Don’t believe the hype — even if it comes straight from my keyboard

I have a confession to make. I’ve been over-hyping a number of Web-based technologies that I think have amazing potential — specifically blogs and podcasting. I was about to add RSS feeds to that list, but I hit the brakes. Time for a reality check.Hype is contagious in the IT industry. You read an enthusiastic article or report about some new technology, try it out, and find it’s even better than what you had read. Then you too spread the excitement — by word-of-mouth, or with an opportunity like mine, through a column like this one.
Let’s look at the “facts” as reported by various market research firms. There are at least two million blogs being published worldwide and possibly as many as eight to 10 million. I couldn’t find estimates for RSS news feeds, but one directory ( lists nearly 120,000 of them — and those were strictly in the English language. Similarly, I found that there were 11,000 podcasts in the directory, the biggest one I could find (again, English only).
So, why shouldn’t I be enthusiastic about these hot new ways to disseminate information of all kinds? Well, the sobering facts are that most of these “broadcasters” are apparently broadcasting into a vacuum.
The first study to catch my attention was published by Jupiter Research. Jupiter surveyed about 4,000 Internet users in June. They found that just 11 per cent read even a single blog on a monthly basis (or more frequently). Seven per cent of the sample had listened to one or more podcasts in the past year, and a miniscule three per cent reported that they regularly receive information through an RSS or XML feed.
My first reaction was this can’t be right. I’ve used these technologies and they’re great. They communicate to audiences in ways that were never possible before.
Then I found another study, this one from Forrester, which claims to have surveyed 68,000 households. In August, Forrester reported it found that just six per cent read blogs and two per cent use RSS to obtain current information.
One could argue that these are household surveys not business surveys, but business people are in households too. What’s worse is that I’m sure the old 80:20 rule applies here. That is, about 80 per cent of the audiences within those already tiny percentages are subscribing to just 20 per cent of the available blogs or podcasts or RSS feeds. And, the flip-side is that 80 per cent or more of the broadcasts are going to virtually no one.
So, there’s my reality check, and the reason for my confession. But why is there such a whopping disparity between what we’re reading about these technologies and the cold facts of life? I have two hypotheses: First, we’re still in the “early adopter” phase, and audiences will grow exponentially with education about the benefits of subscribing to blogs, podcasts and RSS feeds. Second, people will always prefer to pull — not push — technologies to acquire information.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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