GenuineVC David Beisel's Perspective on Digital Change

July 18, 2005

Like Steve Rubel, I missed Kevin Hale’s essay The Importance of RSS when it was published a month ago. In it, Kevin provides an in-depth hypothesis on Google’s perspective of RSS.

A few excerpts follow, but the entire essay is well worth the read,

“I don’t think Google really feels threatened (or has ever felt threatened) by portal strategy. I think what they’re afraid of is the rise of applications that seem to be tracking importance and trends better than search. In the race to find what deserves face-time, services like, Technorati and in combination with the rapid adoption of web apps like bloglines, newsgator, feedster and kinja are making Google’s search seem very, very slow. And it’s all being accomplished with RSS technology.

But what’s Google’s plan for RSS? Well, the thing is Google’s been working on an RSS strategy for a long time now. Matt Mullenweg and a host of other savvy / obsessive stat watchers have noticed Google’s bots have been searching for the location of index.rdf and atom.xml since at least April of 2004.

This preemptive crawling, I believe, will be the basis of their own version of a tagging system that replaces search terms for tags.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve read about the notion that Web 2.0 technologies are threatening search. But I think we need to be careful about describing what aspect of search is vulnerable and why. In its purest form, I view “search” as looking for something which I know I am looking for. By subtle contrast, I would call “discovery” looking for something which I don’t know I am looking for. I’ve alluded to this distinction before, and I am sure others have more articulately expressed it as well.

The importance of the difference is the ramification of new approaches to “looking for” information. With “search” in its strictly defined form, RSS adds the component of timeliness to relevance and cardinality/page-rank in determining the most appropriate ordering of results. However, I don’t think it RSS fundamentally changes the way that people look for information that they know they want; it just adds another dimension. On the other hand, when I want to find information which I don’t know I am looking for, there are now an in increasing number of possibilities: tagging systems like, personalized RSS feeds from Findory, and even merely reading others’ blogs.

The difficulty for “traditional” players like Google isn’t that search is going to be replaced by alternatives, but that the line between search and discovery is often barely noticeable. No, classifying “finding something” as search or discovery isn’t a binary proposition, but rather placing it along a gradual spectrum that exists between the two. In this fuzzy grey area lies both the opportunity for new alternative approach startups, but also the power for Google to merely extend its current offering. In his conclusion Kevin Hale is right, “I think RSS has a very promising future and Google is going to make sure they do everything in their power to be the ones to usher it in.”

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