Rebranding RSS and syndication

Your grandmother doesn’t do HTTP and she doesn’t know from XHTML. You didn’t buy her a computer so she could access SMTP and IMAP and POP.
No, it took words like internet, web, and e-mail to help people who hadn’t been reading William Gibson make sense of this strange new world.
Bloggers and people who read weblogs and journalists and publishers whose websites emit RSS and Internet users who subscribe to syndicated RSS feeds and campaign workers who are designing custom community software tools around RSS frameworks all know that something big is emerging here.
But what do we call it? Do we call it RSS? That’s only half the story at best and it just isn’t catchy. Yes, for a brief period we made normal people wonder about how to say URL and we trained them to pronounce period ‘dot’, but even then people are more comfortable talking about web addresses and gravitated toward the metaphorical dotcom or maybe replaced the parentheses and hyphens in the phone numbers on their business cards with periods as a fashion statement.
Fact is, RSS sounds strange, requires explanation, and still doesn’t make any sense at first. (As Phil Wolff, I believe, asked recently. “What is XML and why is it orange?” But I’m not talking about the well known nonsensical-link/subscription-protocol debates – though that’s part of it.)
Syndication is an equally obscure concept and a moving target as terms-of-art go. Doc Searls just wrote up a nice etymology of syndic and its related terms, mostly having to do with selling in their original senses. He comes up with “notification” as the conceptual essence of RSS-type syndication formats and their uses (and reports that Steve Gillmor asserts that he’s still missing the bigger picture).
Meanwhile, Nova Spivack proposes a name for these more richly structured web communication channels we’re grooving to in
Every Revolution Needs a Name: The Metaweb…. I think I could get behind metaweb. It still leans to the geek a tad with its use of “meta-“, but at least he didn’t suggest calling it the memepunditzone or something like that.
(Speaking of, “at least is it’s not…” quips, back when I was complaining about how we’re stuck with the word blog, I tried to cheer myself up by suggestion that it could have been worse. The word could be “bloog.” Sure enough, there’s now a search engine called bloogz. I was talking to my old business partner about a blog-related business idea I had recently – codename, Houdini – and one thing we agreed was that the name of the thing would not have the word blog in it, or RSS, though it would deal with both.)
So, we need a new name for this stuff, if only some single word to refer to all of it. Doc still likes syndication, as he wrote in an earlier entry, the Syndies:

The act of syndication is a statement about the willingness of something to be known. I think that’s the key.

Notification, updates, syndication, metaweb. You name it.






4 responses to “Rebranding RSS and syndication”

  1. Peter Avatar

    Mmm… The categorization geek in me says: there are methods to define labels for things.
    One way would be: find some users, show them an aggregator tool and answer their questions about it while trying not to mention “RSS” or “Aggregator”. Then ask each user to explain it to the next user, record what they say and look for good words.
    I guess the other way is to do the same, but with journalists. I’m not sure if that’s wise though…

  2. Liza Sabater Avatar

    Homeschooling came in the way of writing up a post about this same subject.
    I happened upon a contest looking for the new name for RSS at Rename RSS! A CONTENTIOUS Contest. The real gems are not so much the entries but the links to other discussions about the subject, especially at John Battelle’s Searchblog: RSS Pushed One Step Closer to the Limelight.
    The Salon article is good enough to PDF in case it disappear$$$ from their site.
    METAWEB does not work because it’s too passive. It is a thing not something you do like eMail. Even though I agree that syndication carries the connotation of a monetary exchange, it is actually a nominal verb. Nouns that are nominal verbs carry in them the idea of an action. There is no webbing but there is certainly quite a lot of emailing going around, especially of the Nigerian persuasion.
    I agree with Doc Searles about the element of notification/update/alert in RSS but it is not a notification that is pushed upon people like an email. It is certainly pulled by the readers through aggregators as Nova Spivak suggests but I think that using aggregators to speedily scan hundreds of sites is what makes RSS sexier than web surfing. It’s the web with remote control.
    I’ve been thinking about these possibilities:
    Short Wave Web
    and maybe Broadcast
    What’s on your list?

  3. Graeme Foster Avatar

    The word “subscription” doesn’t seem to have been mentioned. Seems to me like a consumer-friendly name should reflect what the technology does for *them*.

  4. xian Avatar

    Good point. Dave Winer was bandying about “publish and subscribe” and later shortened it to “pub-sub” in the comment thread to his blog entry about how nobody should touch the name of course, and show more respect while they’re at it, but also not to get too uppity and to do their homework first.