What’s the Best RSS Reader for Rich Media?

December 14, 2006

rsstogether.jpgI’m looking for a new RSS feed reader that offers good support for video, audio and photos. This post will discuss what I’ve found in that search. It’s not pretty so far. The content available in the market is moving much faster than the tools to consume it. SplashCast will play a roll in this situation, but for now I’m just looking for an RSS reader that will help me do my job efficiently at an online media company. Perhaps you are too.

The following is a discussion of the problem, then a description of the criteria I used to review 10 leading RSS readers on the market, a paragraph about each product and a chart comparing features. Features are honestly open to some interpretation and I may have missed some important vendors, but I think this should be useful for both readers and myself.

The Problem

It is inefficient, unpleasant and feels behind the times to have to launch another application like a browser or iTunes to play media files delivered to my feed reader. Online syndicated media is an exploding market; as methods of communication go, it’s one of the fastest growing, most compelling and potentially most commercially viable new developments that has emerged in some time. An estimated 30 million people (5% of broadband users) watch at least one video online each day. There are currently an estimated 4.2 billion total video streams per month arround the web. In order to effectively engage with this media, many of us are going to need RSS readers that are equipped for the task.

Right now none of the leading RSS readers for Mac or Windows let users capture, preview, play, tag and share items within the application itself and in the order that they arrive in your aggregator. In other words, I cannot find any feed reader on the market today that combines rich media support, integration with 3rd party tagging and sharing services and a “river of news” view. That’s a problem.

Tools Available Today

The following are short descriptions of the 10 leading commercial RSS readers and a comparison of their features. Who’s the winner? No one is a clear winner by the criteria I’ve chosen.

Summary of Recommendations

As a Mac user, I’m going to spend more time with NewsFire on my desktop. If I was a Windows user and wanted to consume video inline and needed a river of news view – I would cry. If rich media is more important to you then go with Google Reader. If a river of news is more important then go with FeedDemon.

The Chart

click to expandrssfeatureschart.jpg

Review Criteria
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RSS and the Art of Packaging

November 30, 2006

I read about Blastfeed, a new feed filtering service at Read/Write Web. It made me pause, especially in light of the Bear Sterns Report recently released. The report states that filtering and packaging has become critical as more and more user-generated-content is created. I think there may be a connection between what Bear Sterns concludes and the continual sophistication of RSS filtering mechanisms that can be applied to create a packaged viewer experience.

First, feed filtering is a concept I’ve always found of interest. Now that Marhall Kirkpatrick has come out with his methods for breaking stories using RSS and alerts, my interest has morphed. Marshall, by the way, is one talented blogger but he is equally skilled in how he discovers the news. He represents a new breed of journalism where breaking stories come from primary sources, but equally as important, from a filtered network of blogs where the freshest and most relevent news rise to the top.

Marshall, who has become quite a good friend here in Portland, has provided me with a new perspective about RSS.  He’s taught me about the use of alert services like zaptxt and other feed filtering services like FeedRinse. These tools represent a new era in syndication; RSS is now a packaging tool, integrated with user context such as ratings, comments and other methods for quantifying the relevance of the media. Google seems to be heading in this direction. I think the Beet.tv interview with Hunter Walk is testament to the direction the search giant is heading.

A logical next step in filtering and packaging user generated content is to actually present the RSS search query results directly in media players for people to immediately consume. In this model, RSS is completely “behind the scenes”, as it should be; people don’t understand XML, enclosures, media formats, etc — they just want the content. The producer packages the news and information that they have filtered and serve it back to the viewers, who may then take that media and remix it and package it in their own way for others to learn from, watch and enjoy.  No geek know-how required.

It’s all about how media is presented in a world where abundance, not scarcity, is the rule of the day.

And that’s a big part of what we are doing with SplashCast: providing super easy tools for people to filter and package the best and most relevant user-generated-content, and then share it with the world.

Pew Study Shows Need For Sophisticated, Flash-Based Podcast Players

November 22, 2006

Pew Internet & American Life Project study shows that 12 percent of internet users have downloaded a podcast but ony 1 percent download shows on a daily basis. Here’s the download of the full report.

This shows the real need for quality, flash-based players that pull files and syndicated information into the show for the viewer to see. People are not downloading shows on a regular basis. Studies show that most people just watch or listen to the show from the web page.

RSS is a foreign concept to most people. Just as most do not know what a widget is or does. But RSS information can be fed to a large group of people who are unfamiliar with the idea of subscribing to feeds. Instead, the podcaster can act as the one supplying the feeds for a person to view in a flash-based environment. That’s the similarity to widgets in a way. The producer feeds the information to the widget environment. That information may be RSS feeds. the viwer does not care. They just are there to watch or listen to what the producer is presenting.

This is exactly what we are working on at Splashcast. Providing a mixed media platform for syndicating media to a flash-based player network. Feeds can be imported directly into the player. The viewer gets the show. They get the feed. People may then susbcribe to the channel and place the player on their site for others to watch. In the meantime, the data is being measured. More on that another time.

Demo will be ready to show in the next week or so. Give me a call or drop me a line if you are interested in Splashcast’s applications for podcasters.

Alex Williams
alex at splashcast dot net

Micro Persuasion: Pew: 12% Have Listened to a Podcast, But Only 1% Download Daily

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RSS Is Public

November 5, 2006

Robert Scoble is getting some criticism for putting full feeds into his link blog. Andy Beard says he is stealing thanks to the Google Reader.

A commenter brings up the spectre of the DMCA (Digital Management Copyright Act) and goes as far as to say that Robert is in violation of the law by republishing copyrighted material.

Hogwash. RSS is public, thank you. It was designed to be public. It’s the responsibility of the RSS publisher to understand the full ramifications of publishing a feed.

But it’s not a black and white kind of thing. It’s about respect. If you are making money off someone’s feed then a deal has to be made with the person whose work you respect enough to show on your site. It’s good for you. It’s good for the artist. But if you are publishing and not making a buck then why the heck do you have to ask permission? That’s where it gets a bit grey. For the publisher may have text ads on the site. But if the text ads make incidental revenue, the producer has to weigh whether it makes sense to cut off the feed and lose the ability to benefit from link backs and referring traffic.

I talked with a very well-known publisher about this at the Vloggies last night. For him, it’s really just a case by case kind of thing. It’s subjective. There is no process for deciding if the feed should be shut off or not. But if the site owner is making direct revenue from the feed, it’s time to start talking about licensing. Jason Calacanis weighs in on the issue, too.

We talk about the issue of copyright every day at SplashCast. We maintain that RSS feeds are designed to be aggregated and shared. I receive full feeds in my news reader. I am getting that information without visiting the web site. Google Reader takes the next step by allowing you to publish those feeds into a link blog that you can share with the public or restrict it in some manner.

RSS is public. It allows for sharing. And its why the web has become a more interesting place over the past few years. Without the sharing, we just turn into copyright holders, restricted and forced into silos. And, unfortunately, that would make our world a very dark place. I’d hate to see that happen.

IPTV Meets User-Generated Channels

November 1, 2006

Om Malik writes about the coming of IPTV (digital television over your Internet connection).  Not surprisingly, Europe and Asia are way ahead of the US in early adoption. 

Bluewin TV, one of the new IPTV services out of Switzerland, is boasting 100 TV channels and 70 radio stations.   

Uh… so what? 

The promise of IPTV is not to create a better television experience, it is to completely redefine what television is.  TiVo took this part way, but not far enough.  IPTV will pick up where TiVo has negligently left off. 

That is, we demand that IPTV services include all of the social features we’ve become accustomed to in the MySpace / YouTube world.  That is: collaborative filtering, user commenting, ratings, flagging,  content sharing, bookmark sharing, etc. 

But most importantly, IPTV holds the promise of truly democratizing the “airwaves” by opening the network up to user-generated channels.

SplashCast will enable anyone to build their own media channel, broadcasting content they’ve either created or aggregated to any web site on the web.  In the not-so-distant future, these user-generated and user-programmed channels will be available in your living room.  You’ll be able to flip between NBC Nightly News, the Om Malik channel (to watch his latest vodcast), the Justin Timberlake channel (to get footage of him eating breakfast IHOP — paid for by IHOP), the Barack Obama channel (to get the latest scoop on his presidential ambitions), and your brother’s channel (where your 4-year-old nephew is the star).

Coming soon

Universal Media Player for the Distributed Web

October 30, 2006

Pete Cashmore of Mashable is a visionary.

Last February Pete wrote about the idea of a Universal Media Player:

Flickr, YouTube, Stickam, del.icio.us, Revver and many more Web 2.0 players have successfully employed widgets to drive traffic back to their own sites. eBay and Amazon take the next step by incentivizing their widgets (you earn a % of any transaction). And finally there’s the widget to end all widgets: the indefatigable Google Adsense. Ultimately, I wonder whether we even need to drive traffic back to the originating site – it seems feasible to have all the interaction taking place within the widget itself (and in fact this already happens with Adsense). Nonetheless, you still need a centralized site where the user can create his widgets (or do you?).

The answer to your parenthetical question, Pete, is no.  In the post-destination-website era (a.k.a. “the distributed web”), your rich media content will be splashed across hundreds of different web pages, yet you will be able to remotely control and track it all from one simple console, accessible directly from any Universal Media Player, on any web page.

Sorry it took 10 months for your vision to become reality, Pete.

Wanna sneak peak?  Sign up for SplashCast beta.

Brightcove Tries To Go Consumer

October 29, 2006

Techcrunch tonight announced the launch of the new Brightcove, their attempt to bring video syndication to the YouTube / MySpace generation. 

It will be interesting to see if Brightcove, which has been become associated with high-end, professional video only will be able to lose some their slickness to attract the polish-adverse amateur producers and web publishers. 

The important questions for Brightcove are A) do they have the ingredients to ignite viral adoption of their syndication program, B) will they really appeal to the edgy, creative indie / amateur producers. 

To me, they still feel very corporate and I think it will be hard for them to overcome that image.  Marshall at Techcrunch talks about their mega-experienced management team… that’s great, but I wonder if in some respects they’d be better off working out of a garage.

We obviously love the concept of what they’re trying to do — media syndication for everyone — and wish them the best of luck. 

We will be keeping a close eye on them as we launch SplashCast.