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Brian Livingston  
The Future of E-Mail
By Brian Livingston

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Wouldn't it be great if you could get rid of the lion's share of your e-mail but still get a coherent flow of the information you need? Some companies are implementing pilot programs with that goal in mind.

Sparking such projects is the aim of new releases called NewsGator 2.0 and NewsGator Online Services. NewsGator integrates with Microsoft's Outlook, giving users an automated way to download news feeds from small and large publishers (including eWEEK). These feeds use RSS (known alternately as Really Simple Syndication or Resource Description Framework Site Summary), an XML-based format.

RSS is well-known as a form of distribution for blogs (Web logs). To hear some buzzmeisters talk, RSS is nothing short of revolutionary. But RSS has been difficult to manage as an enterprise tool. That's because feed-reader programs, called aggregators, work only on individual client machines. This prevents a collection of news feeds from being synchronized and viewed on whatever machine a user happens to have at hand.

The use of NewsGator Online Services, however, enables a personalized collection of feeds to be read by a user wherever he or she happens to be—online in a hotel room or an Internet cafe, at home or at work, on Windows or Mac OS. Unlike NewsGator 1.x, a view of the news no longer has to be locked in to one PC.

One pilot implementer is excited about the possibilities. "I subscribe to 150 sites that I'm monitoring in NewsGator," said Jennifer Klyse, enterprise applications analyst at Patton Boggs, a large law firm based in Washington. "Many of the sites have an option to subscribe to their e-mail newsletter, but I don't want that in my in-box, [and] I don't want it on my BlackBerry."

Klyse has set up a small pilot project with a handful of people at Patton Boggs to test whether RSS feeds should be rolled out to all of the company's 366 attorneys and their support staff.

"Some of the attorneys might want to hear about news on patents relating to wireless technology," Klyse said. "They could do a search in Google for 'wireless technology patents,' but they'd have to remember to do that." Using RSS feeds, the attorneys can get a steady stream of stories from sources that analyze just this topic.

RSS is well-suited to replace e-mail in workgroups whose members must communicate frequently. "When you get a lot of e-mail, it's hard to sort out your relative priorities," said Mark Madsen, vice president of product development for Network Clarity, maker of enterprise IP network management software. He's implementing an internal blog using NewsGator for members of his development team.

"The nice thing about Web logging is it does sort discussions into topics," Madsen said. "Unlike unstructured discussion groups from the past, XML and RSS allow us to slice and dice those discussions, search them, and attach other information and responses."

Greg Reinacker, president of NewsGator Technologies, in Denver, said his company is still deciding on the ways it will disseminate its API. The online service has an API to allow others to tinker with its functionality, but it has not been posted on the Web. It will be given out freely to enterprise developers and others, Reinacker said. "Our intent is to make it available to partners and customers who want to build products or applications," he said.

My hope is that NewsGator's API will be passed around as much as possible. Using the API, companies can develop front ends that use, say, NewsGator's Online Services ($5.95 per month per single user) but not its client software ($29 per user). Reinacker said he's fine with that.

Eventually, a large percentage of the one-to-many communications within an enterprise could be handled using RSS instead of blasting group e-mail to everyone. E-mail in-boxes would be reserved for urgent, one-to-one messages that require a quick response. As spam filters improve, your in-box might even once again become a quiet place that you look forward to visiting.

Brian Livingston is editor of BriansBuzz. com. To send tips, visit Send your comments to

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