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More Use RSS Than Have Heard Of It

  |  October 11, 2005   |  Comments

Users access RSS without knowing it.

While Microsoft brainstorms to rename Really Simple Syndication (RSS) to make it more appealing to the public, many use feeds already, not that they're aware they do. A new white paper produced by Ipsos Insight for Yahoo finds as many as 27 percent consume content via RSS through personalized start pages such as My Yahoo and My MSN.

Click on graphic to view chart
The number of tech-savvy Internet users who knowingly sign up for RSS syndicated content is only four percent, while another 12 percent are somewhat aware of the term RSS. Twenty-seven percent of adult Internet users access RSS feeds through personalized start pages, though they don't know that's what they're doing on personalized portal pages.

RSS readers had previously been identified as male, young, educated, and affluent, but when unaware users are added to the mix, the demographic represents a more average Web user. Those who customize their start-up pages with preferred news and content are 55 percent female, 45 percent male. Thirty-eight percent of unaware users fall into the 18 to 34-age group, and 45 percent have had some college or technical school.

RSS User Demographics, October 2005
Total Internet Users RSS Usership
Aware RSS User Unaware RSS User Non-User
Gender (%)
Male 48 71 45 47
Female 52 29 55 53
Age (%)
18-34 37 50 38 36
35-49 32 29 34 32
50+ 31 22 29 33
Education (%)
High school graduate or less 11 3 10 11
Some college/technical school 40 29 45 39
College graduate 28 36 27 27
Some post-graduate or post-graduate degree 21 31 18 22
Household income ($)
Average household income $62,655 $74,116 $59,748 $63,095
Source: Yahoo and Ipsos Insight, 2005

Among RSS-aware users, world news and national news tie for the most accessed content at 52 percent. Entertainment (34 percent); science and tech news (32 percent); weather (31 percent); and local news (31 percent) garner significant interest. Collectively, blogs make their way into 23 percent of user's RSS preferences. Podcasting (define) accounts for 11 percent of RSS designations, though the study finds only two percent currently subscribe to podcasts, but awareness is as high as 28 percent.

Among RSS-aware users, Yahoo's offering is the most popular, at 32 percent of the market share. Firefox's LiveBookmarks capture 23 percent of RSS readership, and My MSN holds eight percent.

RSS-Enabled Products Used by Aware RSS Users, October 2005 (%)
Aware of RSS Tools Use of RSS Tools Primary Method for Reading RSS
My Yahoo 52 39 32
Firefox (LiveBookmarks) 47 30 23
My MSN 27 11 8
Apple Safari RSS 21 12 8
Google personal start page 18 7 4
Bloglines 11 3 2
NewsGator 10 1 1
NewzCrawler 9 1 0
FeedDemon 8 0 -
NetNewsWire 6 1 1
NewsFire 4 0 -
Source: Yahoo and Ipsos Insight, 2005

Evangelism is apparently the most effective tool out there to educate new RSS users. Sixty-nine percent of respondents say their experience with RSS stems from "positive mentions." Twenty-four percent find RSS easy and convenient, and 18 percent like it because users can choose what they want to read.

Current ways to add feeds to personalized subscription pages stumps even aware and savvy users. Seventeen percent of Internet users notice the XML button, but only four percent have clicked it. The study states, "the tech-centric XML button confuses many Internet users, and may not be the ideal way to distribute RSS feeds." Only five percent of users have copied the code from the XML link into a newsreader, while 27 percent have pasted an URL into a newsreader. Twenty-two percent don't recall, and are unsure what to do with the XML button.

"I would say the focus needs to be on simply communicating the 'benefits' of RSS -- really, 'open content' -- in simplifying the average Internet user's experience," Todd Board, senior vice president of Ipsos San Francisco, told ClickZ Stats. "This is opposed to enabling technology. To go mainstream, open content must depart from terminology like RSS, XML, and other geek arcane. The developers care greatly about this, but your aunt Jane in Des Moines could not care less."

Data for the study were collected through an Internet-based methodology using the Ipsos U.S. Internet Panel. The survey had 4,038 respondents 18 or older. It was conducted via an online questionnaire August 10 to 22 of this year.


Enid Burns

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