RSS is one of those tools that’s phenomenally wonderful for (1) website/blog publishers and (2) readers who are information junkies or looking to stay up to date efficiently.
Unfortunately, RSS is saddled with this incredibly geeky nomenclature that makes it tough to describe. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say RSS, but you know RSS has arrived and is valued when (1) business owners start displaying their RSS feed counters on their sites, and (2) start dressing up their RSS icons.
Dressing up? Heck, they’re downright getting artistic about them.
A Brief History of the RSS Icon
In the beginning, the RSS icon was a rather drab orange button that initially said XML on it, then RSS.
Then in late 2005, the powers that be, including Microsoft, standardized to a slightly more artistic and abstract RSS button. They adopted the Firefox browser’s feed icon. It was still orange, but the rounded corners and white swooshes at least made it more interesting.
Still, RSS remained the stuff of geekdom, until FeedBurner started allowing you to track your RSS subscriber numbers. That made the marketers take notice, but at first the numbers were small so it took awhile for attention to grow. Then one day Google Reader started reporting numbers of subscribers. That made the pro bloggers and Internet entrepreneurs sit up and pay attention. Suddenly those few hundred or (for the lucky ones) few thousand subscribers jumped to many thousands, even tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
RSS numbers now looked meaningful. Site owners started wearing little counters on their sites showing their RSS subscribers.
In early 2007 lists started popping up where some industrious souls had manually rounded up the Top 40 FeedBurner feeds, or the Top 100 FeedBurner feeds.
Suddenly, “What’s your FeedBurner count?” was on everybody’s minds.
Amazing, isn’t it, what some increasing numbers and a little vanity will do.
Dressing Up your RSS Icons
But the real signal that RSS had arrived and was being taken seriously is when entrepreneurs and business owners stopped burying RSS icons below the fold of their sites, and starting putting them front and center — and showing them off. Not only were they showing them off, but they started dressing them up to call attention to them. Last year I started noticing some fanciful things being done with RSS icons. Now it seems everywhere I turn on the Web I bump into some new and interesting variation on the standard RSS button.
Just for fun, let’s take a look at some of the interesting ways RSS icons are being dressed up.
First, there’s Frantic Industries’ “Cube with a flair” RSS button.
There’s Copyblogger’s “Hanging off the Edge” way of showing the RSS icon.
The bold watermark RSS (see it “behind” the subscription block) comes from Joel Comm.
The RSS icon as sticker is from Awake at the Wheel (with accompanying email subscription sticker).
The cool blue icon turned on its head at Zen Habits makes you calm.
There’s the BIG BOLD 3-D button from Internet Business Mart.
RSS goes round, with Randa Clay Designs’ selection of round RSS icons in colors of the rainbow.
There’s the ultra-contemporary black RSS icon with a flair … and a better looking feed counter next to it, at Freelance Switch.
There’s Business Opportunities blog’s understated rather-have-you-subscribe-via-email-to-feed-updates approach (to encourage people to subscribe for email updates, which is a more active reminder than simply subscribing in a feedreader).
Or try this creative RSS button paper-clipped to the site at SpoonGraphics.
But my favorite of all, is the RSS icon in the dog bowl. Search Engine Guide, knowing that people are drawn to pictures of pets and kids, manages to work a friendly pet theme onto a search marketing site, using a cute puppy dog logo. And in their recent site re-design they continued the pet theme by putting their RSS icon in the dog bowl.
How Do You Get One of Those Cool Icons?
There’s a site where you can download and customize the standard RSS Feed icon to suit your website or blog design. Or you can take an online tutorial in how to use Photoshop to create a round RSS button.
Or, if you are graphically challenged like me, you could just hire a designer to do wonderful things with your RSS icon to integrate it into a WOW design. Someday I will do that.
Why Should You Care?
Vanity and entertainment aside, what exactly does all this attention on RSS feed icons get you?
All of the creative examples above come from small businesses and entrepreneurs. I find this activity important because it suggests that small businesses are discovering the value of RSS.
And the real value of RSS to the small business owner with a business website / blog lies in creating a loyal community of followers. Instead of small businesses having static brochure-ware websites, anyone can begin to develop a loyal community online that engages people.
Start a blog with an RSS feed and you, too, can have a loyal community. You don’t need more than that. Even if your blog gets 50 or 100 regular readers a week, it’s still a community who are interested in YOUR business.
Be careful not to dismiss RSS subscribers as geeks, either. If you are NOT in tech industries you might assume RSS does not apply to your industry. That could be a mistake.
True, some RSS aficianados are geeks.
But I’ve found with my own audience that most RSS subscribers are not geeks, but are actually entrepreneurs, wannabe entrepreneurs, marketers, analysts, journalists, business owners and “information hounds.” They are people who want copious amounts of information to stay up to date. It’s the desire for information that characterizes them, not necessarily whether they work in a tech field or even are early adopters of tech generally.
For instance, I spoke to a group of librarians and school educators recently. Most didn’t know what a podcast was. Some of the librarians had never seen an iPod in person before. But the majority subscribed to RSS feeds.
Put a little attention to your RSS-enabled blog, by blogging regularly, and gradually that community will grow. It took me 14 months to get to the first 100 RSS subscribers. Eventually the law of increasing returns kicks in. As you touch more and more people each day, the word spreads. Before you know it, the pace of subscriber growth will accelerate and your network (community) will grow exponentially.
From the tiny acorn the mighty oak grows.