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Contrary To Popular Belief There Is An Alternative To E-Mail

Aug 17, 2007
Believe it or not, your message is not being delivered. If you send emails to your customers, I have some bad news for you. Not all of your emails are making it to your intended recipients. Between ISP spam filters, spam-blocking email servers, spam-killing email software, and email-content-filtering everywhere in between, the odds are high that your messages just are not getting past all of these roadblocks.

Recent studies show that opt-in subscriptions are erroneously spam blocked at rates of 17% (according to Return Path) to 38% (according to Mail). So, 17% to 38% of the e-mail you send to subscribers who want it, or even pay for it, in many cases does not reach them. By just using the wrong words or phrases, or sending the wrong type of attachment, your email can become a "false positive", and end up filed into some junk mail garbage bin where it is equated with numerous offers to amplify the size of some discreet body part - never to be seen again.

These false positives can occur even if the intended addressee is very interested in receiving your message, even if their life (or livelihood) depends upon receiving that message. Even if robotic spam filters do not destroy your message, as in-boxes fill up with more and more junk, it's becoming common for people to merely overlook wanted mail and unintentionally delete it.

And it's only going to get worse. When the new federal law dubbed "The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003" (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) was passed, many were shocked and baffled by the obvious legalization of spam. Now, as long as an email marketer complies with the laws regarding header falsification, misleading titles, and opt-out procedures, it would appear that marketing via spam has become legitimate!

The CAN-SPAM law only restricts the legality and processes involved in sending Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE). There is no implied responsibility on behalf of any source to guarantee delivery of all messages. In fact, ISPs are given the right to filter and block email in any way they judge necessary according to their policies. The law does not hold ISPs responsible for determining whether the email was permission-based or unsolicited. They can intercept and trash incoming email simply on the basis of a single complaint.

And if that is not criminal enough, the CAN-SPAM Act suggests a bounty of 20% or more of fines collected go to the people who turn in the so called spammers. As more "offenders" are reported, more ISPs are blacklisted, and the more likely your message will end up vaporized long before it hits home.

So now, with more and more marketing efforts involving purchased and shared opt-in lists, more and more companies able to legally spam, and more and more Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail zipping around on the internet, there is bound to be a reaction, and that reaction is sure to be quite strong. As spammers continue to find new methods to spew out spam - ISPs, domain hosts, and e-mail software packages will continue to improve their defenses as well, blocking more mail than ever before.

Has E-mail Come to an End? No one could have predictable that things would get this crazy. Spammers and virus authors are rapidly crippling e-mail. Even though e-mail was once dubbed the "killer app" of the Internet, some doomsayers are going so far as to say that viruses, spam, and spam filters are teaming to bring about the demise of e-mail. The speculation is that, in time, inboxes will become so full of useless garbage e-mails, and so many desired messages will be deleted along the way, that e-mail will become worthless.

Some e-mail publishers are considering giving up on e-mail altogether and finding alternative ways to distribute their message. While this may sound quite extreme, the spam wars are an extreme situation. And extreme situations call for extreme actions.

One such alternative is RSS, which stands for either Really Simple Syndication, or Rich Site Summary, depending upon with whom you are speaking. A primary reason that RSS is such a practical alternative is that since readers select their RSS Feeds, spam is no longer an issue. This is because RSS works a bit differently than e-mail using pull, rather than push, technology.

By notifying people interested in your content, as well as web sites that collect and package content announcements (called aggregators), you "feed" them your content. From this process we get the term "RSS feed." By providing an RSS feed, another site may pick up your "news" through your feed and syndicate it. Only the feed publisher can select what information gets into the feed, and the only information the subscriber pulls down is what the publisher puts there.

If e-mail continues on its self-destruct course, RSS could very well become the new standard, either replacing e-mail subscriptions or, more likely, supplementing email.

What are RSS Feeds? An RSS feed is a Web-accessible XML file containing a listing of web pages with related news or information. RSS is basically a stream of raw data: content entirely separated from presentation. The XML-based RSS feed contains content information, such as the headline, description, an excerpt, and the URL where the subscriber can find the content in its entirety. Once uploaded to a website, the RSS feed should be validated for comprehensiveness and accuracy. Once it is validated, the feed can then be submitted to engines that ping RSS feeds.

Individual subscribers can view RSS feeds in special feed reader software, called a news reader. Moreover, webmasters can syndicate your news feeds to their website using an aggregator. Both aggregators and news readers consume RSS feeds, presenting them for human consumption in pretty much the same way that web browsers present web pages.

To subscribe to a newsfeed, the subscriber tells their feed reader to periodically ping a certain site's RSS feed file (like the one shown above) by pasting the URL for the RSS feed into their feed reader, much like bookmarking a page in your web browser.

Then, to prepare the news for reading, the feed reader pings the subscribed feeds, pulls the latest information, and displays a sorted list of the latest headlines from each source in the subscriber's reader. Most readers are capable of showing brief descriptions of the content, but it will always link to the full content on the publisher's site.

Some believe that RSS is not quite ready for prime time. Even though it's been around for a decade, RSS technology is still evolving. Ten years in technology years is like 50 human years. However, RSS was a bit slow to be embraced, probably because pre-CAN-SPAM e-mail was really quite fine. Now, we have to address the few challenges surrounding RSS because e-mail is not fine.

The biggest issue today is that mainstream web and e-mail clients have yet to fully support all the functionality of RSS feeds. Expect to see some movement in this direction as the RSS movement gains momentum.

There are tons of stand-alone news readers out there, and they each have their distinctive shortcomings. Over the next year or two, RSS software should improve extensively and RSS will become a more robust publishing venue.

RSS usage and news aggregator adoption is still somewhat limited, but growing fast. So, RSS will soon be a complete solution as a result of greater subscriber participation.

In the RSS Business Model, content publishers need to determine how to make RSS content distribution profitable. Just as there are paid e-mail newsletters, there can be paid RSS news feeds. It's just another file that resides on a web server, so it can be served from a password protected web site. However, with a paid RSS newsfeed, readership is reduced, as subscribers are limited to using RSS aggregators or news readers which support authentication. It is much more profitable to keep your RSS feed free. Use it much like you would your e-mail marketing by providing articles, product release announcements and so forth. Remember, the big difference is that the subscriber chooses to receive your feed and have taken steps to make that happen, therefore, it cannot be turned off by anyone but the subscriber.

While some content publishers may be fearful of RSS, the business model of e-mail publishing doesn't really change using RSS. Readers still see the same content, with the same design, layout, and ads as in an HTML newsletter. The trick is to have content which appeals the reader - headlines and descriptions have to be worthy of being clicked on, before the readers will see the full content.

What Does The Future Hold for RSS? RSS has gained rapid acceptance in certain areas such as small technology companies, pioneering consulting organizations, and self-publishers. Even Microsoft has started publishing RSS feeds without attempting to strong-arm themselves into a governing position...so far.

AOL's AOL 10 software supports RSS technology. Microsoft will most likely support RSS in Outlook and Outlook Express, similar to its current support for newsgroups. Additionally, web hosting tools like Geocities offer tools to syndicate RSS feeds.

It may take some time, however, for RSS to gain momentum in the IT departments of midsize-to-large companies, which are typically slower to adopt emerging technologies like RSS.

So, should you consider RSS for your publication? While RSS may not be an immediate replacement for the e-mail newsletter, it will become a powerful choice in Internet Marketing communication in the very near future. Once the big guys adopt RSS as a content sharing and distribution mechanism, it will gain greater acceptance even faster. The benefits of RSS will be extensive, and full-featured RSS news readers will be widespread. As an Internet Home Business entrepreneur, you need to adopt this technology now. Make your mark as a frontrunner and become established is this area of communications. Once it becomes mundane, establishing a leader presence will be much more difficult.

Moving your subscriber base from e-mail newsletters to RSS feeds might be a tall order at this point in time. For now, it's up to publishers to sell their readers on the RSS concept, and explain how it alleviates the pain of spam. Through your daily e-mail channel with your list, explain the benefits to them of RSS. Educate and train them on how to set it up and use it. Provide them with the software scripts to make it a reality. Then, when you and they are ready, give them the green light and make the switch.

Whether you decide to convert to RSS full force or simply offer RSS as an alternative for your subscribers, it's important to realize that e-mail is starting to lose its luster, and now is a very good time to include RSS in your publishing arsenal.
About the Author
Don Resh is CEO of WebForce, Inc. A more detailed bio is available at:

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