Will you battle to read ‘em?

Newspapers are in their twilight years. With every print run, they step closer to oblivion. Of course, you’re smart and you know full well that they exist for advertisers, not news, and there lies the rub: ad revenues are dwindling at an alarming rate. Oh, but what to do with that high brand equity and shrinking readership? Go online, right? Surely they’ll read us [insert major name] on tinterweb and we can sell banner ads instead of print ones?

If they’re half as committed to that oversimplified strategy as I believe they are, why don’t they help us digest their content more easily? Granted, they’re much better than they were (understanding that we don’t want to log in to read was a real boon) but much boundary pushing is needed if they’re going to carve a real niche out of the net.

Next to Google Earth, RSS is the best thing about the Internet. It’s simple and brilliant. Instead of typing in dozens of web addresses to check out what’s new, you can tell the web which sites you’d like to read and watch them all come into one page (or reader) as and when they refresh themselves. Instead of buying a paper or magazine which will have a good proportion of waste (i.e. I won’t read) Google can deliver 100% relevant content to any desktop or mobile device I choose – for free. Helpful. Genius. Time saving. Wonderful.

telegraph1Not so the experience you’ll find online at most of our British newspapers. Check out this article by Timothy Fadek at the Guardian.co.uk (note: no RSS in their address bar). Where is the feed for this page? There’s the usual social networking buttons, but what about a longer term buy-in? Sure, you can subscribe to the RSS feed from the business home page and get hooked up. The trouble is, it feeds you the whole of the business section (approx 270 posts per week) not the daily missives of your chosen journo or subject.

Telegraph.co.uk and timesonline.co.uk (what a dreadful URL) help you a wee bit by offering a selection of feeds, but they’re insufficient. You’ve got more chance of most writers cooking you dinner tonight than giving you an easy to find RSS feed. It’s a genuine shame that their technology is missing such an opportunity to gain attention and eyeballs.

A 20 second brainstorm on what could be better:

  • Allow us to plug in to ANY correspondent/writer;
  • Allow us to filter the feed by keyword or tag e.g. I want Brian Moore at the Telegraph.co.uk (actually possible if you’re persistent in your quest) but only on international rugby, not his club rugby, football or general pieces;
  • Allow us to skew to excerpt or full text (don’t force me to your site to read a whole article – it’s just tight);
  • Allow us to take the feed live, daily, weekly or monthly (as a magazine would arrive);
  • Allow the feed on keyword only but across all sections e.g. Lewis Hamilton could be in several areas other than F1 sport; and,
  • Allow a matrix of any the above.

RSS is chronically underused; newspapers could blow it open to become one of their saving graces. Of course, their content (and their contributors) is another matter entirely.

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