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The majority of regular blog readers are completely unaware of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and the amount of passion the technology excites, it seems.

A Nielsen/Netratings' survey of 1,000 regular blog readers found 66 per cent do not understand RSS and have never even heard of the technology. Twenty three per cent claimed they understood RSS but did not use it.

That's a reality check for Silicon Valley technologists and venture capitalists debating and investing in RSS.

Last week, it emerged Microsoft will re-name RSS in the next version of its Internet Explorer (IE) browser and Windows Vista operating system to make it more, er, consumer friendly. Microsoft is using "web feeds" as a substitute name for RSS in the current IE beta.

Venture capitalists (VCs) and enthusiasts from the communications industry, meanwhile, announced ambitious plans for a $100m fund to invest in RSS in June. The fund will focus on news aggregation, blogs, search engines and applications capable of aggregating data for use in the financial and medical sectors.

Despite strong evidence of a huge knowledge gap and need for greater education surrounding RSS, there are some encouraging signs for VCs and start-ups. Eleven per cent of blog readers use RSS to sort through a growing tangle of blog and information feeds, according to Nielsen/Netratings. Nearly five percent use feed aggregation software and more than six per cent use a feed from an aggregating web site to monitor blog feeds.

"While RSS is an established technology, the growing popularity of blogs has catapulted RSS into the spotlight as a content personalization tool," Nielsen/Netratings senior research manager Jon Gibs said in a statement.

Blog traffic is up, too. The top fifty blogging and blog-related sites have grown 31 per cent to 29.3m unique visitors since the start of the year, accounting for one fifth of the internet's traffic. Microsoft's MSN Spaces was top with 947 per cent growth, while Fark.com and Blogger were second and third with 63 per cent and 45 per cent increases respectively.

Nielson believes these sites will ultimately lack the kinds of traffic that large advertising networks manage to draw, but that advertisers can still leverage bloggers to influence their peers in niche markets. "By associating their message with the blog's image, advertisers can legitimize new trends," Gibs said.®

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