Really Simple Mobile Surfing
By Carlo Longino, Tue Nov 16 00:30:00 GMT 2004

RSS is changing how people surf the Web -- and it could bring the mobile Internet into the mainstream, too.

Really Simple Syndication -- RSS -- has begun to move from the realm of the geek into the mainstream. Yahoo! has had RSS feeds on its news site for a while now, but many observers saw the addition of RSS to My Yahoo! as a major step towards recognition and adoption of RSS by the general public -- even though many of them won't have any idea they're using it.

But they don't need to. One problem with the development of the mobile Internet has been an overdependence on technical jargon and terms that are meaningless to consumers. But RSS is so simple, so easily described or managed as "subscriptions" or "updates" or "news feeds", and so flexible, that it could become the standard for information delivery to mobile devices, and make the mobile Internet an integral part of people's lives, or at least much more integral than it is today.

The real breakthrough here would be to develop a mobile RSS reader designed for the non-technically inclined, then support it with a Web-based management tool so users could maintain their subscriptions and update their reader over the air. It could be branded by a carrier (or whoever, really), and made to fit in to their existing content portals, and the reader software could be given a simple UI based around subscriptions or some other easily digestible paradigm.

MocoNews thinks AOL might be up to something like this, based on a job posting for a development position there in "Wireless RSS". It says AOL is looking for somebody to build a Java/Brew RSS reader that "would allow users to browse for their most popular feeds as well as receive notifications on feed updates on their wireless devices. Features such as locality specific feeds (e.g. automatically get a feed of all theaters near your current location, with what movies are running) could also be integrated". Of course AOL's only interested in putting one brand on this -- its own. But does this job indicate that it's looking to come up with its friendly version of the mobile Internet to take to the masses, like it did for the wired version?

RSS makes a lot of sense for the mobile space. It lets content be preloaded, taking out the waiting time inherent in browsing on many of today's 2G networks. Content providers could throw nearly anything into an RSS feed, and users could have it stored locally on their handset. Not just news or blog updates, but things like movie listings or sports scores, and even group messaging. It's also great because as much as the content can be self-contained, it can also be a jumping-off point for a browsing session. Say a user opens up the movie listings, and finds something they want to see. They click a link in the showtime entry, and they're taken to the ticketing provider so they can buy a seat. Click a link in a score update, and they;re taken to a content provider's page with live play-by-play.

Part of the challenge in this is getting content providers to make this sort of information available in RSS. This, of course, isn't a challenge for AOL, which owns several properties like Moviefone and CityGuide where it's got content it can port to the format, and it's also got considerable stroke with third-party providers to get them onboard.

Things don't have to be limited to just text, either -- RSS already supports images, and other enclosures, like audio and video, currently giving rise to the podcasting phenomenon. RSS could deliver video content across 3G networks, and even on slower ones by pre-loading content in the background or during off hours.

RSS provides a pretty solid distribution system for mobile content, and its push-like qualities make it well suited to the space. AOL's apparent push could be a bad thing for anybody smaller trying to make a go of mobile RSS, but it could serve to popularize the mobile Internet.