Flow My RSS, the Freelancer Said

Flow my tears, fall from your springs,
Exiled for ever let me mourn
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.
— John Dowland (1563-1626)

I had an interesting conversation recently with an editor at a major publication. He had a problem. While readership was doing just fine, many of his best columnists were contributing less than ever.
It wasn’t, however, that the columnists had gone to another publication. Nor was it that they had given up on the whole writing thing. Matter of fact, he fretted, they were writing even more than ever.
So where were they? Blogs. Some of his best contributors had wandered off and begun blogging, which was chewing up a lot of their creativity and free time. What could he do about it, the fellow wondered?
My answer: Nothing. My guess was that these people had made the entirely rational decision that they wanted to build their own brand first, and blogs allowed them to do it. They could post what they wanted when they wanted, with no-one between them and their audience.
Saying “nothing” however didn’t mean that I was in favor of editorial nihilism. Far from it. Matter of fact, I took the opposite approach. My recommendation was to turn the process inside out, to recognize that all these contributors were more active than ever. The trouble was that their new content was somewhere other than the editor’s publication — which is a problem easily solved by RSS. Why not cut a deal, I suggested, where the former contributors could tag content as being ready for said publication, and then that publication could regularly do a syndication scan of all these sites, pulling back content cleanly into the host site.
Everyone wins. The financial publication has more content than ever, and contributors aren’t forced to cut their blog readers off from some of their best content. It is a flow model of RSS, one where you leave metaphorical milk bottles on the doorstep, color-coded for various publications to pick up. And the model extends beyond news, to pretty much any kind of contribution you can imagine, from code on outward. The key is the notion of multipoint distribution of creative work with RSS as the distribution mechanism.
Flow my RSS indeed.


  1. Having worked as a journalist myself for 15+ years I can only underline the argument that there is nothing between my readers and my blog.
    Freedom of speech suddenly has a new meaning, as it now reaches out on a global basis.
    None of the print media I worked for reached the 60 countries where my blog is being read regularly after less than two months.
    And there is so much more feedback by readers, not by those one writes about.
    I conclude: Blogging is hot!

  2. But presumably the publication’s real problem is not that the work is available elsewhere, it’s that it’s available elsewhere and for free. And the RSS co-syndication idea would not solve that problem: the contributors’ work would still be available somewhere else for free.
    I think this still forces the established media to deal with the fact that everyone’s giving it away for free, a problem I outlined here:
    TinyURL: http://tinyurl.com/cpu8d

  3. Rob — Agreed, part of the problem (at least from the editor’s point of view) is that the content is now available elsewhere for free.
    But I still argue that this is not about free — it’s about packaging and traffic. In a sense, you’re relying on the publication’s editor’s tastes to reflect your own, such that while you are conducting your daily business he/she is pulling together disparate sources that you will find interesting & useful.
    If an editor is unable to add value by create a symphony of views for their publication then they fail when all the sources can be constructed into ad hoc publications by readers themselves.

  4. RSS, publishers, freelancers, and journalists. Oh my!

    Two posts loosely joined could be another title for this post.  From IOnRSS and

  5. RSS, publishers, freelancers, and journalists. Oh my!

    Two posts loosely joined could be another title for this post.  From IOnRSS and

  6. RSS, publishers, freelancers, and journalists. Oh my!

    Two posts loosely joined could be another title for this post.  From IOnRSS and

  7. I am unfamiliar with John Dowland, but as an enormous Phillip K. Dick fan for many years, I nominate “Flow My RSS, the Freelancer Said” as the subtlest, hippest title for a blog post yet . . .

  8. Thanks Barry. I accept your nomination!!