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August 13, 2007

Mass Customization Example - FeedBlitz

FeedBlitz (a company I’ve invested in and am a board member of) enables mass customization (see yesterday’s introductory post) for both publishers and subscribers of online content.  It may well be that no two people want to read the same list of online publications; even those who read the same publications may not want to receive them the same way. Moreover, even though you and I both subscribe to the same publication, we may both be interested in different articles from it.

FeedBlitz started by solving a single problem for publishers: delivering blog posts by email to readers who preferred receiving posts in their inbox to visiting blogsites each day or using a feedreader to browse RSS feeds (which many readers still don’t understand). For the publisher, it handled soliciting and storing the reader’s email address, accepting changes and cancellations, keeping track of various stats, physically converting an RSS feed into as many mail messages as needed, and helping assure that this mail – which the reader had requested to receive – actually got through the reader’s spam filter.

Subscribers keep control which is actually to the advantage of reputable publishers who want to be read. Verification assures that people are actually voluntarily signing up to receive this email and not being imposed on by someone signing up on their behalf. Subscribers can cancel with FeedBlitz at any time and know that the publication WILL stop arriving in their inbox; subscribers can use FeedBlitz’ interface to change their email address once for all the publications they receive through the service.

That was the service pretty much as it launched way back in 2005. But this is the age of mass customization; you could tell by the requests for enhancement that FeedBlitz got both from publishers and subscribers.

Although pundits talk about “convergence”, what’s really happening in communication is divergence. When FeedBlitz began, its supported only subscription by email. Now a reader can choose to subscribe to the twitter, the text message, or the instant message version of a publication. Note that the publisher doesn’t create each of these versions by hand – FeedBlitz does this customization from the RSS feed produced by the publisher at the instruction of the reader. My guess is that FeedBlitz will end up supporting an increasing number of delivery options on behalf of publishers who must deliver choice and customization to keep their readers but can’t each afford to master the complexities of each of these delivery mechanisms and all the new ones that may be invented.

Responding to requests from both publishers and subscribers, FeedBlitz added filtering articles by tags to allow readers to choose only those articles relevant to themselves from a single publication or to allow publishers to create focused sub-pubs from a more general publication. More mass customization.

Publishers have increasingly gotten the ability to tailor the look and format of their publications as delivered by FeedBlitz – just as publishers control the look of their websites. The group of publishers using FeedBlitz grew beyond bloggers to people who think of themselves as newsletter providers, local organization coordinators, or even direct marketers – but is still restricted to those publishers who readers make a verifiable request to receive the publication.

Some of these new publishers want to go even further in mass customization – they want each message delivered to each subscriber to be unique and relevant to that subscriber. This is natural in a world where Amazon greets each of us differently and Google searches for what it believes we really want based on our history. FeedBlitz Newsletter Edition had to be invented to allow that level of individual customization.

This all sounds like an ad for FeedBlitz and, to some extent, it is. I think the company and founder Phil Hollows have done a good job of recognizing and accommodating the growing demand by consumers that what they receive be relevant to them and physically delivered the way they want to take delivery. FeedBlitz’ customers are the publishers but FeedBlitz service is to help the publishers meet the needs of their subscribers; it’s really Reader Relationship Management (RRM).

Web tools including FeedBlitz are very cheap – free in some cases. Although Google and Amazon spend large fortunes to mass customize their web real estate, small publishers and community organizations can also afford to personalize. In fact, they can’t afford not to. None of us will stand for one-size-fits-all content anymore.

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