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IDEA #57A – Social Networking via your RSS subscriptions

This post below is guest written by Michael Wales. It kind of extends off my last idea post — RSS Reader Influenced by your Peers. He talks about basically a service where you could upload your OPML file (what RSS feeds you subscribe to), then it would compare that against the pool of other users and show you people that read similar stuff — and you could then become their “friend” and/or see what else they read that likely would interest you.

As Chris Keller notes in my last post, Google Reader is so close to these abilities — however, they aren’t there — so there might be a possibility to launch something in this space that to Google Reader would merely be a feature, but you could likely turn this feature into a website.

Everyone uses different RSS readers — and exporting their latest OPML file is a manual process. If someone created something that could automatically export OPML files on behalf of the users (for the major RSS readers — Google Reader, Newsgator, Netvibes, Pageflakes, etc) — then this really could be a cool website. It could then notify users when someone has added a new feed that may be of interest to them.

I’m always open to guest posts — so if you feel you have something relevant to my readers (web-based startup ideas; radical concepts, etc), send it my way.

Michael’s post:

Much like in the days before the .com bubble, the target audience for many
of today’s applications is the early adopter crowd. Within this crowd
there is one technology used by all: RSS.

From bloggers to VCs, most everyone “in the know” has a feed reader full
of feeds that interest them. In addition, this same group is consistently
trying to expand their social network, using tools such as LinkedIn,
MyBlogLog, or merely commenting on the blogs within their respective

The key to social networking is identifying interests and allowing users
to connect with one another with the various tools that network provides
(messaging, photos, video, etc). What better place to collect an “interest
profile” than from a user’s OPML file?

This application would allow users to upload their OPML file (possibly
develop a kickass Google Reader competitor, that could further influence
users to give us their feeds). This OPML file would then be parsed and
compared to other users, developing “connections” between users with
similar feeds (thus, similar interests).

For instance, I’m sure Steve and I both have TechCrunch, Techquila Shots,
Mashable, and Read/Write Web in our feed reader (in addition to hundreds
of others). Steve and I may have varying tags for these feeds but the most
common denominator amongst them is without a doubt “web 2.0.”

It is then safe to assume Steve and I have similar interests and would
enjoy the connection made between us. Groups could be implemented in a
similar fashion, using the tags we place on an RSS Feed. Let’s say Pete
Cashmore doesn’t share any similar feeds with us (we’ll imagine he uses a
service like OriginalSignal, YCNews, or digg). But, Pete has tagged all of
these feeds as “web 2.0” as well.

Although Steve and I share a direct connection, via our actual feeds; Pete
is definitely someone we would find a lot in common with and an indirect
connection is made via the Web 2.0 group.

Additional features could be added as Steve has outlined in Idea #57.
Monetization could take the standard “through some ads on it” route or, as
I envision this being a more professional [see LinkedIn] social network
than others [see MySpace], a subscription service could be implemented.

Michael Wales is the author of, started in July
2005, covers the latest developments in web-based technology. Web 2.0,
AJAX, and more – all the buzzwords are covered with in-depth analysis and

  • Michael Wales

    That was quick Steve! :)

    To expand on your “parsing current readers” idea – this was something I thought of but decided not to add just for clarity purposes.

    The process of having user’s export their OPML file and then upload it to the application servers is a daunting one for many people. You really have to offer a compelling service for them to go through all of this work – or make it easy for them. 😀

    Two routes immediately come to mind: 1) a Firefox extension that will parse a user’s feeds each time they visit their feed reader and report this to the application server; 2) a backend on the application that allows the user to enter their login information for their feed reader and the application then goes out and does the work.

    Number 1 requires more user interaction, but has many benefits. The user’s OPML file will always be current, everytime they visit their feed reader, the application retrieves any changes. It also provides a bit more trust to the user, since they don’t have to give us any login info. A $20 thrown at India could get this extension completed in a day or two.

    Number 2 is more easily developed in-house, but lacks the “secure feeling” users expect. You can tell users all day long that you don’t store their data, but they are still typing in their username/password (scary). You also won’t get the consistent updates from their OPML file, since you won’t be storing their login info and hitting their feed reader every day or so for updates. Finally, you are adding a lot of backend processing to the application that you can pass off to the user’s with a simple extension.

    Just a few ideas I’ve had in the 20 minutes between sending it to you and now. Thanks again Steve!

  • AdvocatusDiaboli

    Steve, you should checkout … People post their ideas there, vote for the best and try to win small funding and get help from other users (layers, designers, programmers, business guys, etc). But be carefull because you might get addicted!

  • IdeaTagger

    Interesting idea and I do believe an RSS Reader such as the one(s) proposed could be popular. I am not sure that it would be for me though and here’s why.

    There appear to be two main premises at play here:

    1.That as an RSS Feeds consumer I want articles fed to me to be influenced by the popularity of those posts with other like-minded people.

    2.That I want to be connected to these like-minded people in some sort of social network.

    Whilst I totally accept premise 1, I am not so sure that premise 2 holds true – at least not for me. I am not averse to social networks and I belong to a couple, but I do think that there is a tendency these days to create them just for the sake of doing so.

    So the question is do I need to be connected to a person in a social network in order to have my feeds influenced by them? I don’t think so. myFeedz from Adobe Labs is an interesting rss reader that I enjoy using – now that they seem to have resolved the performance issues I initially experienced on signing up. Basically it lets you import an OPML file and automatically creates tags from your imported feeds. You can add more tags and feeds as you please. You can then filter articles by any given tag – articles taken not just from your feeds but also from feeds uploaded by other myFeedz users. All this without being ‘socially’ connected to anyone.

    The one feature that is missing as far as I have noticed is the ability to vote a post up or down like you can with digg. If my Feedz were to add this and assuming people would actually bother to rate posts, then I think they could be on to a winner. I could then choose to sort posts within a tag by popularity. This to me would be more valuable than being influenced by what a particular person or small set of people may or may not have found interesting. Different strokes I guess.

  • azzam

    I think this is indeed a good idea.
    Networking via rss feeds. We are seeing a growing trend in identifying people online via social networks, people all the time with similar tastes. This solutions proposes to identify similarities by what you subscribe to in an RSS feeds and the tags assigned to those rss feeds. Simply identifying the mindset of a particular individual, this can be further broken down into categories of interests.

    It would be a damn good way of identifying the individuals interests, no doubt about that

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