The Wall Street Journal Online has a short and slightly thought-provoking interview with Jakob Nielsen concerning newsfeeds and blogging.
I think the news feed reader is taking the place of both some browsing activity and some e-mail activity. People ought to be viewing blogging and news feeds not as the “extreme edge” mentioned in the interview but rather a notable shift in the way people discover and retrieve information from web sites.
Lee Gomes (the interviewer) asked why Nielsen prefers an e-mail newsletter over a news feed. It brought up a few points on the focus of a newsletter but Nielsen cautioned “Unless a newsletter is very good, people will just say, ‘Oh no, more information.'” And I find that to be my case. There are a few newsletters I like reading but the majority have too much garbage to wade through and simply clutter my e-mail inbox. I’m hesitant to subscribe to anyone’s newsletter now that I’m invariably offered the option during any web site registration. Over the years, site after site, has reinforced the notion that once I subscribe, the subscription will balloon into unwanted mail and it will be difficult to remove myself from the lists. Even when that’s not the practice, there is that suspicion. Abuses have made that impression the general state.
Many years ago I attended a conference held by a local phone company, which was trying to convince its corporate clients to build corporate web sites (and hence they needed fast Internet connections). The conference had a number of very informative sessions highlighting the benefits a web site could bring to a business. One of the points I recall, was how much emphasis they put on having a clear and easy sign-up page for a company newsletter. They made the case that a well-designed newsletter, would help a company stay in contact with its customers (of course that lends itself to all kinds of wonderful marketing activities).
Now I hear similar arguments for the business benefits of blogging. Except the nice thing about blogging and hence blog news feeds, is that the subscribing user has complete control over whether s/he subscribes to it or not (unlike what happens when you release your e-mail address to the clutches of some unfamiliar internal machinations of a company you probably have little reason to trust).
One last thing. On the conversational aspect of blogs (which seems to be, at least in part, commentary on who actually is reading/using them), Nielsen comments that it works for fanatics “…who are engaged so much that they will go and check out these blogs all the time.” I’m inclined to agree temporarily, but it is a shortsighted viewpoint if that is where it ends. True most people I know, haven’t got a clue what a news feed reader is much less a blog, though since I’ve been using these for a while, they’re familiar concepts and tools for me. However, all technology uses tend to be that way. When I went to the conference I mentioned previously, an e-mail newsletter seemed like something only a small percentage of the population would ever use. That changed. Now that I regularly use a news feed reader to read articles, I use my web browser less frequently. That is a major shift in the way I access Web content.