RSS Pushed One Step Closer to the Limelight

Funny how am idea gathers momentum. As I was penning my Implications of RSS For Business column for 2.0 (awaiting publication in dead tree form in three weeks), Scott Rosenberg was writing a pean as well, published in Salon this morning. He suggests we need a name for what…

Funny how am idea gathers momentum. As I was penning my Implications of RSS For Business column for 2.0 (awaiting publication in dead tree form in three weeks), Scott Rosenberg was writing a pean as well, published in Salon this morning. He suggests we need a name for what RSS represents, just as the Web became the mainstream’s understanding of HTML, we need a name for RSS. He reminds us we’ve been here before (remember Push? I was a reluctant contributor to this 1996 article, which began as an email thread in the Wired offices…)

In any case, I agree with Scott, we need a name. All the businesses in this space are still in the pre-market phase. RSS allows us to connect more efficiently, to grok information as we like it, when we like it – but what do we call it? I like to say my reader and blogs/news sources is my personal ecology – is there an idea in there somewhere? In any case, it’s exciting to see the idea start to take popular flight. Watch for the NYT treatment soon.

37 thoughts on “RSS Pushed One Step Closer to the Limelight”

  1. Agree on the need for a simple identity.

    The existing concept people use is “syndication”.

    Another term that’s more broad is the semantic web vision – of which rss is a part of with it’s simplistic values.

    I think we need a term that broadens and takes in whatever the semantic web will be used for – content, calendars, process, etc.


  2. In addition to being comprehensive but brief, intuitive simplicity is required – again, the Web is a familiar one-syllable word that doesn’t sound too much like technospeak. The same applies to the World Wide Web, which moreover is easy to remember due to its alliteration. Lastly, the concept of a Web is visual and so was easily assimilated. All of this minimized resistance to adoption.

    Syndication would take longer to adopt for the inverse reasons, and also has strong unrelated existing connotations.

    All this being said, I propose (don’t laugh) the Feed. Here’s why:

    1. it meets the above criteria for optimized adoption
    2. it reflects the essence of RSS – i.e., syndication, delivery, rich content (this last via its association with food, which connotes satisfaction acquired)
    3. it’s already being used in the appropriate context, and by using it as a proper noun (the Feed), it connotes the interconnectivity inherited from the Web.

    Welcome to the Feed.

  3. I agree with the visual concept, as well as the idea of simple and direct language. Feed is great, but…it does have some baggage (the idea of “force feed” comes to mind…)…

  4. I disagree. Most words have multiple meanings and connotations. It is the dominant semantic form that is relevant. Feed, even in a negative context (e.g., force-feed) the term feed is (usually) ultimately associated with life – a positive connotation.

    Again, the advantage of using the term Feed is that it is already used: RSS Feed, XML Feed, Feedroom (video), Feedster, etc. I have not encountered negative response to the term used in this context.

    Come to think of it, Web has more negative associations than Feed – spiders are creepy and can even kill you, deception (oh what a tangled we we weave…), cobwebs, etc. – and absolutely no harm has come of it.

    The more I think about it, the more I like the Feed as a name. Can’t you see it? “Hey, are you getting the XYZ Feed?” “Yeah, it’s awesome.” “What’s Feeding?” “Feed this.” (somebody stop me) and so on…

  5. Yes, Feed is good. But also, I have this odd sense that it’s been used in negative ways by sci fi writers, and as we know that group are important early adopters – signalers of language. Let’s run this by Cory…

  6. Two things come to mind – Little Shop of Horrors, with the alien plant-being yelling “Feed me!” for more human fodder; and an old Outer Limits episode where aliens (again) had a book titled “How to Serve Man,” which turned out to be not a guide to helping us but rather a cookbook.

    I actually find this is a minor issue that would be taken lightly – even humorously – and that the unlikely reaction you’re concerned about, if it ocurred at all, would be vastly overpowered by the value of having a short, catchy dscriptive terms that’s already in popular use.

    In terms of negative connotations, early adopters have been fine with the term Feed to date – right? Has Feedster heard any of this? I doubt it.

    Be thorough, yes – but keep it simple, and act decisively, before a less desirable term pops up and gains momentum.

  7. And here I am. Cool discussion. “Feed” of course already has the technical usage. So we already have this welter of individual RSS feeds. The question I guess is how to push the term from that one usage into a term that reflects the more general spread of this mode of communication.

    Feedlot? πŸ™‚ I wonder if Steven Johnson has any ideas, since he lived with the word for so long, in a different way.

    I actually like the metaphoric overtones of “Radio” that Dave Winer tapped into in naming his software — the idea that each of us is an individual broadcaster that others can tune into — but it’s also just confuses people, unfortunately.

  8. Good point about generalization. Also: the terms Web and Net connote physicality, but RSS+ is more explicitly a process, so I think the name should reflect that as well.

    I like the Radio metaphor too…LiveJournal also works for me

    We’re really talking about interactive personal publishing/broadcasting…

    FeedCast, FeedTop, TransFeed, DataTune, InfoWide, WideFeed, FeedChannel, SiteFeed, SiteCast

    more tomorrow after your feedback

  9. It’s funny that Stuart proposed “The FEED” — reminded me of an old story that I’d long forgotten. When we were casting about for a name for our new webzine in early 1995, we’d hit on FEED, but there was already a print literary magazine called FEED, and we were worried about trademark issues, etc. So one of the ideas that we were tossing around was to call it “The FEED.” (Along with a bunch of other FEED derivations, like those posted above.) All of which suddenly reminded one of us of the old dispute between the electronics store “The Wiz” and the Broadway musical “The Wiz” which resulted in the store being renamed “Nobody Beats The Wiz.” So for about a week we went around calling our fledgling little site: “Nobody Beats The FEED.”

    But seriously, I think the big issue here is noun or verb, and more specifically are we talking about a place or an action? Is it like saying “I found it on the web”? Or is it like saying “I’ll link to your site”? “Web” and “link” are two really great, intuitive terms, but one feels more like a place you visit, the other more like something you do.

  10. Link could work as a noun as well (the Link), or Link as a more flexible word. Also, I pinged Cory and he said: “I don’t like Feed for all the reasons you raise. People call SMS SMS and don’t sweat that it’s a TLA. Call is RSS, call it syndications, call it headlines…”
    How about we call it the Ster (Stir?)? After all, it’s the “ster” that makes Nap-, Freind-, and Feed- so cool, right?

  11. A name must be unambiguous in both its written and spoken forms. You accidentally captured the problem when you wrote, “How about we call it the Ster (Stir?)” That’s exactly what folks will be asking.

    I think Cory misses the point about mainstream users. They do not talk about HTML or SMS – they talk about the Web and messaging. My understanding was that this was an attempt to identify a name that could become as ubiquitous as the Web with as much ease.

    Naming also requires consideration of the long-term target audience, not only what the named object’s creators and their friends like. I thought that we were looking at the expanded nature of upcoming generations of RSS, which clearly will go beyond headlines.

    “Link” is too strongly associated with the web, which is an important consideration if you want to emphasize a unique identity.

    This thread illustrates why techies rarely are good marketers. They get impatient with these kinds of issues, and can even be outright condescending to those who take it seriously. (Do you have any idea how much the tech industry spends on naming, promotions, marketing, etc.? They do this for a reason.)

    Have at it, boys.

  12. Hey, have a sense of humor. There are folks here who are not techies, and techies here who have named wonderful stuff. We’re not determining the future of the web here, just bouncing stuff around. I take naming very seriously, and teach approaches to it in my classes. However, I don’t presume that we have th right to name this thing. We do have the right to yak about it and see what comes up.

  13. “Web” gets prefaced with “the” because all web sites are ultimately interconnected, thus there is in a sense ONE Web (which misleads people into thinking it’s a proper noun, which is why it gets capitalized more often than not, which bothers me no end, but that’s a separate conversation).

    In contrast, there is not one single, interconnected feed, no “The Feed.” There are feeds, no Feed.

    For what it’s worth.

  14. My two yaks…

    Feed is nice and descriptive for what people get, but people also give. I’m afraid this would lead to a Wired cover on “Pull.”

    A feed is an Atomic element similar to a link for the Web. To represent the emergent properties of the system I would suggest something akin to Flow.

    On the business side of RSS/Atom, what’s interesting is when inside the firewall a large group it provides a collective sense of Flow and what’s important for the group. For personal productivity, peak performance depends upon Flow, a rhythm blogging accelerates.

  15. I publish a weblog called CONTENTIOUS, and last Friday I launched a modest contest to find a catchier name for RSS. Most of the entries so far aren’t thrilling, but a few are intriguing.

    I’m accepting entries through Dec. 31, 2003, so if you’re interested please check out the contest page:

    This is an excellent discussion here, I’ll be sure to link to it in a blog item today.

    – Amy Gahran

  16. I like the name “readster.” I like the word “read” – it’s got this very old school feel. It’s not the name for this thing, whatever this thing is, but it’s a great product name. It’s taken, of course, but by what looks to be a rather cobwebbed site.

  17. Not to crash on the conversation here but, FLOW?


    I just think of bodily fluids gushing forth from my loins.

    Still, it may be a hit with the (now aging) Seattle band crowd…

    I still don’t understand why syndication is wrong? If you read the comics or Dear Abby, you’ll get what a syndicated site is.

    Just a thought.

  18. This is funny: I hopped over here from Scott Rosenberg’s blog, intending to suggest (ta da!) “Feed,” or some variation thereof. I think y’all are definitely on to something here. And I’m NOT a techie.

    Brainstorming: FEEDback, Feed the Web, BrainFeed, Feed for Thought ….

  19. My suggestion for a more friendly term for RSS/Atom is mojo, which defines as “a magic charm or spell” or “personal magnetism.” I’m frankly enchanted by the power of RSS, and many of the bloggers whose feed I subscribe to definitely have magnetic personalities which shine through on their blogs. The grayhairs reading this may also remember that Hunter S. Thompson referred to his fax machine as “the mojo wire” and considered it to be the ultimate communications instrument of its time. So instead of saying “do you get my RSS feed” you could say “do you get my mojo?” and so on. FYI appears to be owned by a domain squatter.

  20. I can’t decide whether this suggestion is evil or good, but how about (following the notion that we’re really naming the semantic web) simply “The Information”. That’s what it is.
    “I found a funny story in his information”
    “Your email wasn’t part of your information”
    It all makes sense

    The possible evil is the abuse of a common broad term for something specific. When companies do that it is very annoying

  21. First of all, a minor nitpick:

    > and an old Outer Limits episode where aliens
    > (again) had a book titled “How to Serve Man,”
    > which turned out to be not a guide to helping
    > us but rather a cookbook.

    Actually, that was one of my favorite TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, not Outer Limits πŸ˜‰

    About a name for RSS, well, I’ll just be negative for a moment and note what I DON’T like:

    – anything with “ster”… gives me Friendster convulsions πŸ˜‰

    – “-cast” brings to mind the ill-fated PointCast (which I actually liked, but no one else seemed to).

    Sadly, I’m having a hard time coming up with any good ideas myself.

  22. Synonyms for “flow” from

    deluge, surge, swell

    I favor “swell” as it extends the old “surf” metaphor for the web. Riding the swells is tantamount to following the blog links…

  23. I did a search in the search engines on “professional lawyer blog” and I found your web blog. I am a Lawyer in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and thus my interest in searching for a lawyer blog on the WWW looking to see how the rest of the world thinks about lawyers and see what trends and technology are happening in the world. I also was interested in a blog for myself which might possibly lead to a blob for my law firm, you never know, that is if I can understand the technology of operating a blog and from what I see I am somewhat hesitant at the present time.
    It has been interesting reading and I will keep my professional comments to myself.

    Respectfully yours
    B. J. Stephens, LL.B.
    A Halifax Lawyer

  24. I don’t really think we’ll need any specific terms beyond perhaps feeds and syndication. All this stuff really is, is a particular phase of part of the web. At the moment it’s pretty vertical – blogging, news publication, aggregating, newsreading. But the potential is there to use the techniques surrounding these technologies – timeline, polled subscription, data “items” etc – with a far wider range of applications. Most of the current generation of tools are of a stovepipe design, in large part due to the hype of ‘simple’ syndication. It’s likely to mature into more general information feeds, with improved language sophistication (i.e. using RDF/OWL models). Additionally there’ll be more aggregation, interoperation (between different systems and different parts of the web), and a lot more processing and filtering in the mix, all much smarter thanks to the languages.

    Around this time it won’t make much sense to talk of syndication – the interop will ensure that it’ll be smoothly assimilated, and become just another part of a far more useful web.

  25. fun/useful thoughts on de-tech-ing RSS.

    I’m in…so, to throw a couple of other names in the pot now that the first caffeine has kicked in…

    if not Flow then Ebb? (the Web’s Ebb, yeah I know it’s the opposite, but sometimes opposites work well as names, and hey, it reminds me of Pulp Fiction)…Surge, Gravity (Grav that feed?), Flux, Pulse (=impulse when you combine it with Jabber!), Pour, Teem..?

    or if we’re looking for simpler life anologies, think children’s games…Fetch, Catch, Rover, Slide, Tag, Spike, Pass,

    anything catching?

  26. Tim Berners-Lee had WWW as a Working Name (!) in lack of something else in the development process. World Wide Web. When you do not think too much, and just let it come to you, the right concept is found. Especially among techies that gets trapped in the “how” instead of the “what”, you end up with the not-so-catchy name. What is it – or more what DOES it?

    RSS. Gah. Ugly. (= Really Shitty Stupid :).

    FEEDS (plural, agreed). Maybe. Closer to what it is. And DOES, as said…

    Let’s open my mind and see what happens. Hm.

    Naming is Branding in an Open Source Format.

    Yes, it should be taken seriously, agree John.

    But an issue here – a criteria that has to be met is that you have to meet different annotations in different cultures. Even if English is predominant in the same World being Widely Webbed, there is a world outside this world not being Webbed online, and one thing in one context associates with something else in another. Just to have that in mind, not so heavy constraint right now with around five or ten percent online in the world.

    But when there is a Bike of the Web (such as the billions in China biking around), meaning a communication tool that you buy for cheapest possible (a paper-based “screen” with virtual interface with Wireless Internet chip attached in the corner for 1 dollar sold on the street in Katmandu, Kampala, Kyoto, Knightsville, Karlstad or Karachi), I guess the Spread will be



    As “syndicated content tools” like RSS.

    Maybe that was a sidetrack. Maybe not.

    But back to the topic. It is a little more than a news feeder. It is though something that makes things easy to easily get (continouosly and systematically) spread (if you allow yourself to catch it up in your end of the line).

    Even if I like Feed alot, the life cycle of the concept will end when there will be usage that is not associated only with Feeding.

    Then Spreading is more wide, but not too generic.

    And you have to find something *new* to stick out in the naming, distinction made, but not too far that people of the every day walking on the street John Doe in general…

    [that guy that does not exist, and Johanna Doe in the 1st place constantly gets forgotten with that concept – we are all unique, but some are more unique than others to bring in George Orwell to the conversation]

    …do not accept it, coming from that it is a metaphor that makes


    I have no real suggestion right now than the ending up reasoning here…that I see things Spread in the Virus form (Godin, where are you? Is this a good Idea, maybe it is even Remarkable ;).

    I would suggest The Spreader.

    Do you have my Spread πŸ™‚ ?

    Ah, just to have something new to discuss here in this line of comments, to outtake the most active topics here in your blog, mr Battelle, beyond the A9 fireplace :).


    :::Proud Buyer of Wired 1.02 (yeah I missed the 1st issue, gah) in PressStop[TM] Store in Gothenburg back in 1992:::

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