‘RSS isn’t broken, but it’s time to make it better.’ You’ve likely heard that line a few times but Web publishing firm MediaFed has put its money where its mouth is after launching a new way to consume news via automated feeds service called Qrius — pronounced ‘curious’.
“RSS is good,” CEO and founder Ashley Harrison tells TNW. “It’s trusted, there’s no noise, it’s simple and is still surviving despite social media.” Why then is MediaFed, a company that specializes in delivering news via a range of mechanisms — one of which is RSS — building a new tool to supersede it? In one word, RSS is ‘outdated’ in this era of social media and social readers.
Harrison explains that, despite the many benefits that RSS offers, it simply isn’t consumer friendly enough or well known among the Internet masses. MediaFed, the company which acquired mobile feed reader Taptu last year, is certainly in a position to make such a claim. It has the Web’s largest network of RSS feed publishers — which number more than 2,000 — and yet it finds RSS to be lacking in an era when social media has achieved mainstream consumer penetration.
“Sure, tech savvy folks find RSS to be very important, but 90 percent of the audience that we serve isn’t using RSS. It’s clunky and not consumer friendly,” he explains, pointing out how off-putting and confusing RSS landing pages are, for one thing. “But we’re not replacing it, that would be silly.”
MediaFed’s complementary alternative — Qrius — has been a year in the making and Harrison believes the service “gives it a contemporary spin based around news feeds and social readers”.
Qrius uses Twitter, Facebook or Google+ accounts to log users in, after which they are redirected to a feed reader, which picks up their request and begins serving them RSS-like content. Taptu is, unsurprisingly, the first reader supported but the API will open up to others soon.
The use of social networks as the ‘backbone’ makes sharing news easy, while it also makes logging in straight and, by piggy-backing well-know services, new users can feel an element of trust and understanding that they won’t get feel if having to register an account first.
He explains that the feed preview is very deliberately feature rich, unlike the entirely text-based model of RSS.
“The growth of Pinterest, Instagram and even news services like Flipboard show that people want and respond to visuals. Using images [which are taken from the articles themselves] in the preview will help appeal to consumers,” he says. Harrison believes that the reinvented syndication feed will allow newspapers and publishers to gain boost revenue while adapting to the mobile and social consumer adoption curve.
Qrius is initially being piloted with a selection of 100 of MediaFed’s top Web publishers but, as with the API, the technology will open up to the rest of the Web soon. The company is immediately aiming to introduce the service to 80-90 percent of MediaFed’s publisher base by the end of this year.
On paper, Qrius certainly makes sense and, rather than replacing RSS, it seems to us as though its biggest challenge is supplanting social media as news readers. Facebook and Twitter replaced RSS some years ago and, while there’s no doubt that a feed system is more organized and channeled that haphazardly stumbling upon news via Twitter or Facebook — which requires near 24/7 dedication to avoid missing stories — many people cite lack of time as their reason for not using RSS feeds, since they pile up when not read regularly, so Qrius will face some challenges that hamper RSS too.
As it stands, Qrius as a service is likely to benefit MediaFed from the get-go since it has the potential to draw a higher level of user attention and help deliver a more compelling (read: ad rich) service for its publishers, while also bringing new users to Taptu. Obviously it will need to scale massively if it is to even get close to RSS, but it already has one large organization backing it fully.
It will be interesting to observe how the technology is adopted by non-MediaFed partners and other news feed readers as it becomes available.
Headline image via Ruggiero Scardigno / Shutterstock