With blogs proliferating at breakneck speed, it's no wonder that a market is emerging for developers of search engines that find and aggregate all of this fringe content. But just like any other Jacks climbing the beanstalk of an untapped business opportunity, these aggregators of Really Simple Syndication feeds are sure to wake the giants of Internet search.
Upstarts including Feedster, Feedburner, Technorati, and about a dozen others specialize in creating RSS engines that automate the delivery of XML-based content, a critical tool for Web surfers who wish to search blogs for specific information. Just as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo can encapsulate different areas of the Web in few keystrokes, RSS search engines are creating an aggregation point that lets people access blog content based on a query, senior Yankee Group analyst Dana Gardner says.
Originally developed by Netscape as a tool for building portals that contain headlines and links to mainstream news sites, RSS is a standard that Web publishers and bloggers use to provide updates to blog postings. Blog readers, meanwhile, use RSS reader applications to monitor this content and have it delivered via a feed to someplace convenient, such as a personalized portal.
RSS is a way to connect with content subscribers on a more personal level than a Web search engine can, says Feedster president and CEO Scott Rafer. "We talk about searching today's Internet."
Rafer acknowledges that HTML-based Web pages are still very much in demand today, necessitating the coexistence of Web browsers and RSS feeds. But as more content is written in XML, the demand will increase for RSS. "People are creating blog reading habits already, and they're finding that they want access to the content that's of most interest to them," he says.
Blog content is also of interest to big corporations. Businesses in many vertical industries, including retail, manufacturing and insurance, pay close attention as to how they're perceived by the public. Consumer-generated blogs are a medium that can be used to discuss such companies, so naturally they're interested in learning more.
"Certain enterprises know how to deal with more traditional kinds of media, but they're only starting, or not starting at all yet, to deal with media being generated by bloggers," says Hadley Reynolds, VP and research director with consulting firm The Delphi Group. The opening up of aggregated RSS feeds to large companies represents a substantial business opportunity for them to better tap into the flow of new content generated outside the purview of more conventional Web search technology.
Market consolidation is already under way among companies that deliver RSS-related technology. NewsGator Technologies Inc. Tuesday announced it has acquired Bradbury Software to gain access to its FeedDemon Windows-based desktop RSS aggregator and TopStyle CSS/xHTML editor for Windows. NewsGator expects to integrate FeedDemon with the NewsGator Online synchronization platform, which provides blog aggregation data and links to users via the Web, mobile phones, television, and E-mail clients such as Microsoft Outlook. "NewsGator uses a subscription model, and FeedDemon will become part of their subscription plans," Bradbury Software founder Nick Bradbury wrote Tuesday in his company blog.
As RSS aggregation technology creeps to the center of the radar screen, the companies developing and selling it will have to run tight ships to ensure they can survive in a market that's yet to prove itself profitable. For smaller RSS players, open-source software becomes an essential ingredient within their own IT environments to ensure they have a sustainable operation, Gardner says.
"I can't be more expensive to operate than my competitors," Feedster's Rafer says, adding that efficiency and cost effectiveness are also very important when seeking venture-capital funding. "If I'm not using inexpensive open source, I can't get this funded."
Feedster claims to provide an index across more than 6 million feeds updated several times per hour, adding millions of new documents daily. To keep up with these demands on the back end, the company is running Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server and MySQL database. The SuSE Linux servers interface with a new Hitachi Storage Area Network the company will finish implementing within the next few weeks. Feedster is running the Gentoo Linux operating system on its Web servers, which pump out its RSS feeds.
Feedster also uses open-source at its core, relying on community-written and maintained phpadnews as its ad server, which pulls advertisements from the company's database and runs them in the search results that Feedster produces. "Without the ability to work with open source, I don't know that we would have gotten going," says Oren Michels, the company's VP of engineering.
Although RSS's impact on more conventional Web technology is difficult to predict, it's hard to deny the interest in this market. This interest could ultimately be what undoes emerging players, after search mainstays Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft get serious about applying this technology to their already established brands. Says Gardner: "We're going to see a very rapid maturity around RSS to where it becomes dominated by the gorillas."