RSS business value: content portal

With last week’s launch of branded online RSS aggregators from CNet (, it looks like everything old is new again when it comes to RSS. Remember the first application for XML content syndication? Yeah, Newsburst looks a lot like My Netscape. Only there are about 3 million times more potential news sources now than there were then.

John Roberts, the developer at CNet who was responsible for the portal, notes that it does OPML import-export. Which is good—if you don’t believe in being locked in (*). But it points to an issue with the RSS content portal business model.

In 1999, there were no alternatives for content aggregation—it was My Netscape or the highway. It’s 2005 now. If an aggregator (web based or traditional client) doesn’t work for you, you can take your subscription list with you and move on.

And if you’re banking on RSS to provide your users with a daily reason to come back to your site, and banking on saving a lot of money by not having to develop the content yourself… better think about banking some money to keep adding features to your aggregator. Because as you start falling behind your users’ other options, they’ll take their subscription lists and go.

It’s not a subscriber lock-in model. So where’s the incentive for a news site to add it? Simply put, it may be that you have to because everyone else will (see Steve Rubel on Dave Winer’s assertion that RSS and the news business is tightly bound). This is, maybe, the natural outgrowth of the increasing sense that all news is biased, and customers are increasingly going to demand to see all sides of the story—as well as declare that you show your own biases. Triangulation.

Update: So has anyone figured out how to import OPML into NewsBurst? I was really looking forward to putting 347 sources into it and seeing how well it held up…