Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The showdown: feeds vs. email

This redesign process has made me hungry for feeds. I eat them in the morning, at lunch time, and at night. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) has definitely changed the I receive my information, attempt to stay on top of my field, and enjoy my momentary breaks at work. My appetite ranges from BBC world news to techcrunch to ZeFrank. And the more feeds I devour, the less I read the paper stuff: Washington Post, Newsweek, The Economist, etc.

I've even evangelized the use around the office, at home (it's a sore point now, don't ask), and with friends. As we're going through the redesign, I'm constantly thinking about how we can RSS-ize the experience. But how much is too much?

When I search our partners, there aren't many who are using them. But even those who are, I wonder how many readers are even subscribing to the feed. And does that matter? The eNonprofit Benchmark Study reported in March 2006 a 10% drop in email open rates for non-profits; could the growing use of RSS and desire to control flow of information be one factor for the drop?

I'd like to think, but I don't believe email communication will ever be replaced by RSS (shucks). I know Feedburner has the option of tracking feeds, but we don't pay for that service. I would however, like to see some statistics on the use (Anyone, anyone?). For us, 12% of our audience surveyed said they'd like more dynamic content/RSS and another 26% said they would like more frequent updates.

If 38% of our audience wants regular updates, I will assume the same 38% also wants a way to manage those regular updates. I'll consider these folks as our prospective RSS audience. Not a bad size, but then again 62% still want our emails. Jacob Nielsen wrote:

Feeds are a cold medium in comparison with email newsletters. Feeds do not form the same relationship between company and customers that a good newsletter can build. We don't have data to calculate the relative business value of a newsletter subscriber compared to a feeds subscriber, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that companies make ten times as much money from each newsletter subscriber. Given that newsletters are a much more powerful and warm medium, it is probably best for most companies to encourage newsletter subscriptions and promote them over website feeds.
This make sense to me since I rarely remember where my information came from, but regardless of the source I still want the information. However, for those who continually provide me with the most targeted, relevant information, I will remember you, you, you, you, and you.

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