Adam Penemberg: Lately there has been a lot of discussion on the net about how to make money off RSS, which, depending on whom you ask, stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, but which many publishers and bloggers hope will turn into a Really Sweet (revenue) Stream.

At its essence, RSS is little more than a distribution system that enables publishers to offer headlines and text via XML feeds to interested readers. Each RSS feed contains a list of headlines, brief descriptions (“decks” in journalism parlance) — sometimes entire posts — and web links. Users access these feeds with RSS readers like NewsGator Online, Freereader and RSS Bandit, which are applications that monitor publishers’ sites. If the content changes — for example, a blog entry is altered or a new article comes online — the updated head, deck and link are automatically dispatched to subscribers.

Like e-mail alerts, RSS is highly targeted, because it serves headlines only to people who have signed up for them. (In this sense, it’s more “pull” than “push.”) The difference is that RSS can deliver up-to-the-second content. Not only that, but from the perspective of publishers, it could end up a pretty elegant solution to spam, since antispam filters often make it difficult for publishers to reach readers via e-mail.

Although it has been around for a couple of years, RSS has only recently begun to take off. It has become so popular that in some cases half the visitors to a blog or website come via RSS feeds.

Bloggers, who use RSS to keep rabid fans (and even more rabid detractors) abreast of their latest ruminations, were the early adopters, and as blogomania has spread over the internet, so too has RSS. CNET,, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal Online, Wired News and Yahoo offer the service.

As soon as mainstream publishers incorporated RSS feeds into their web businesses, you knew that ideas on how to make money from them would inevitably follow. This almost always means advertising, the bane of readers’ existence, but it’s the reason most content on the net remains free for the asking. So while some may protest the idea of monetizing RSS, it’s inevitable. The trick will be to make it as unobtrusive as possible.

Since traditional media companies move slowly when it comes to incorporating new ideas, the first ones to dip their toes into the commercial waters have been, not surprisingly, folks like Jason Calacanis, founder of Weblogs, the parent company of Engadget, a well-trafficked tech blog, and Nick Denton, founder of Gawker and Wonkette, both of which have incorporated ads into RSS.

So has Feedster, a news and blog syndicate. John Battelle, founder of the defunct magazine The Industry Standard and operator of Searchblog, reported last month that online marketer Overture, a subsidiary of Yahoo, has also been testing ads in its RSS feeds. Battelle called the development “a step toward the monetization of RSS” and gave kudos to Yahoo for the move.

More here.