After calling RSS opt-in authenticated Email
, Doc takes up the issue of RSS as a substitute for email
Obviously, RSS isn’t e-mail. But what might it bring to email that isn’t there now? In a word, relationship.
Now think about the relationships supported by what RSS provides: notification, subscription, syndication. The first two give new meaning to the third, when you think about what can be done to make email as personal as mail was in the first place. I would gladly subcribe to writers whose correspondence is accompanied by an RSS notification. I would gladly syndicate my willingness to relate with people who know me, within the context of an email system that respects the meaning of the verb relate.
He goes on to relate email and RSS to Andre Durand’s three tiers of identity. The suggestion is that a combination of email and RSS could make Tier 1 (Personal) and Tier 2 (Corporate) obviate the need for Tier 3 (Marketing). More on this train of thought in Doc’s presentation to Identity World.
There are a number of ways to look at relationships. One is ties in a social network. If you plotted a graph of directional ties using email and and one using RSS they would be different, perhaps even the opposite. Email ties would point from Sender (A) to Receiver (B), a Push Model. RSS ties would point from B to A, a Pull Model. If enough positive message flow exists between A and B you can imply a confirmed tie with either Email or RSS which is an indicator of a relationship.
Both message formats are simply conduits that get stuff between A & B. They share a common problem of writers thinking their words are more important than reader’s time (my ego is doing this to you right now and you are wishing I could give you a simple bullet point for your mental outliner). But there is something different about the Pull and Push Models.
Push Models have higher transaction costs because risks and costs are not evenly distributed. It costs nearly nothing to compose and send a message and costs practically nothing to send an additional copy to someone. Costs are borne by readers, something well known and the cause for spam, the burden of processing messages coming to you without your control. Risks are borne by the Receiver for having an address alone. The real costs are incurred when the Receiver tries usurp control over costs. It could be cost of filters or the opportunity cost of false positives, but that only addresses commercial spam and is relatively nominal. The larger problems are the tax of interruption (albeit less than IM) and addressing occupational spam by coordinating preferred etiquette with Senders. Any message requesting a change in behavior puts your relationship at risk and will likely result in a costly back and forth negotiation. Coordination risks could be reduced by having a manager give the offending Sender a good talking to, but getting managers to address communication effectiveness isn’t the easiest politics to pull off.
Contrast this with Pull Models. The difference is the Reader chooses and can control whom they want to subscribe to and when they want to be interrupted. Risk is borne by the Sender with every message they put out and the quality, albeit with a low bar and informal culture, they are consistent with. Costs are controlled by the Receiver. They choose what to subscribe to and more importantly unsubscribe from, on average less than 150 feeds, an expected group size. The transaction cost for unsubscription is clicking a button, which hold message volume at a relative constant.
But there is something still missing from both models and Pull is beginning to fulfill. Nested feedback, at a low threshold and cost. Adina puts it thus:
But signing up for an RSS subscription isn’t a “relationship”, any more than signing up for a magazine is a relationship. If the information flow is one-way, then it’s publishing or marketing, not a “relationship.”
Today if you write a post you get great feedback when you write something great in the form of links, referrers and traffic. You can follow links to understand the context of a post to a reader. What’s missing is greater visibility into RSS subscriber patterns, over half of the traffic of a blog. When do people unsubscribe? I’m usually quick to condemn people (mostly Radio users who have an integrated aggregator/blog tool) who cross post your content without any value add or annotation. But when a person makes a conscious decision to amplify your meme its really good feedback. Its often said that blogging is writing for writers. Not everyone is going to be a writer, and tools like that provide insight into readership will be rewarded.
Identity and messaging are deeply intertwingled. Right now, email has the identity of Receivers and syndication has the identity of Senders. Doc points out that the combination may allow us to circumvent tier 3 identity. But assume for a moment that Sender ID becomes adopted, perhaps even before the next Exchange upgrade cycle. Then email gains end-to-end identity. Its doubtful you will see a similar push in RSS/Atom unless transport begins to leverage Atom’s API functions for tangental benefits to transmission.
The one area I could see this happening is as browsers become aggregators. My favorite scenario is Mozilla offers aggregation first and second pre-emptively adopts Alchemy. That second step is somewhat science fiction, but they did build in their own Google Toolbar. For now, its just fun thinking.
But the deepest question I am wrestling with on identity is in social networking. When a composite identity is formed in a network without your participation. Your friends upload your contact information to make you a node in the network, your emails with them and information scraped off the web builds an identity that you don’t own or control.
A Composite Identity isn’t Personal, Corporate or Marketing. I asked Doc about this and he thought it may fit into Corporate identity extended to individuals as corporations. Eric Norlin of PingID define Corporate for me as “identity that takes place in a shared context.” But there are individuals intermediating with the corporation to form the identity. The individual being identified isn’t sharing this context. There is re-course to the corporation hosting the network that will allow you with some effort to have your node removed. Marketing identities are abstracted from data gained and put you into segments, but this is networked marketing and relationship-based. I believe that a Composite Identity represents something new, potentially scary, that fits somewhere between Corporate and Marketing identity, perhaps a fourth Tier.