Lessons learned about RSS feeds

What are the lessons to be learned from Facebook’s recent dilemma? This college online social network has struggled this week to quickly deal with an unprecedented backlash against their new RSS distribution of profile changes.

Lesson #1: People can’t be trusted to think through the consequences of posting things about themselves on the internet (big surprise!)

Lesson #2: RSS feeds are a powerful new information distribution channel that we – as an online society — will need to better understand, in the same way we needed time to understand email and web sites.

The power of RSS will someday soon be harnessed, and that power will further propel and advance marketing technology. Until then, prepare, as Facebook did, to be surprised by unintended consequences.

One Reply to “Lessons learned about RSS feeds”

  1. I just came across a wonderful paper from Danah Boyd, an anthropologist who specializes in online social networks. The paper talks about the Facebook “train wreck,” and has some extraordinary insights.


    In part, she writes (everything below is excepted from the paper linked above):


    What happened with Facebook … was about people feeling icky. It made people felt icky for different reasons – some felt it for the exposure while others felt it for the invasion. Let me explain.

    Have you ever been screaming to be heard in a loud environment when suddenly the music stops and everyone hears the end of your sentence? And then they turn to stare? I’m guessing you turned beet red. (And if you didn’t, exposure is not one of your problems.)

    When the music was still on, you were still speaking as loudly in a room full of people. Yet, you felt protected by the acoustics and you made a judgement about how loud you should speak based on the understanding of the architecture of the environment. Sure, if someone came closer, they could’ve overheard you. But you didn’t care because it’s not abnormal to be overheard and what you were saying wouldn’t really matter to them anyhow, right? Security through obscurity.

    Yet, when the music turned off, you were suddenly overheard by everyone in the room. What you were saying should still not matter to them, right? But yet you’re embarrassed anyhow. You’re embarrassed because you committed a huge social faux pas. You worry about being judged based on what you just said even though just moments before it didn’t matter if anyone happened to have overhear you. The beet red is your body’s reaction to the perceived sense of exposure.


    I urge you to read on, about both perceived exposure AND invasion. Ms. Boyd does an extraordinary job of explaining in terms we can all understand what the brouhaha was all about.

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