RSS: Image Distribution in the Fast Lane
Web-savvy photographers have discovered a powerful new tool that is helping them distribute images, find locations for shoots, and keep tabs on the latest imaging trends and techniques. RSS (short for Real Simple Syndication) is an online content distribution medium that is becoming a mainstream technology. At this point, hundreds of millions of web surfers are taking advantage of this new medium, and that number is increasing rapidly.
Too much information and not enough time: that’s an all-too-common complaint these days. Luckily, RSS is helping people cope with the overload. With this technology, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can stay on top of the most recent developments in any arena, including photography.RSS, also called web syndication, is proving to be a great way for photographers to distribute their images to a broader audience. Sites such as Flickr.com and applications such as iPhoto can potentially “photocast” to millions of people who are using the latest web browsers. Experienced computer users now can search or subscribe to receive the latest images from specific photographers or those linked to keywords.
What is RSS?
There’s a lot of confusing geek-speak surrounding RSS (“Syndication refers to a structured XML protocol that enables peer-to-peer…” etc.), but it’s more simply described as a system that makes it easy for people to be notified immediately when something of interest has been posted.
RSS actually is one specific type of web syndication, but it’s often used to refer to syndication in general. Even though that’s not entirely proper, for the sake of simplicity I’ll use the terms syndication and RSS interchangeably.
RSS promises to end the hassle of surfing for new information that may or may not have been posted. Instead, you have a central information “dashboard” that brings in only new and relevant content. This dashboard approach is so effective that one blogger I know claims to use it to scan the new content from more than a thousand web sites in just a few hours every day.
Here’s how it works: You need to get your hands on a special type of program or web site that can read and understand syndicated content (which is sent in feeds), and then use that newsreader or aggregator to subscribe to site feeds that you want to follow or searches that you want to follow.Once you have that set up, several times a day you’ll receive the latest information as it’s put up on the Internet. You can click through to the web site that has the new information if you want. One of the best parts of this process is that, compared to receiving email subscriptions, there are little to no spam problems, as you can easily unsubscribe from feeds containing too many commercial messages.
There are dozens of newsreaders/ aggregators on the market for both Mac and Windows. Two of the best, Attensa.com and NetNewsWire (www.ranchero.com), come from companies based in the Pacific Northwest. Others include BlogLines.com and FeedDemon (www.newsgator.com). Even web browsers are getting into the game. Safari (the Mac browser) and the next version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer will have RSS capability built in.Once you get set up with one of these programs or sites, you’re set to start subscribing. You may have noticed the little orange boxes with the letters RSS or XML inside them that appear on many sites (and almost all blogs and news sites) these days. Sites with these badges, or with links that say “subscribe,” have been set up so that you can get updates automatically. The problem is that clicking these links usually doesn’t do anything except bring up an odd page with a bunch of confusing code.
Here’s the process that will let you subscribe properly:
• First, right-click on the little orange box or the link that says “subscribe.”
• Choose the menu command that lets you “copy this link.”
• Switch over to your newsreader/aggregator and find the “subscribe” command or button.
• Paste in the link.
• You are now subscribed to that site.
In addition, you can get feeds from specialized search engines, such as Technorati.com or Feedster.com. In those cases, you type in a search (as you do now in Google or Yahoo!), and then you can subscribe to the results, which means that you’ll be alerted when something new appears. Many companies use this type of search to see what bloggers are saying about their products or organizations.
The need for feeds
OK, so what does this mean for photographers? Of course it can be valuable to use this technology to keep abreast of what’s new in your areas of interest – be it technologies, lenses, shooting locations or the like – but feeds are more and more often being used to transmit media, such as photos. Sites such as Flickr.com allow visitors to subscribe to feeds featuring photographs of certain locations, subjects or photographers. Even audio and video files are being attached to feeds (this is what “podcasts” are, by the way). What’s new is that syndicated feeds are becoming a major platform for media distribution.
If you are a photographer who needs to promote your talents or business, you no doubt have a web site. If your site doesn’t issue feeds, you’re at a significant disadvantage. Thanks to the millions of saved searches being syndicated, you’ll get significantly more business with a site that gets picked up by newsreaders than with one that doesn’t.
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to get set up with feed distribution. Most sites can be retrofitted to issue feeds; an even easier method (and better from a promotional standpoint) is to start a blog. Since almost all blogs issue feeds automatically, and many provide photo management tools (and are also much less of a hassle to administer than normal web sites), photographers are jumping into them in a big way.
If your site doesn't issue feeds, you're at a significant disadvantage. You'll get significantly more business with a site that gets picked up by newsreaders.
More and more stock photo agencies, such as Fotolia.com, have made RSS feeds the cornerstone of their search strategies. All agencies offer a way for users to search for photos that match certain criteria, but the leaders now allow those searches to be saved as feeds. When new photos appear that match the criteria, end users are notified immediately via their web browsers or newsreaders. Photographers who use these agencies to broker their images will get more people to discover their images and sell them much more quickly.
Admittedly, syndication is still a fairly new technology and is not being leveraged by most mainstream computer users yet. This likely will change quite quickly over the next 18 to 24 months. One coming catalyst for adoption is the imminent release of the Windows Vista operating system. Vista will incorporate feed reading directly into the operating system, so that almost any application will be able to ingest feeds containing text, photos, movies and sound automatically.
As more and more programs include RSS-related features, and people become aware of the advantages, expect to see widespread adoptionof subscriber-based media.