Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Monday, March 7, 2005

Delivering Software Updates By RSS: Appcasting Jumps Onto The RSS Wave

When you fire up one of your online software tools and straightaway get a message notifying you that there's a new version available for immediate download, are you grateful for the message or irritated by the distraction?

Do you download and install the latest version there and then, or make a note to visit the tool's Web site to get a download later?

Photo credit: Dave Sackville

The same questions go for software patches, security updates, new release notes, user guides and any other relevant information.

If you decide that you'll go to the site later and carry on with the task at hand, how often do you remember to actually go there?



This whole process is inefficient and, for many software users, is distracting and therefore potentially irritating. As the software vendor, you don't want to be annoying your users. However, you do want them to have the latest version and you do want to offer them other support material when it becomes available. This is all part of the service wrapped around the product.

RSS-based subscriptions have the potential to radically improve the process. Just as you might voluntarily subsribe to RSS-based newsfeeds in a news aggregator, or podcasts, or videocasts, you can also subscribe to software updates.

Appcasting is a new term (and as of now, a new Technorati 'tag') coined by Fraser Speirs, self-described "sometime sysadmin, sometime Cocoa hacker, general geek, Photographer, bass player and new parent". Appcasting uses the same RSS2.0 'enclosure' feature that is used to distribute audio files by podcasters and video files used by videocasters (or 'vodcasters').

As Fraser Spiers says on his site:

"Appcasting is the practice of using the 'enclosure' feature of RSS 2.0 feeds to deliver updates and release notes for new software applications. The name Appcasting is by analogy with Podcasting, which is the practice of delivering audio files as RSS 2.0 enclosures.

The idea is this: the developer publishes an RSS 2.0 feed, each item of which describes a new release of a particular software product. The items' descriptions may contain release notes or other information about what's new in this release.

When your users are using RSS aggregators which support the RSS 2.0 enclosure feature, it becomes trivial for them to keep up to date with your software releases. Aggregators such as NetNewsWire 2 support downloading of enclosed content right in the aggregator."

This is an ideal application of RSS - it's a win-win for software developers and their users.

As a user, I can subscribe to the update feed in my news aggregator at the time I'm signing up for the software tool. I can then rest assured that I will be notified of all version updates and related news. I can then view the update news and any enclosed software updates at my own leisure. No intrusion, no disruption.

As a developer/vendor, I get a low-cost, efficient way to stay connected with my happy customers.

For a glimpse of Appcasting's potential, check out Fraser Spiers' three examples:

1. FlickrExport iPhoto Plugin

2. Freecell

3. Konfabulator Widget Gallery

As a developer, you can submit your Appcasts to Fraser Spiers' site by emailing him at appcasting at speirs dot org.

One to watch.

Reference: Fraser Speirs [ Read more ]
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posted by on Monday, March 7 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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