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My Thoughts on Microsoft and RSS

We’re very close to the public release of the RSS reader that integrates with our webmail interface (we’ll make a series of announcements soon through my blog and our company one – and yes Mr. Rubel, we’ll do a press release too). But naturally, Microsoft’s announcement that they’re going to support RSS in the next version of their operating system, dubbed Longhorn, has spurred all types of questions from customers, employees and investors. I’m not sure why, but my first reaction was to shoot back one-off emails to give my take on the matter – how old school, right? I know, so here goes…

First of all, nothing Microsoft ever does should be shrugged off. With RSS in particular, I believe their adoption of RSS will have huge implications. More than anything, it’s going to bring RSS to the mainstream. Microsoft has a unique ability to not just educate the market, but to put whatever they want within a mouse-click of millions of users worldwide.

One of my developers made the comment:

Pat, this might cut down on the effectiveness of our RSS reader if we don’t make it spiffy enough. Cause you know the one built into Windows will be.

Of course, we’ll always have to advance everything we build – no doubt about that – regardless of Microsoft (technology in general is ultra-competitive). But, I don’t see this as a direct threat to our implementation of RSS. Here is why… first of all, we’re not an RSS company and we’re not building stand-alone RSS readers; that isn’t our business model and it never will be (I do think some of the RSS-focused companies will be hurt, but not all of them. I know from experience that focusing on a core niche can separate you from the pack – if it’s the right focus, the right niche, etc.) Plus, it *sounds* like Microsoft is pretty focused on RSS-enabling more types of content more so than trying to replace every company that has RSS aggregation capabilities baked into a product or service offering. Sure, they’ll provide RSS aggregation capabilities within Internet Explorer, but so what? The Firefox browser has already started doing this and so has the Thunderbird email client (I think Apple’s browser does too). Different people will want to get RSS-enabled data in different ways. It seems to me like building an RSS reader into Internet Explorer is a natural step for Microsoft, one I’m sure most RSS fanatics knew was coming.

Additionally, it’s important to keep our target customer in mind. Everything we build is tailored to the SMB (small and medium-sized business) market segment. We’re building applications that change the way businesses manage email and we believe very much in the convergence of email and RSS. Our reader will have administrative capabilities like the ability for email administrators to regulate RSS feed subscriptions and pre-subscribe feeds for their users. That way an employee like my mom could be subscribed to an industry specific RSS feed (or my blog!) without ever knowing that it has anything to do with RSS, just like she doesn’t know she uses POP3 and SMTP to send and receive email or that a dual scanning anti-virus engine keeps viruses and worms off of her computer. Its there and it works – that’s what small businesses need. My mom will be able to read my blog every day but she won’t go tell her friends how cool RSS is.

In my opinion, Microsoft will help the RSS cause in a major way. They will RSS-enable more of the everyday applications most people already use, they will educate the market and before long, more decision makers, influencers and users will realize the power of RSS – all of the above will be great for the industry and companies positioned to take advantage of that growing demand. All we’re going to do is integrate RSS aggregation capabilities into our email hosting platform (for now at least) – again, as I’ve mentioned before, I believe a lot in the convergence of email and RSS, just like Microsoft believes in the convergence of the operating system and RSS. It seems like the more things that are RSS-enabled, the more important it is to integrate RSS aggregation capabilities with core services (like email and calendaring). Needless to say, it should be interesting to see how all of this plays out.

Nick Bradbury, the founder of FeedDemon (recently acquired by Newsgator) has a really good post on Microsoft’s foray into RSS. He knows way more than I do about the RSS landscape, so if you’re interested, I recommend checking him out.

For more information about Microsoft’s plans for RSS, go here for a great read.

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