf of a company. I think that is where a lot of companies go wrong on this front, they think that just getting someone to “go blog it out” is enough when in fact community management is like marketing like customer support is to engineering. All are critical functions but community management is about advocacy more than promotion, just like customer support.

This is also why Josh reports to me instead of to our marketing group. I want this role to represent marketplace advocacy and I thought that ultimately I am responsible for that so it makes sense for the role to report to me. I also happen to care alot about the tactics by which we manage community, an outgrowth of my now many years of experience in corporate social media.

Our community manager has several distinct but interconnected roles. The first is easy, establish and grow a meaningful blog presence through which we expose and highlight our activities AND connect directly with influencers, power users, early adopters, customers, and many other groups of individuals who are relevant to our market space.

A blog is just a tool, which means that we will use many tools at our disposal to reach out and with an authentic voice talk about what we are doing and listen about what we could be doing. What we are doing with Twitter is another example of how we are taking advantage of social media tools to connect to our marketplace.

Communities are about networks and as such the community manager is responsible for building out and maintaining networks related to the above groups, and like a pilot who’s hands are on many levers apply leverage to various constituencies as determined by what our objectives are. The important aspect of this is that for a network to remain vibrant and active, we have to give back as much as we take.

There are probably a dozen other responsibilities that fallen within the scope of community manager but in the final equation it comes down to the commitment of the company to support that person in his/her role. I think we have a well earned track record at working with our community and not just talking to it, which hopefully means we are prepared to amp up those efforts with a person who is dedicated to the task.

Like all things that are on the forward edge there is an element of learning as we go, but this type of role is not so new as to suggest it’s all experimentation. We, as an industry, know from recent experience that the marketplace is demanding a richer interaction with companies so I think we’re on the forward edge of mainstream as opposed to on the bleeding edge.

Attention Streams

We did two things this week that are interesting for those of you interested in how behavioral data is being used to drive new feature development in RSS.

First and foremost, we released Inbox 3.0 for Microsoft Outlook and it takes advantage of your attention stream in the form of APML to organize your feeds based on what you give the most attention to, in other words your reading habits.

By combining this “relevance metadata,” NewsGator can provide their users, like those using Inbox 3.0, with the most relevant news and information while also keeping track of what subscriptions you care most about and allowing you to export this information in APML (Attention Profiling Mark-up Language) so it can be shared with other services.

Shortly after releasing our free consumer clients I wrote a post about attention data that explained in some detail the distinction between attention streams focused on people vs. content. The above is an example of how we are using fully portable attention data streams in the form of APML to deliver new functions to users, but are not locking our customers in to our products. The attention streams around content are equally interesting to us.

Why is this attention data useful? Simply put, attention infers content authority and quality; if you share something I can make an assumption that you found it useful, which we can then use in our attention algorithm. The scoring generated by our attention algorithm can be used to make search more accurate, and it can be packaged as an API that we make available to our partners to enable their services to better filter and sort content.

To the point that we have attention streams that are content focused, we have been busy developing new features that expose this. We quietly turned on Activity Scoring in Feb and have been improving it since then. Simply put, we started feeding all those clicks, tags, bookmarks, and clippings events into an algorithm that scores each and every post in our network, which has grown to over 8 million new content items daily.

In NewsGator Online there is a sorting option that will sort the feed based on this Activity score. My personal experience is that it’s mildly useful but we’re not going far enough with it. It’s in the aggregate that activity scores become truly useful, such as sorting my clippings folder or looking at a group of feeds from an activity perspective.

The goal of activity scoring has never been to develop the be-all-end-all algorithm. We have always looked at this starting point as just that, a starting point, and it has further been our intention to both make this scoring available to others as well as integrate other RSS attention scoring measures with our own.

To this end we announced today that we have enabled another attention sorting option based on AideRSS. First a little background, Jevon MacDonald introduced me to Ilya Grigorik last July when they were first getting off the ground. We got more serious about doing something together when I joined NewsGator (I literally called Kevin and Ilya my first week with the company). I love what they are doing and use it regularly myself, but it’s important to recognize that what the are doing with Postrank is fundamentally different than what we are doing with Activity Scoring. We build a score from within our network, they build a score from external factors, so the two approaches are very complimentary.

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Right now we are offering AideRSS as a sorting option but this is just the start. We are also working with additional companies to bring integration of attention streams to bear on the broader problems of relevancy and discovery in RSS. Longer term I think there is a new generation of RSS products that we, as users, will benefit from in that they will go beyond the basic workflow of subscribing to a feed and then consuming a chronological stream of posts. There remains a great opportunity to present a techmeme-like interface that organizes content based on the content subject, sentiment, and related content. Lastly, we’re also bringing these features to our widget services so stay tuned!

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NewsGator Twittering

I took note of Evernote the other day when they followed me on twitter... thinking “hey that’s actually a good idea”.

NewsGator Widgets is now on Twitter. Like a lot of people we are in the experimentation phase on this, so I think we’ll target a couple of tactics that help us in our outreach efforts.

  1. Follow people who reference NewsGator and any of our products.
  2. Follow people we consider to be influencers in our space.
  3. Tweet out meaningful updates about our activities, try to stay away from simply rebroadcasting PR.
  4. Tweet out events we will be participating in or attending.
  5. Re-tweet what we consider insightful and interesting stuff from other people.

Thanks to Andrew for the inspiration.

Enterprise RSS Day of Action

200804010908.jpg Enterprise RSS Day of Action is coming up on April 24th! If you are with a company that is taking advantage of RSS within an enterprise context, whether vendor or someone who has deployed it, please get involved. Drop a comment on this post or send me an email (click email me on the sidebar).

I also want to take a moment to highlight the fact that this is not a NewsGator initiated event, it is something I became aware of through James Dellow’s blog (he is the organizer) and a couple of emails. It would have been difficult to meet James through the normal channels as he is based in Australia, which again underscores the power of blogging in networking.

A great outcome of this event would be the compilation of tools, vendors, customer success stories, and best practices as well as anti-best practices.

Enterprise RSS Day of Action, April 24th

Obviously NewsGator is supporting this, but so are a number of our competitors. The purpose is to draw attention to RSS in the enterprise as a foundation technology, focus on customer successes, tactics and pitfalls, and lay out the broad array of products and vendors in this space.

April 24th. Pass it on.

The purpose of the Enterprise RSS Day of Action on the Thursday 24th April is to help raise awareness for the potential for Enterprise RSS. This wiki will provide Enterprise RSS champions with materials and information they can use to run their own awareness campaigns inside their own organisations.

[From enterpriserssdayofaction » home]