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Enterprise RSS – The End or the Beginning?

Marshall Kirkpatrick has stirred things up for RSS followers with his post R.I.P Enterprise RSS on Read Write Web. As I write this, there have been 70 comments covering a range of viewpoints. Marshall's post is one of several recent perspectives relating to what is commonly called “enterprise RSS”. The crux of Marshall's observation is that RSS has not been widely adopted by large organizations despite expectations a couple of years ago that RSS would be come a key enterprise tool.
Marshall's article is not an attack on the value of RSS. In fact, Marshall explains “[w]e love RSS and this makes us really sad. If much of the rest of the world wants to ignore this technology, though, it's their loss. It's our bread and butter. Neglecting RSS at work seems to us like pure insanity. He continues “[a] market without enterprise use of business class RSS readers is like a flock of sitting ducks. Any company that steps up to make serious strategic use of such software should be at an immediate advantage in terms of early and efficient access to information.”
Hard to argue with any of those observations.
What is the take away? Maybe that it is still too early to stop the clock and call this one. Those of us that have lived life as early adopters and are old enough may remember colleagues making observations like “why do I need email if I can fax a letter?” In hindsight it seems obvious, but it was not to them at the time. Personal adoption led to business use and business use led to enterprise-class applications.
There are many factors contributing to the pace of adoption of RSS within the enterprise. The first question is whether or not everyone using the term “enterprise RSS” means the same thing? Glancing at the comments and generous ranting around the web the answer seems to be no. I also agree with Mike Gotta's observation that “Enterprise RSS is not a great label. RSS is a technology/protocol.” At Attensa we view the category broadly as enabling enterprise-wide publish-subscribe networks that aggregate information from people and systems through the enterprise and channel it intelligently to the users that need it. These information networks substantially improve how organizations and their employees manage information and share knowledge. RSS is just one underlying standard that makes this flow possible.
There is collective wisdom in the comments that suggest the companies involved in the enterprise RSS space have focused on the technology and neglected or have done a poor job articulating the business applications and benefits of using feeds and channels to streamline communication and collaboration behind the firewall. In Attensa's case, I know we have been guilty. Those of us impressed with the potential of these new publish-subscribe paradigms are eager to talk about its capabilities from a technical perspective. We need to make sure we are emphasizing the business value that results from collaboration enabled business processes.
Enterprise RSS doesn't mean much. When vendors and solution providers emphasize secure communications channels that intelligently and automatically route relevant information to the people who need/want it, light bulbs start lighting up. Efforts such as the Enterprise RSS Day of Action organized by James Dellow are positive steps in the process of change. I hope those and new efforts continue.
Another factor impacting timing is that even forward thinking enterprise customers making decisions to implement these solutions face a fundamentally different and more complex decision. Many current RSS fans are free to try an application here, a service there, experiment and explore the possibilities. Be honest, how many twitter clients have you tried this year? Larger organizations obviously do not have that flexibility in their plans for thousands of users. In many ways, this thing we are calling enterprise RSS is one of the more complex solution components in the Web 2.0 family. As successes and best practices become more visible the pace of adoption will accelerate.
Another tactical consideration is that RSS exposes many information management problems that have arisen from the fact that most Web 2.0 applications are great at publishing but not so great at delivery. This is both an inhibiting technical issue (Chris Saad has an interesting post on the data portability blog). as well as a solutions implementation challenge. We are excited to see the emergence of firms with experience and focused expertise to provide overarching solution architectures. They are a big part of the answer.
While technical innovation will continue (and we have ours planned at Attensa) the immediate focus should be delivering coherent business solutions. With a healthy debate and increasing awareness driven by articles like Marshall's, solutions and common perspectives will emerge. The heavy lifting of this challenge lies with the vendors and solution integrators to create solutions that facilitate natural user adoption, address enterprise information management challenges and produce immediate value.
We agree that ignoring these important tools in the workplace “seems to us like pure insanity.” The expectations of early adopters and innovators (present company included) is not necessarily the best determinant of when to assess the health of the market. It has been disappointing to many of us because we understand the potential. However, there have been many new technology trends that died from the disappointment caused by their own hype. I do not think that is happening here. Enterprise use of these tools is not dead it is evolving purposefully.
Thanks Marshall, I think I am going to need a few hours this weekend to read all the comments and links.

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