Toronto firm scopes out enterprise RSS space

Toronto company is hoping to one day offer enterprises a version of really simple syndication technology that will help manage business information more effectively than e-mail.

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On a roll with RSS

Alertle officially launched last month for consumers, offering a reader through which users can scan links to articles that are automatically sent via really simple syndication (RSS). The Wall Street Journal, Cisco and use RSS newsfeeds, for example, to let clients and staff push product and news updates. Google Reader and Bloglines are among the more popular RSS tools for consumers.

Varun Mathur, Alertle’s chief executive, started the project in partnership with some former IBM Canada employees about two years ago out of dissatisfaction with existing RSS readers.

“(Vendors) were taking a very e-mail like approach to it. The interface is very similar,” he said. “The problem is you end up with the same information overload issue. Someone could log into their RSS client and see there were a few thousand articles they hadn’t read.”

In contrast, Alertle displays feeds as icons, much like applications on a desktop. A feed from CNN, for example, might have the CNN logo, and clicking on it would allow users to see specific headlines from that site. The company also provides more than a dozen bundles of feeds under categories such as “Nasdaq,” or “Autos” to make the categorization easier.

Alertle, which works on FireFox, Safari, Flick and Opera, will soon include support for Internet Explorer. Mathur said the plan is to eventually evolve into a hosted offering for small and medium-sized businesses. The long-term plan, however, is to create an admin console and server software that will tie into enterprise Exchange systems. Mathur said there is huge untapped potential for RSS in the enterprise.

“Right now there’s a lot of e-mail noise in businesses – a lot of communication gets sent out that’s not addressed to the specific person,” he said. “RSS is more like a broadcasting medium, but one where you can target a specific individual or group of people.”

The most applicable use case scenario might be around a customer issue that needs to be resolved, Mathur said. A company could set up an RSS feed to track internal progress reports on how the issue is resolved. Companies could also use RSS to push sales leads to a specific sales person.

“There’s also the ability to just share interesting knowledge,” he added. “A company can manage (feeds) for its employees and provide a pool of sites or links which they think might have relevance.”

Several IT vendors are playing close attention to RSS, blogs and wikis as ways to enhance collaboration, including IBM Canada in Markham, Ont. Kathryn Everest, senior managing consultant for social software at Big Blue, said such tools can help all kinds of users better organize and manage data.

“We can’t generalize and say that all the Gen X and Gen Y people are going to flock to it,” she said, adding that social software works depending on how seamlessly it is integrated with existing corporate workflows. “You can’t look at (users) as a pie chart, because the pie chart keeps changing.”

In a report published last year, Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research identified Attensa, NewsGator and KnowNow as the top players in the enterprise RSS space.

–ComputerWorld Canada

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