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Today's Intranet RSS: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

RSS syndication is playing, and will increasingly play, a big role on the corporate intranet. Given the many good Internet-based aggregators, many in IT may not even know how important it already is to corporate workers retrieving information from the Internet. RSS is also improving the usability of commercial collaboration offerings. For example, the next major release of SharePoint will provide RSS feeds for lists.

However, I am skeptical when I hear someone say that RSS is the new intranet protocol. Perhaps from a macro-level viewpoint RSS represents what it will take to successfully collaborate on an intranet (lightweight syndication). But, RSS requires more contextual information  than the text-only data provided by today's feeds. We will also need to see more effective aggregation tools than the present set of email-like aggregators.

In other words, RSS syndication must evolve to really impact the intranet for the long-term.

I think this recent quote  from David Berlind goes over the top and wraps up too many expectations into today's RSS:

"With RSS as both the notification mechanism and the content subscription mechanism, you basically have a single technology that takes e-mail, e-mail attachments, and far too many round-trips (of email, to fully facilitate the collaboration) completely out of the equation."

RSS could be a more effective notification mechanism than email. But many intranet applications already offer email notification with options that cause them to be triggered when certain objects change or an event occurs. Many users don't bother to use them (or don't know how) or they just ignore the default notification when it arrives. Also, to the corporate worker, there is little difference between today's RSS aggregator and an email program. In some cases, they are one and the same; Outlook 2007, for example, will also be an RSS aggregator.

As more intranet applications provide RSS feeds, we will be processing more messages. This will just add to the already insane amount of email. More information in an already-crowded inbox will not be welcomed by anybody other than the few who are proficient in automating their message filtering. Everyone else may just say "No Thanks" to RSS syndication and write it off as another source of information glut.

The key to long-term success with intranet RSS syndication is to get the latest project information (or application specific information) into appropriate places where corporate workers can make decisions and take action. We need to get people out of the mode of processing messages and into a position to gain insight.

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