There is an article over on Advertising Age which tasks its readers with rethinking the importance of blogs, podcasting, and RSS. It gives a number of anecdotes about consumers who don't know anything about podcasts or RSS even though as the author puts it, "Digital properties may be VC darlings, hot on Wall Street and coveted by advertisers." I tend to agree with a lot of what the article says, and the stories form the basis for why I think RIAs are so important to the future of content.
When you build an RIA around your content, you are giving the users a chance to interact with that content, and you have the freedom to brand the experience however you see fit.Take the 57 year old accountants who have an iPod but haven't ever heard of RSS or podcasting. Or even the 26-year-old professional who occasionally watches video clips on CNN.com but finds having to sit through a 30 second ad for a two minute clip annoying. Finally, think about the 26-year-old manager of publicity who finds reading the paper on his bus ride a luxury. All of these people are molded by the experiences. Whether it be the experience of the iPod, the bad experience of watching ads on CNN or the experience of being able to read the paper.
podcasting and RSS are buzzwords for the core building blocks of the web. There is no doubt that they are powerful, innovative, and useful, but I think of them as something like batteries. The world doesn't work without batteries, but when looked at by themselves, batteries are boring, and relatively useless. What RIAs do better then most web applications is take those batteries, and give them something to power. RIAs can provide the kinds of experiences that will draw people in and show them the benefits of things like RSS and podcasting.
The article tries to say that the lack of knowledge about things like RSS and podcasting is bad for those technologies. I would argue the opposite, I would say, with all respect to Dave Winer, that if the end user never has any idea what RSS is, we're doing our jobs. I realize that podcasting falls into a different category, but I still say that if the end user doesn't realize they are downloading a "podcast", then we are doing okay. They should simply think of it as downloading a different type of content to their iPods.
When you build an RIA around your content, you are giving the users a chance to interact with that content, and you have the freedom to brand the experience however you see fit. The iPod is popular because it provides a great experience. People find reading the newspaper enjoyable because it provides them with an experience. There is no reason why people shouldn't enjoy web applications in the same way. Too long we've lived in a world where the web was two dimensional. Now we're seeing the benefits of the Read/Write web, but we won't hook people like Dave Bretzlauf until we give them an experience they enjoy.