From time to time I get a request to help promote a tech product. I almost never go for it, even though I do promote tech products on my blog and in my tweetstream. I've even been offered cash or stock to do that, but again, I won't do it. To me that's like advertising, and you don't see any ads on this site, for a reason. I don't want to dilute the connection with the people who read this site.
It's like this -- imagine you went to a Toyota dealer to try out one of their new hybrids. When you get into the car, the sales guy hands you a gift certificate for $1 off a latte at Starbucks and turns on the radio and plays an ad for a Honda Civic. Great. They just spent $500 to get you into the car for the test drive and instead of focusing all your attention on how great their product is, they've got you driving to a Starbucks and thinking about their competitor's product. You think they'd do that? I don't.
That's why I cringe when I see ads in RSS feeds. These guys don't get it -- their whole goal should be to get you to read more stuff about what they're doing, not get taken somewhere else to do something entirely different. Each person you attract cost you a lot to get them interested. Don't sell out too cheap.
But there is a good way to get me to talk about your product. It's very simple, make it work with something I already do. In other words, work with me. Give me an incentive that's meaningful to me and I'll sing your praises to anyone who will listen.
For example, in 2001 or 2002, if you ran a website and added RSS support to it, it's a pretty sure thing that I would promote it. I wanted people to see that there was wide adoption happening. The only way for them to see that is to show them.
Then, once we had the foundation of RSS, I could use it to promote something else I cared about, podcasting. It booted up much faster, because there already was a network of understanding of the base technology, this was just a new application of it.
Going back to the roots, if you had a blog in 1997 or 1998, yup -- I would point to it, usually with gushing praise. Again, I wanted to show uptake. The tradition continues to this day -- blogs beget more blogs. Everyone can point to the blogs that inspired them to start blogging.
Today it's different. A site with an RSS feed is not news. A new blog is nice, for sure -- but in itself is not interesting. Everyone has blogs, everyone has RSS, there are lots of podcast feeds, that's all good.
This is going to sound weird, but then so did blogs and RSS back in the day. And it may not work, or it may be slightly off, or it may not be the right time. You never know it's going to work until it does.
If you look at the website of Scripting News, instead of the feed, you'll see there's been a change. It's a lot simpler. All the same stuff is there, but it's laid out in a more pleasing way (I hope). There are little plus signs all over the place where you can get more info. So it's easy to skim, but it's also easy to go deeper. I believe in both ways of reading.
In this context I am a writer and a programmer. My design work is finished. My rendering of scripting.com in HTML is done. But, in addition to publishing the rendered text, I also publish the source. So anyone can write a renderer.
I think of this act of open-ness as equivalent to publishing Scripting News in XML in December 1997. That simple act led to people at Netscape building an aggregator to read it. Then more feeds were published. Then more aggregators and on and on. This is how bootstraps begin, with a single act of faith. It's like the Kevin Costner character in Field of Dreams who believes if he builds a baseball diamond on his farm the players would come.
You can be one of the first to play in this ballpark. Take the OPML source of this post and make it look and work great on some device. It could be a cell phone. It could be an iPad. It could be a 27-inch display. You'll learn a lot from that, I hope you'll share what you learn (write a blog post).