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Private Label RSS

I had lunch with a long time buddy today. Somehow, the topic of private label RSS business models came up, and I got lost in a long tirade what a silly idea OEM’ing RSS aggregation is. I believe I said, “JavaScript includes aren’t a business model.” That sounds about right.

Them’s fighten’ words for those who do it, for sure. And the tussle might be due my nasty superlative habit that some have pointed out of late. (I won’t deny it. They’re absolutely right. Perfectly so.)

What is that habit? Let’s ask one of my better digital friends:

of, relating to, or constituting the degree of grammatical comparison that denotes an extreme or unsurpassed level or extent

The phrase that comes to mind is: “Oh! Yeah! Duff man says a lot of things!”

Enough about my diction afflictions: you can’t use a hammer on everything, often you need a screw driver, a trowel, or even a crow-bar. So it goes with language and metaphors.

Private Label RSS

Private Label RSS’ing is taking an aggregator and putting another company’s logos and look and feel on it. It’s like OEM’ing software by reskinning it. For example, to follow a popular reskining scheme for any type of product down here in Footballexes, you might have the Longhorn Aggregator that was burnt orange, had pictures of football players (you can tell I’m a black sheep down here in Texas), and even came pre-bundled with UT feeds.

Now, companies selling services like this — NewsGator and Pluck are the major ones to my knowledge — generate revenue by finding organizations, like UT, that want to create these private label aggregators.

For example, the pitch could be this: “give us XXX dollars a year, and we’ll provide a UT skinned aggregator that all of your students and alum can use. Along with their UT net ID, they’ll get an aggregator where you can put in all the relevant news and information they need and boost school spirit.” That is, it’s a portal based on RSS.

BlogBurst: Filtered Blog Content Portlets

If a reskinned aggregator is like a portal, part of the private label RSS model is analogous to portlets as well. Instead of providing the whole portal, private label RSS systems can also just provide chunks of content to put on your page. Pluck, for example, provides widgets that sites like, say, newspapers can integrate into their web properties.

You can start to see the ecosystem they’re trying to build with their recently released BlogBurst services. My understanding from talking with several people about it is that BlogBurst provides a filtered stream of blog posts that publishers (newspapers) can integrate into their site. The thinking goes, traditional media people are freaking out about blogs eating into their take, so they want to get some of that blog-juice into their site…but they don’t want all the crap. Thus, BlogBurst filters out the junk and provides tools to incorporate it into other sites.

(Sites like, Flickr, and others use JavaScript to do this kind of widget’ing in web pages…hence the “JavaScript includes aren’t a business model” comment. Obviously, they’re a good widget model: just look at the sidebar of this blog.)

As a side note, my initial reaction was: “they should call up the NYTimes and tell them, ‘hey, not only will we your blog-balm, but we’ll sort out acquisition for you. We’ve got a business model that might work.'” That was after 3 slices of pizza, so it might have been the pepperoni talking, but the two seem like they’re in the same part of town.

There is Only One Platform

While both NewsGator and Pluck have been able to sell their reskinning services, I’m skeptical that they’ll be able to cultivate the walled gardens that those plays require.

Niel Robertson explains why, by way of AOL, in a small part of a fantastic piece about the platform-application one-two punch for software success:

All of a sudden the Internet came along. And with it, a zero cost mechanism to deliver the consumer a competing online platform. Mosaic popped up, and then Spyglass, and Netscape, and eventually IE. At the end of the day, AOL’s “platform” was really just an early version of a web browser. If you look carefully at AOL, it’s really just a simple text, graphic, and form layout engine that can dynamically handle whatever content AOL sends it. Sounds a lot like a web browser, does it? But zero cost distribution for the browser should not have been enough to topple AOL. Yes, it was inexpensive to install Netscape or IE, but the users should have been locked into AOL because of their applications, right? Well, clearly the answer was no.

The problem with carving out a niche on the web is that the web is niche-resistant; rather, hanging on to exclusive revenue for a niche is slippery at best. While walled-gardens can thrive for a short time, users eventually move to the web as a whole, or to another walled-garden (see Friendster->MySpace). Lock-in is impossible, as much as the roach-motels of the world try to believe otherwise.

More fundamental to the problem of providing private label aggregators to newspapers, at least is that (a.) I don’t want to go to newspaper sites, and, (b.) the copyright and licensing issues are going to become a huge distraction. If my local paper, The Austin-American Statesman has to pay to include AP, Reuters, etc. content in their paper and web properties, how are those content vendors going to feel when Statesman aggregator readers can get that content for free via RSS feeds. That is, why would the Statesman want to pay those wire services if users can just get RSS feeds (granted, they’re not full text, but I’d guess that the payoff for full text vs. clicking on a link leans heavily towards clicking on a link).

Put another way: selling software to a dying business model doesn’t seem like it’ll keep the money flowing in.

Other Options

What are the alternatives to newspapers, then? Intranets? Maybe. I do like NewsGator’s Outlook plugin if you can’t just get bloglines behind the fire-wall. But the sale there is the aggregator: reskinning is just a feature.

I certainly can’t see that consumer companies like Coke, Target, the NBA, etc. would benefit from having a private labeled RSS reader on their sites. That gives me a bad case of the Web 1.0 shudders.

My suggestion is this: just focus on being the best RSS reader out there. That one’s still up for grabs as the recent for pay services FeedLounge proves. There’s still gold in them hills if you can figure out how to get it.

Disclaimer: none of the companies mentioned (sadly, even Duff), are clients.

Categories: Blogs, Marketing, RSS.

Comment Feed

5 Responses

  1. i regularly recommend clients use RSS. i sometimes send them bloglines subscriptions with a list of useful feeds, personalised for them. isn't that me OEMing bloglines?

  2. I agree that OEMing an entire aggregator isn't a long term business. I've seen newspapers do this and I don't understand that at all.

    Regardless of how it is distributed, RSS filtering is the future of RSS aggregation. Nobody can keep up on the firehose of content anymore, and it is my belief that aggregators that present all your feeds to read are going to become passe. You can AJAX it up, but you haven't changed the model.

    Nobody is going to subscribe and read 10000 feeds. There might be 50 that you really care about, and the rest you just want to see what is important.

    To put in another way, nobody has solved the problem of what to do when a user get's back from a week's vacation and has 10000 unread items. Is Mark All Read a solution?

    I'm working with RSS a lot these days, it is firmly my opinion that we are only at the tip of what we will see in the next few years.

    With Feedflow we are betting that there is going to be a lot of innovation in aggregation, but not everybody is going to have the resources to build the core technology themselves.

    Things are just starting to get interesting.

  3. James: hmmm…OEM == import/export? Perhaps, but only metaphorically in my book. Nonetheless, sending a “reading list” to clients certainly is, obviously, valuable. We ought to fully flesh that out and have a RedMonk OPML list. That’d be fun, and test out the idea. Indeed, maybe I’ll have a crow-feast ;>

    Baus: I’d like to see something like “highlight items that your ‘friends’ read or marked as good.” Something like Netflix’s friends ratings, recommendations, and 2 cents. Can ya’ll angle that into feedflow? ;>

  4. Hello Sir,

    Much thanks for the posting on Private Label RSS, cleared up a lot of terminology.

    Is there any other information on it that you can direct or link me to?

    My company is looking to private label RSS some pertinent real estate blogs (very big online marketing tool within industry). I am kind of lost as to how to begin approaching blog softwares (blogger,typepad,wordpress0 as to their functionality with it, or do they even have?

    A little guidance please?

    Much Thanks,
    Tina M.

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