Have RSS Feeds Been Pigeonholed?

Posted by on Jul 1, 2011 in DOOH

Many times when I talk about digital signage functionality and content, some folks are still surprisingly unaware of what RSS is and how feeds actual operate. Understanding Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is important, and not primarily because of its application in RSS tickers alone. XML and RSS give opportunity for information gleaning and sharing using multiple facets. I cannot imagine what the world would be like without the instant gratification of online news, moments after it occurs. What an atrocity that would be! Information, real-time, is what people seek.

The problem is not that RSS is not flexible, the real problem with RSS is that it can be used for in a wide array of applications apart from scrolling crawlers. Most don’t understand that RSS can be used for automatic syndication of nearly all types of content–giving you automatic relevant “stuff” for your digital signage applications. Not surprisingly, this form of auto-generated content is a uber-beneficial way of filling “digital signage content gap” I’ve read so much about. It is a square peg for a square hole. Really Simple Syndication reminds me of digital signage for a couple of reasons. First, RSS is sometimes “painted into a corner” because we fail to fully realize the wide array of applications the technology affords. Secondly, both RSS and digital signage applications can be so encompassing and extremely broad that we sometimes lose site of possible opportunities right under our noses.  And, as a result, we end up pigeonholed.

If you keep up with industry trends, you’ll notice some companies truly starting to utilize RSS for its full capabilities. In reality, I only really know of one company who has an “out-of-the-box” solution for dynamic signage content via RSS: Screenfeed. Screenfeed offers dynamic RSS generated content, pulling from multiple sources. I have spoken with another company still in development of such an application. They’re working on a dynamic RSS generator that will allow content to be pulled from social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube–much like the LocaModa folks. Their particular idea revolves around not only user generated content, but also relies on users to filter irrelevant or negative content. My initial reaction was revulsion, knowing that such a system would allow for explicit content. I guess the only way such a system would be viable is on a network with a large enough volume where economies of scale could work effectively. Of course, such a system also only works on the assumption that the “majority” of people will do the right thing. Still, I’m leery. This could be an instance where UGC completely fails.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of bottom-of-the-screen crawlers. The only time they just might be effective is when you’re sheepishly waiting for a root canal and don’t have any interest in reading Field and Stream. You might say, “oh look, stock quotes…that’ll numb my brain prior to the procedure.” I don’t remember if it was at InfoComm or the Digital Signage Expo, but I remember how proud and emphatic one vendor was over his ticker. “Look,” he said, “unlike our competition–X, Y, and Z–our ticker flows nice and smooth. Look at how smooth that is!” Now that’s product differentiation! Tickers can be effective, but scrolling tickers get on my nerves. And when you truly understand the capabilities of RSS, having a RSS ticker seems disgustingly “90’s CNN.”

When it comes to digital signage, the Web, SMS, and syndication, we are a long way off from where we could and need to be. RSS for audio, RSS for video, RSS for dynamically created flash weather and stocks, and RSS text may well hold the key for refreshing and dynamic content for digital signage going forward. Think of current tweaks used for feed use. One very prevalent example is Twitter. Twitter, and the emergence of micro-blogging, has done a great deal for aiding in the prevalence of RSS–sometimes to the point of inundation. But, regardless of how it’s done, RSS has not nearly been tapped to its full–both on the web and out-of-home.

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