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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

Email Suw

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

E-mail Kevin.

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Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Enterprise RSS must not die

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Marshall Kirkpatrick over at ReadWriteWeb has said that enterprise RSS is dead. Brad Feld, an investor in Newsgator, disagrees and thinks that RSS is alive and well. There’s a spirited discussion in both posts’ comments that’s worth a scan.

I was talking about enterprise RSS only yesterday, and my experience with it has been that it’s nigh on impossible to get RSS readers rolled out in my clients’ companies (except the really small ones, and they tend to go for Google Reader or something else that’s free, not enterprise). Only two clients over the last four years have actually piloted an RSS reader internally.

One client tried Newsgator, but didn’t like it. I wasn’t privy to that conversation, so all I know is that the feature set wasn’t adequate for the money. That was a couple of years ago, so that doesn’t tell us much about the situation now. The other client also tried Newsgator and the jury was still out at the time my engagement finished, but given that their budget was subsequently slashed to £0, I’m guessing that they too didn’t end up with an enterprise-wide installation.

Of the others, we often didn’t get as far as discussions about cost or features, because the response from IT was a flat “No”. There just was no political will within the company to even investigate the possibility, let along start assessing possible tools. I’ve also had reports of companies saying “Yes, we’ll think about it, but a code review might take upwards of a year”, which is so close to “No” that you couldn’t get a piece of paper between them.

So what’s going on? Certainly it’s not that RSS is a difficult concept to explain. I explain it all the time, and whilst it helps to be able to draw diagrams for people, when you say “Instead of you going round to all those websites you check on a daily basis, the content just comes to you” most people understand. And I don’t believe the people who complain about RSS being a three letter acronym either - I just don’t think people are that stupid.

The Web 2.0 evangelists within enterprise that I’ve known have all been really smart people who totally understand the usefulness of RSS, but often they don’t have the political capital to get things done properly. Often they are working with no budget, and have a hard enough time protecting basic tools such as blogs and wikis from senior managers who’d prefer everything to be in SharePoint instead. They don’t necessarily have the heft to get a new tool rolled out company-wide.

Often, RSS readers are seen as a tool that might benefit a minority of people (the evangelists themselves) and the wider uses across the business are either not discussed or not recognised. This gives IT, or other sections of management, the excuse they need to shut down any sort of RSS reader project. Of course, RSS is not just for edge cases, but a useful tool for anyone who has to deal with lots of incoming information, from marketing to competitive intelligence to research to development… the list goes on and on. Yet if it can be characterised as just for a minority, it can be side-lined and binned.

The Catch-22 attitude - if a technology isn’t used by the majority then it’s not going to be rolled out company-wide, meaning that only a minority can ever use it - is endemic in IT these days. I know that’s a comment likely to bring the IT defenders out of the woodwork, but so often I see IT departments whose only mission is to keep the network secure. Obviously that’s important, but IT is also suppose to be about enabling business, and when IT starts to get in the way of important advances in business technology, hard questions should be asked.

But we can’t lay the blame entirely at IT’s door - it’s more complex than that. It’s partly to do with the immaturity of social tools in business, and the propensity for evangelists to fight on alone instead of seeking external expert advice to bring in an ally. It’s also partly to do with the anti-technology culture that I see rife in some British businesses. It’s partly to do with management’s reluctance to see social tools as a suite, preferring to look for a “quick fix”, which of course doesn’t exist, or engaging in tech tokenism: “Oh, we have a blog, we get 2.0.”

Yet I am also rather worried by the fact that Newsgator seems to be the only kid on the block these days. There are a number of different blogging platforms, with Wordpress and Movable Type being the main contenders. Several wiki platforms, including Socialtext, ThoughtFarmer, Confluence. So why aren’t there more RSS aggregators pitching for the enterprise market? Where’s the competition? Newsgator might be doing fine, but it should be only one of a number of companies providing enterprise RSS solutions, which, as far as I can tell, isn’t the case.

Of course, there are no easy answers, because this really isn’t about the tech as much as it’s about people. It’s about demonstrating the benefits, communicating use cases, reaching and persuading decision makers, and supporting evangelists. None of that can be done easily, quickly, or simply. Can we really expect Newsgator to turn around the attitudes of the tens of thousands of people needed to create a genuine sea change? Enterprise RSS readers can help companies organise and filter information, which is a critical business function in a range of industries. But with Newsgator the last company standing, will they be able to prove RSS’ worth before it’s too late.

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4 Responses to “Enterprise RSS must not die”

  1. Tim Bull Says:

    I think it’s too early to call Enterprise RSS “dead”. It’s a common failing in the web tech industry to massively under-estimate the speed of take-up in genuine Enterprises for new technologies. The fact that large companies aren’t deploying RSS has more to do with their business model of “pushing widgets” and less to do with how useful it is or isn’t. While for an analyst, remaining up to date with the latest on everything is critical, for the average executive it’s not as compelling a case.

    Enterprise RSS will come to Enterprises within the next 2 - 3 years as the Enterprise scale vendors like Microsoft and IBM continually push feeds into their products, especially those that people can see support their “widgets business”.

    We are seeing a renewed interest in RSS and people start to “get it” now that we are piloting Lotus Connections which really requires a good feed reader to leverage the information in it. People value the internal knowledge exchange that Connections brings and want to stay current, quickyl driving a need for RSS, especially as many of these newer products don’t provide comprehensive e-mail based alternatives.

    Calling it “dead” is mistaking the likelihood that we are (in Gartners Hype Cycle terms) currently in the trough of disappointment which regularly follows the “peak of expectation” set by over eager industry commentators.

  2. Gordon Ross Says:

    Suw, to follow-up on Tim’s comments above, I think that RSS readers and their success is half of the conversation here. The production of RSS within the enterprise, coming from platforms other than internal corp blogs, wikis, etc. is probably not helping drive adoption. How many enterprise apps use RSS to notify and alert? What if I could subscribe to a timesheet feed to show me who has & hasn’t updated their entries? How about an accounting system that produces RSS? This is a much bigger shift in how applications are developed. For those apps that do notify and alert, email is still the clear choice for most. And users of these systems have become accustomed to receiving notification emails, managing their inbox, and filtering these alerts. Agreed it’s still a good idea, but one that still seems a ways off from crossing chasms, etc.

  3. Suw Charman-Anderson Says:

    I think a lot more people would benefit from using RSS than realise it, but it takes someone to sit down with them and show them, first hand, before they grok it. I’ve noticed people aren’t great at applying general concepts to their own situation.

    I agree that the more apps produce RSS, the better. And I’d definitely like to see bacn converted to RSS instead of crappy email. Yes, it’s a complex issue, but companies that wait for all that to kick in are going to end up going to the wall. Now’s no time to be slow.

  4. Going with the flow: whither enterprise RSS? :: Blog :: Headshift « Fredzimny’s CCCCC Blog Says:

    [...] convinced RSS will evolve as a the default transport layer for information within the enterprise. Suw Charman spoke about some of her experiences of some of the barriers to take-up in companies where she has consulted, and helpfully reminded us [...]