The smart people already knew this, but I’m still just picking up on it: RSS has huge business potential. Here is a laundry list of a few things you could (and I think should) use it for. There are big-money implications. But there’s at least one big obstacle too.

Banking · I recently noticed that I was using my own (and other sites’) “Home Pages” a lot less. Exceptions, I noted, included my stockbroker and bank. This week, I figured out how to use Nasdaq’s free XML feed to make an RSS stock ticker, so that pretty well takes care of the broker.

So why can’t I subscribe to my bank accounts and credit cards? I wouldn’t mind at all, after I’ve been out for a shopping run and used the debit and credit cards a few times, seeing those charges trickle through on my aggregator. And I’d welcome a look at the many automatic debits and charges I’ve signed up for.

In particular, if you could subscribe to your credit card, and if a lot of people did, it would cut a lot of stolen-card fraud right off at the knees. If I suddenly saw charges start to show up from Osaka or Monaco, you can bet I’d be on the phone to the bank pretty damn quick. Credit-card fraud is a real problem (hundreds of millions in aggregate, I’ve heard) and the work of making RSS feeds would probably pay for itself handily.

Of course, the aggregators would have to get savvy to the notion of security, but that’s not rocket science, it’s just HTTP.

Sales Tracking · Most companies of any size go to all sorts of work to track the activities of their salesforce and the progress of potential sales through “the pipeline.” A lot of managers I know (including me) would be delighted if whenever something significant happened out there in sales-land, it showed up in my aggregator. You’d need a little bit of smarts in how the feeds were generated, in terms of filtering rules and thresholds and so on, but once again, not rocket science.

And I think you could generalize from tracking sales to tracking almost anything. Some people monitor manufacturing, some monitor shipping, almost everyone monitors something. And in a lot of cases, the aggregator is the right place to monitor it.

Weather · Why not? I’d sign up in a second for a feed on the Vancouver weather, which probably would only need to update once every few hours, or if there were some sort of wind/rain/storm warning on the way.

And I bet if I were a commuter in Seattle or DC or London, I’d sign up for a traffic-reports feed too.

Houston, We Have A Problem · The list above is just a start: I think there are lots more application areas that are crying out for low-rent Web-based data feed syndication. So we’re potentially sitting on a rocket ship. But there are obstacles.

Here’s the scenario: Tim is trying to pitch one of these ideas to the Bank’s CIO, whom we’ll call “Mr Safe.” If you’ve ever actually met a real bank CIO, you’ll know what I mean.

Tim: Mr Safe, with RSS you can improve your customer service, save money, and cut down on fraud!

Mr Safe: Sounds good, Tim. But is it safe?

Tim: Oh yes, hundreds of thousands of webloggers are using it every day. So are the New York Times and the BBC.

Mr Safe: That’s nice Tim, but are any financial institutions using it?

Tim: No, but...

Mr Safe: Well, I’ve learned that sometimes we have to take little risks on these Internet standards, and they pay off. RSS is an Internet Standard, right?

Tim: Well, er, actually, no standards organization has actually blessed RSS. But lots of Internet technology comes up from the grassroots like this, you know.

Mr Safe: Yes, you kids have a phrase, don’t you: “Rough consensus and running code,” wasn’t that it? I have to admire the way you engineers work together to get things done.

Tim: Well, actually, there are at least two competing versions of RSS, but we seem to interoperate OK.

Mr Safe: Yes, and I suppose the people behind them are working together constructively to bring order to the landscape.

Tim: Well, actually, the dialogue tends to devolve into childish name-calling. But the stuff does still seem to work really well.

Mr Safe: Hmm. In any case, there’s a nice thorough precise write-up—you call them RFCs, don’t you—that I can give my programmers, right?

Tim: Well, actually, not really. One of the two versions requires you to understand RDF/XML, which is really hard, and the other doesn’t bother to define a lot of the behavior or defaults. But like I said, we all manage to kind of get along and interoperate.

Mr Safe: Hmm again. Of course, I’d have to run it by Legal; I assume they aren’t going to give me any trouble about that intellectual-property stuff.

Tim: Well, the RSS 2.0 specification (and 2.0 is the one you probably should use) is copyrighted by a privately-held software company in California, but they say they’re going to do the right thing; I’m sure your lawyers won’t see any problems there.

Mr Safe: Really. Of course, if we need to do some extension work to fit this out for financial applications, that can be done, right?

Tim: Oh yes, two of the popular versions of RSS are set up to allow that (oh, I forgot to tell you about the old “0.9*” versions that a lot of people still use, they don’t do extension). Mind you, anyone who uses the extensions risks getting called “funky,” but that’s OK, they have way-cool pictures of James Brown and I’m sure your PR people won’t mind the Bank being called “funky” by the weblogging rabble.

Mr Safe: Thanks, Tim. I think we’ll consider putting this on the schedule for an IT task force to take a real serious look at once we get through this fiscal year. Sorry I have to let you go now, but I have business to attend to.

author · Dad
colophon · rights
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June 19, 2003
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