The Friday Interview: Fergus Burns, Hookable Media

10 Jun 2005

A few years ago it would have been traditional media such as newspapers that felt threatened by the internet and were told to either embrace it or die. Today, not only traditional media but most online media are being told to get their heads around new trends such as blogging and really simple syndication (RSS) feeds in order to stay relevant. Evolve or die, warns Hookable Media CEO Fergus Burns (pictured).

It is hard to believe that a medium introduced 10 years ago is now as mainstream as radio or TV. But therein lies a bigger problem. The internet has become so intertwined in our media consumption that, if anything, people are juggling greater volumes of information in order to stay in the loop. If the problem persists a new phrase, information anxiety, could be included in medical jargon.

But new trends too are influencing our diet of information. Blogging, otherwise keeping a diary or expounding your worldly views to a world audience, is a rising medium that is being given serious credence among traditional and online media whereby newspapers and news portals are carrying round-ups on some of the more interesting blogs to keep an eye on.

But keeping an eye on all the latest developments online, whether it’s a blog or a news story on finance, technology or what celebrity reprobates are up to next, has heralded in another online trend, RSS. Put simply, it allows you to identify the content you like and have it delivered directly to you. It takes the hassle out of staying up to date, by showing you the latest information you are interested in. Not all websites currently provide RSS, but it is growing rapidly in popularity.

Publishing has been the first industry to embrace RSS blogging. Media channels as diverse as computer magazines, The New York Times, Time, Fortune, USA Today and the BBC have set up RSS feeds on their websites to distribute news stories to users. Next have come big IT firms as well as public relations (PR) and marketing communications professionals who have seen the value of the technology as a means of delivering precise information to a targeted audience. Big names in IT such as Cisco, IBM and Microsoft have all RSS-enabled their press rooms and encouraged employees to set up complementary blogs that create ‘noise’ and discussion around certain new products. Microsoft alone is said to have 1,200 external-facing blogs in addition to many others that are for internal consumption only.

The organisation or individual providing the information sets up an RSS feed related to a certain subject. End users download an RSS reader that allows them to receive and read the feed on their PC. Users can choose either to set up the reader as a separate application on their desktop, view an RSS feed through their web browser or have it drop into their email inbox. Users can also download free news aggregator software that will periodically check each RSS feed to which you are subscribed to see if new items have been published and then display the results in a window on your PC.

Sligo-based Hookable Media is leading the charge in this new space with its Nooked FeedWizard and Nooked Feed Directory, online services for the journalism industry and the marketing, advertising and communications industries. The Nooked FeedWizard is an online service that enables corporate communications and marketing professionals to RSS enable their marketing messages. The Nooked Feed Directory is the de facto search engine and directory for corporate RSS feeds, to help journalists, analysts and influencers find the RSS feeds on information that is most important to them.

Hookable Media’s chief executive Fergus Burns believes RSS is a technology that publishers and enterprises cannot afford to ignore if they wish to stay relevant. “RSS is driving momentum in media and marketing that takes us beyond the potential of email usage as we know it. Forrester and Gartner say less than 7pc of emails get through, that means for every 100 emails sent only seven are read from a marketing perspective. On the internet publishing side of things, the volume of content is growing and how do you keep readers on top of the information. RSS is about pushing content out to people that they could subscribe to in an easy manner. It is a mechanism to subscribe to news feeds.”

But what should traditional media learn from this? “Media such as newspapers and television stations had to shift online seven years ago and they were worrying about loss of revenues. Now they have to worry about that investment again because RSS is a way of consuming information without going to the website. Publishers need to realise that eyeballs are going elsewhere and if you’re a business that is subscription supported, you need to invent another business mode. The New York Times, for example, has seen a 250pc growth in consumption of RSS feeds in the past three months.”

Burns says as soon as Hookable Media realised that RSS was a rising phenomenon it decided to create a publishing platform to simplify the set-up of RSS feeds. “We were using RSS before it became popular and used it to disseminate information in an XML format. We saw the rise of blogging and companies such as CapeClear and Cisco use it and found that these guys were doing it by hand or building add-ons. We decided to come up with an RSS marketing/publishing platform and give service to marketers and publishers to do RSS.”

In conclusion, Burns says we are only at the beginning of a major trend: “A year ago RSS was a niche community, in the past six months globally we are seeing increase in its use by PR people because it is demanded by journalists and analysts.”

By John Kennedy