Tuesday, December 21, 2004

10 Reasons Nonprofits Should Use RSS

Update: This post is the base for the TechSoup article, RSS for Nonprofits.

Richard Koman and I were talking yesterday about how there are no RSS articles on TechSoup. And there aren't. Often, when I hear something like that, I think< Yeah, but there are a lot of good RSS articles in general. And that's true. Here are some of the ones I frequently find myself pointing people towards:

(The following depends on the notion that you have a notion of what RSS/web feeds/aggregators are. If you don't, read one of the above. "RSS (protocol)" and "What's RSS and Why Should I Care About It?" are both easy starting places)

The argument we frequently find ourselves using is that none of that explains the reasons nonprofits should do it. Frankly, nonprofits should use RSS for the same reasons everyone else should. But here goes -- 10 reasons translated into nonprofit-speak.

This is the start of what may eventually be a TechSoup article. Please give me your feedback in the comments -- and make sure that I have a way of crediting your contribution.

  1. It's a ridiculously easy way to read the web. So, how many bookmarks do you have in your browser? How many of them have new information? Does it make you sick to your stomach to think of clicking through all of those to discover whether or not the website owners have added new, interesting content? Via RSS, you can subscribe to many websites and very easily find out whether there is new relevant content. My bookmarks no longer scare me. In fact, I rarely use them.
  2. It's ridiculously easy to discover relevant information. For people without a desire to spelunk on the web, finding things and checking back has been a chore. Many folks approach Google like it's a library card catalog. I want to find out about X and so I'll search on Google and then trust in its algorithm and click through the links on the first, oh, two, let's say, pages. RSS allows you to tap important, relevant, even mission-critical information by enabling the creation of feeds based on keywords (how this happens varies but there are a variety of tools -- PubSub, technorati, feedster -- that you can use and many aggregators integrate with those tools in way that allows you to create searches). So, let's say you work for an organization that is following issues pertaining to same sex civil unions and/or marriages. You can set up some keyword searches and then subscribe to those searches. This can allow relevant information to come to you.
  3. It's ridiculously easy to share the information you get. One of the nice things about RSS is that information comes to you in manageable chunks: a NYTimes headline with a sentence-long article summary; a complete weblog entry; a teaser for a longer weblog entry; the pointer to a newsgroup posting; an email announcement list; events. You can push that information out to communities who may interested -- simply send it via email or put it on your own blog.
  4. It's ridiculously easy to participate in conversations. Okay, RSS is just an enabler here. Why should you care what people are saying about the issues you're interested in? Well, if it's the New York Times or own local paper that interest can be self-evident (we certainly have framed NY Times articles gracing the entry way to our offices). But what about what people are saying on weblogs or on community sites like Tribe? Knowing what they are saying -- and where they are saying it -- gives you the opportunity to participate in the conversation. You make a comment on someone's website or participate in a message board thread. This helps to further the conversation and distributes your content (you'll sign your comment right? and include your organization's web presence?) around the web. This makes the web a richer place but it also helps to generate attention to the issues you are working on.
  5. It's ridiculously easy to control your own subscriptions. Here's the truth: unsubscribing from some mailing lists, announcements, or other outreach is, how do you say, a chore. You have to click a link that, about half the time, merely confirms that you are a real, live body receiving email. You can't remember how it is that you elected to receive the information and, most critical to me, it ends up mixed in with the ebb-and-flow of your inbox and, hence, gets in the way of getting work done. RSS gives you complete control. You can easily segment your feed (it's hard to set up an email filter for something you don't know you are receiving) from your regular email. You can even use a non-email client aggregator.
  6. It's ridiculously easy to allow people to trade your good content like it's a baseball card. It may sound like I'm being flip. I'm not; I swear. Hook yourself up with an RSS feed (to see an organization trying to talk through that read this thread on TechSoup, TechSoup newsfeed please!). It allows people to very easily trade your good relevant content and that's exactly what you want right? It happens at almost no cost to you.
  7. It's ridiculously easy for other people to lend you a bit of their web real estate. Okay, this one is a little harder. But RSS does offer up the possibility of allowing other organizations to display some of your content on their website. This is good. It gets your content out to a variety of audiences and it can greatly enhance relevant partnerships. The best part? They don't actually have to talk to you for this to happen. Painless content partnerships. What more could anyone want?
  8. It's ridiculously easy to avoid being a spammer. Opt-in, double opt-in. Allowing people to subscribe via RSS puts complete control into their hands and gets you completely off the spammer hook. Okay, so some email publishers (as Bill Pease says in this TechSoup thread, Is email dead?) hate that. It's hard to track traffic and click thrus, and it puts control completely in the hands of the subscriber and not the publisher. I just don't agree. If you are creating good content people will subscribe and they will stay subscribed. That means that, ultimately, the control is really in your hands. Compelling content works better than anything else. Oh yeah, not being a spammer isn't just an ethical (and increasingly legal issue) not being a spammer also means that you message will get to your intended audience and not dumped into a spam filter.
  9. It's ridiculously easy to contribute to web-wide conversations. Okay, if you're using RSS to track what people are saying about important issues and what people are saying about you, so are other folks. By making your content available via RSS, you're allowing other people to discover you. And they'll be commenting on your site, linking to it, and (here's the kicker) subscribing to your RSS feed and not just stumbling across you in their own keyword searches.
  10. It's only just beginning. RSS is in relatively early stages. The tools are still pretty raw but it pays for nonprofits, in their efforts to gain mindshare for the change they are trying to make, it get in on the ground floor of these types of communication technologies. It'll better position you to take advantage of them as they mature and additional uses become available.

So, what isn't' clear? What did I leave out? Let me know. As I said, be sure to give me a way to credit you in any repurposing of this post.

(This might also end up in a session I'm doing at NTC -- more on that later)

updated: removed some of the most offensive typos.

RSS, web_feeds, nonprofits, leveraged_content)