I a most recent move, Microsoft MSN started testing a standalone web-based RSS aggregator, in addition to the already existing RSS functionality within the main MSN portal. The move without doubt signals that Microsoft is intending to become a key player in the RSS content aggregation market.
While "the search war" is already in full swing, signs of an already underlying "RSS war" are all here, reaching in to the following areas:
a] RSS search, tightly related with "traditional" search. Signs of this are already showing, as market players are starting to 1] provide search for RSS feed content and 2] provide traditional search results via RSS, both of these being a strong ad sales factor and end-user loyalty factor.
Actually, in an interview I recently did, Scott Rafer of Feedster ventured that the future of RSS lies in search, as managing thousands of feeds will become practically impossible, signaling that in the end users might consume their RSS content via search, instead of subscribing to individual RSS feeds.
b] RSS advertising. Tightly related to RSS search on one hand (keyword advertising), and building ad networks on the other. Search companies and online RSS content aggregation providers are aleady looking for ways to best capitalize on their reach, while RSS ad networks are no longer a stranger in the world of advertising.
c] Online content aggregators. People are no longer satisfied with news from a small selection of content sources, but want content from a multitude of different sources. Online content aggregators, such as Yahoo!, are giving them just that.
Not before long, most large media sites could be transformed in to part-time content aggregators via RSS. The competition in this market is getting fierce.
d] RSS aggregators, both web-based and desktop. This market is seeing increasing competition almost every week, with users having the choice of dozens and dozens of content aggregation tools.
e] And finally, many companies have already started the battle for RSS publishing solution supremacy, but with no victor as of yet. Actually, this part of the RSS market is the most interesting, since publishing solutions are really quite differentiated, with each of the key players offering something unique.
The five areas, especially a] through d], are heavily related with eachother and web search as well. Moves by already established strong startups are constantly matched by the A-list market players, while there seems to be a new startup entering the market evey day to take away part of the pie, hoping to come out the big winner in the end.
Under normal circumstances, the increasing competition in the RSS market should be viewed with applause and excitement, but I'm really wondering if that is the case here. RSS might be too young to accomodate for so many market players, as users are only slowly starting to grasp the concept, but already have dozens of providers to choose from. Since branded RSS aggregators are just entering the battle, the confusion will continue to grow with even marginal sites (such as MarketingStudies.net, in the larger scheme of things) providing their own aggregators.
There might be other considerations as well.
RSS and search are now more integrated than ever before, and the future predominent use of RSS might be some form of highly targeted search results, aggregated from thousands and thousands of RSS feeds around the world. Since there are already too many RSS feeds on mainstream topics available anywhere, it has become impossible for a single person to watch all of them. Search is the natural result, a helping hand to guide visitors through the ever-growing content jungle on the internet.
But if user habits change from active "individual publisher" subscriptions to aggregate search subscriptions, that might mean the end of the marketing world as we know it.
A Possible Future
1] The web is no longer browsed, but tightly searched from within "RSS" aggregators. Most traditional content-oriented websites cease to exist, as end-users are only interested in their full-text content, to be displayed in full in their aggregators, fully evading the publisher's advertisements and any direct contact with him. Website branding effors as such dissapear, while direct marketing and direct relationship management become nearly impossible, since content is served through third-party media and aggregators.
2] The internet power shifts from a highly distributed (distributed to thousands of websites) power scheme to a select small number of aggregation media and search engines. In a way, this is already happening through sites like Google, Yahoo and other leading online media. The consumer no longer has the relationship with the company/publisher, but only with the "content aggregator", often completely evading any contact with the company. Since consumer buying habits are leaning towards merchant and generic brands, this might not be so far off.
3] Traditional advertising models and direct marketing become a thing of the past. Advertising is now only served next to search results --> direct advertising.
4] The only way for publishers to develop relationships and facilitate sales on the internet is changing their content strategy, by first implementing relationship and sales elements in to the actual content, and second by providing unique content feeds, limited-access on one side (so as to block full-text aggregate content access) and community based on the other.
5] Guerrilla marketing finds its way back in to the mainstream, as even mid-sized companies can no longer keep up with the big players using the now "traditional" marketing tools. The marketing focus switches to community building and evangelization, which are no longer just part of the marketing strategy, but are the marketing strategy.
6] Publishers providing exclusive content cease to syndicate their content to other media, turning their sites in to exclusive content sources for specific topics.
While my rational side keeps telling me that this "forecast" just can't come to life, there's a small voice nagging inside saying just the opposite. Anyhow, the marketing world will never be the same again.