Yesterday I wrote about the news that Microsoft opened their tech support knowledge base via RSS feeds Structured Corporate Feeds? with a new concept of structured RSS and I thought to elaborate on it further to make the idea more useful.
RSS feeds in the perspective of infrastructure tools enable today an efficient mechanism for detecting changes in distributed content and it mainly serves for personal publishing via blogging tools serving publishers and news reading tools serving readers on the other end (And of course other aggregation and indexing services to better serve information identification and classification purposes).
Exposing corporate systems such as the corporate tech support knowledge base via RSS creates a new pattern of information transfer that has several unique attributes:
1) The corporate information is transformed from a structured format (The corporate database system) into a stream of plain text updates with one structured attribute, which is the date of publication.
2) The extensive meaning embedded in the corporate structure is lost due to this transformation.
3) Relationships in between pieces of information that existed in the corporate system are lost as well.
Even in the simple case of knowledge base updates; if we consider the experience of someone reading this information via the knowledge base browser Microsoft provides, then the experience itself is structured even if it is not very noticeable and reading it via a plain news reader that presents it as plain text looses information and capabilities on the way. Capabilities such as archiving, classification, search and others that were embedded in the same information while it resided on the corporate system.
This loss of structure is maybe not very dramatic at this stage of the blogosphere where only a fraction of corporate information systems are tunnelled via RSS. If this practice will be adopted widely then a restructuring behaviour on the other end will and should emerge. The transformation between the structured content into plain text and then again into a structured format on the end (It can be a different level of restructuring that will be controlled by the publisher) can be implemented using many methods. One of the methods can be an a mapping of fields that will be part of the XML content and will be re-interpreted on the other end.
Different uses of RSS and corporate systems that I can think of are: CRM sales figures to partners and vice versa, Investor relations info to stock markets and stock information consumers, Updates of product features to partners and customers, Security fixes to customers, Press releases to the public, All PRM implementations (Partnership Relationship Management), Internal operational indicators to corporate performance systems and more…
RSS can also be elevated to include binary code updates as well and that can be a platform for many new corporate applications as well.
As a final note, I think that the basic nature of RSS feeds being served in a machine readable format creates many opportunities for innovation that is beyond basic change detection and aggregation mechanisms. Including innovation such as automatic language translation for example.
If anyone is interested to dig in one of these concepts and make something useful out of it I would love to assist if I can.