Newsgator posts roadmap for the future of RSS

Newsgator and Feedburner are the two most active companies in the RSS space right now. When either of these companies say anything, I pay close attention. Yesterday Newsgator founder and CTO Greg Reinacker (listen to an interview with Greg Reinacker and executives from other feed readers on TalkCrunch) posted something that everyone interested in the future of RSS should pay attention to – a big roadmap for the company’s near term future.

Newsgator properties (including the Mac NetNewsWire) are the second most frequently used feed readers by TechCrunch subscribers according to Mike’s post on CrunchNotes – behind FireFox. I think the company’s roadmap speaks to the future of RSS syndication in general. What are the most recent innovations at Bloglines? Folding blog search into and supporting flash inside the reader. The Newsgator next steps discussed in Reinacker’s post blow those away. I think that these are the features and issues that we’ll see from every other vendor in this space.

Highlights discussed below include:

  • recommending feeds
  • niche default subscription options
  • social networking/comments about feeds
  • RSS everywhere – where else can it go?
  • feeds and podcasts by phone
  • advertising, enterprise and private label possibilities.

Here’s my summary of and thoughts on the roadmap points.

  • Reinacker says there are loads of features planned for the free online version of Newsgator, including “more interactive feed discovery mechanisms (based on the larger community of users and their subscriptions).” Bloglines leverages its users’ subscriptions heavily to eliminate blog search spam – searching only feeds that Bloglines users have subscribed to excludes junk splog feeds. Reinacker must be alluding here to something more proactive, probably recommended feeds determined by comparing your subscriptions to overlapping subscriptions by other readers. In other words, “you subscribed to WorldChanging, many other readers subscribed to this have also subscribed to GlobalVoicesOnline.” This type of thing is already a best practice in the social bookmarking space – it’s only logical to offer the same in RSS. ShareYourOPML is does this in the geek ghetto.
  • “Completely different user interface paradigms (where a user could potentially select from different options, each catering to a different kind of user)”
    That likely means describing yourself as a certain type of user and being presented with default subscription options (an OPML file) based on your interests. It will be nice for people to be able to automatically access high quality feeds from more than just a few mass media verticals. I’d love to see an international news focus, an environmental focus, a science focus – why not? Newsgator already has the best OPML support of all the major online feed reader vendors, they should leverage that.
  • De-emphasizing the term RSS feed. Reinacker says most people don’t want to see the acronym. I’m sure that’s true, and I’m all about making RSS usable by as many people as possible, but talk like that always makes me worry about decreased functionality. I hope that’s not the direction the system moves in.
  • Rieneker writes about changing the way people discover feeds, adding value at the point of discovery and participating in a larger ecosystem of users. That’s social networking talk and there’s no reason given Newsgator’s large enterprise user base that feeds themselves can’t be commented on, recommended, etc. Look for Newsgator to present feeds more as objects in and of themselves; objects that contain dynamically updated information but are also identified by a static URL which can be commented on and related to in a wide variety of ways.
  • The recently announced Newsgator plug-in for Yahoo! Messenger is highlighted as an example of “Newsgator everywhere”. Every major vendor in the online RSS reader space has a mobile version already – beyond the browser, the desktop, the mobile device and now IM where else could a feed reader go? What does Reinacker mean when he says that there’s more Newsgator everywhere to come? I can’t think of anywhere.
  • Newsgator Mobile for Windows Mobile enabled phones launched recently, but Reinacker says that all java-enabled phones will be able to use Newsgator Mobile soon. Let’s hope it doesn’t choke on a large number of feeds – like Newsgator Online has for months. Reinacker also says the company will be offering mobile audio and video podcasting soon. That will be an important test of the podcast listening by phone paradigm – expected to be big down the road.
  • Reinacker says the company has made a major commitment to the Newsgator API and improved analytics. I’ll make small mention of this here, but the implications could be big in terms of third party services. It could also mean more RSS advertising, which could be good or bad for users, depending on how it is implemented.
  • On the Newsgator enterprise service, a big chunk of where the company makes its money, Reinacker says “There’s so much activity going on here, I’m not sure I can even do it justice.” Since TechCrunch isn’t an enterprise focused blog I’ll just refer interested readers to the second to last paragraph of Reinacker’s post. He mentions improved portal integration, group clippings (enterprise tagging?) and very small business tools. All to be seen in Japan first, US and Europe later in the year.
  • Newsgator Private Label is one of the coolest parts of the Newsgator service. Newsgator MyUSAToday and Newsgator MyNewsweek may not be super exciting themselves, but think of the potential: a hosted community feed reader seeded with feeds selected by topical expert admin. Throw in a unique feed of items tagged as editor favorites on the community’s theme and you have a powerful online portal that’s super dynamic. Stay persistent though, I called the Newsgator sales line a while ago for a price quote on this (didn’t drop any organization names) and never heard back from them. This is big money for Newsgator and unfortunately their roadmap focus exclusively on advertising and PR possibilities for the future – though PR can be a good thing.

RSS is the foundation of almost everything Web 2.0 – isn’t it? It’s what makes blog readership scalable, podcasts subscribable, wiki changes watchable and so much more. If Newsgatgor can succeed in offering the kind of innovative features this roadmap alludes to, without falling into the trap of crass commercialism, Reinacker’s vision could be deeply influential for the future of the medium.