I'm a partner in the advanced analytics group at Bain & Company, the global management consulting firm. My primary focus is on marketing analytics (bio). I've been writing here (views my own) about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

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October 16, 2007

Branded Readers

Reading news and blogs through an RSS reader has been great for me.  I can get through a lot of stuff in very little time:  I'm guessing I'm 4x as productive going this route.  (I've tried a few different readers -- FeedDemon, Thunderbird, Newsgator, and I'm currently using Google Reader, with mixed results.)  Despite the clear benefits of these tools, few people outside my friends in tech use them.  I've been wondering why, and what opportunities the answers might mean.

The readers I've tried have different features, but they've all shared one thing in common:  they forced me to roll my own list of feeds. Sure, some of them came with a feed or two, from the provider of the reader, or maybe from some main news source.    And sure, mainstream news sites publish a variety of feeds -- but this presumes you use a reader to consume them through.  In fact, in a world where media firms are struggling mightily to drive traffic directly to their sites, it's ironic to see this on their RSS pages:


Rather than providing, at minimum, their own web-based reader as an alternative way to engage with their (and others') content, they send people away, and worse, to the portals!

Now of course you will say that people won't want to use multiple readers from different sources.  But that's exactly the point.  RSS reader adoption is still pretty low.  There's still a big opportunity for major media folks -- and advertisers -- to provide "branded readers" that come pre-packaged with a core (dynamic) list of recommended feeds, and which still allow people to add other feeds from other places so they won't be tempted to stray. 

So if you're an auto or  cooking or sports or foreign affairs or celebrity news destination site, why not provide an RSS reader to match?  Think of this as an alternative web property, or way to present content to your readers.  Their time spent with you might decline, since this is a more efficient way to consume your content (time might even go up if you have lots of good stuff to show). But readers' page views and click-throughs might go up, since they'll be exposed to more items.   

Other advantages:

  • You get to decide what the reader looks like, and how its screen spaces get used -- no small matter. 
  • By watching what feeds people add (subject to privacy guards), you can get insights into audience preferences that you would never get if you did all the content aggregation on your own.
  • You become a de-facto portal, with the potential to get paid for the traffic you drive to external sites you and your users aggregate.

Like every idea I have, I'm sure it's been thought of before, so please suggest ones I should look at.  But I know it's early:  interestingly, I can't yet subscribe to YouTube channels via Google Reader.

This idea recently got me thinking that in addition to my Google Reader feed of items I thought would be interesting to my friends and professional acquaintances, I should publish an OPML list of my favorite non-mainstream blogs, so people could import that list into their readers if they wished.

That'll go onto my to-do list.

Postscript (December 1, 2007):  Snarfer


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Good post over on Publishing 2.0 about readers' default feeds artificially boosting bloggers' feed subscriber numbers.


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