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Social scientists refer to the craving for online contact as “Ambient awareness”. They liken the feeling to being similar to being physically near someone and sensing their mood by their body language, mood and comments.

I think the desire for ambient awareness is what has driven the popularity of Facebook, which through it’s provision of the news feed feature, is supplying a stream of up to the minute updates on what your friends are doing. In many cases this feed substitutes the need for email.  Twitter is another service which streams snippets of thoughts into a single stream.

Whilst the craving for ambient awareness of our social graph (or friends list) might be strong, it is surprising to me that the use of RSS feedreaders to supply a personalised interest based news feed is still quite low.

Feedreaders such as Feed Demon, Newsgator are free and relatively easy to setup and establish a personalised “Interest based ambient awareness channel”.
Whilst adoption of these services is growing, their usage is still mostly contained to the early adopters.  Steve Rubel at Micropersuasion points points to Forrester research that suggests that feedreader adoption is at 11% up only 2% on what it was 3 years ago.

This has always been surprising to me, and led me to consider some possible reasons.

1. Apathy.  Much like programming the VCR, setting up a personalised RSS folder is one of those things that people just can’t be bothered setting up.

2. Ignorance. Many people are not aware of the benefits that can be gained from doing this, which include a faster and deeper knowledge acquisition of your interest area, perhaps at the expense of general media consumption.

3. Trainers. It takes less than an hour for most people to acquire the skills needed to do an initial setup and learn how to maintain an “interest based ambient awareness” channel. However there is a lack of resources who have the knowledge and inclination to spread this around.

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So what needs to happen to bring these services into the mainstream?

1. Mainstream publishers will start to provide “niche ambient awareness” channels.  News.com.au in Australia recently launched a new format which allows some degree of personalisation, and yet it falls short of what can be done with a feedreader.  Personalised start pages such as Pageflakes, Netvibes and iGoogle also provide simple tools which will drive the use of “one click” niche interest feeds. Facebook and other social networks will continue to expand their deployment of “interest based ambient awareness” channels via groups and discovery tools.  Take a look at Radus for a new example that fits this description.

2. Emergence of the RSS salesperson. Too many of the RSS early adopters are what Malcolm Gladwell would refer to as “Mavens”, immersed in a deep knowledge of a certain area, and without the inclination to evangelise their discoveries to the world. I have seen the adoption of personalised feeds spread quickly when a connected salesperson evangelises the benefits.

3. Increased demand for customised social Media monitoring. Working in this area, I am seeing first hand the continued demand to unlock insights that are often hidden from mainstream media services. One of the main tools that I use for this is my feedreader. As the demand increases, I think this will encourage the training of resources in the creation and use of “interest based ambient awareness” channels.

We all have a passion or interest. I would challenge you to discover for yourself firsthand the benefits of getting more deeply engaged through the creation of an “Interest based ambient awareness” channel.


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