I just met with Jim Sang, CEO of a Shanghai/Hangzhou based startup called Anothr.com. Anothr is an RSS tool that sends feeds you subscribe to directly to your IM. Right now it supports GTalk, Skype, and MSN/Windows Live Messenger.
The greatest thing about is its utter simplicity: you go on the Anothr.com website, click on your IM of choice, accept the add request from the Anothr bot, and a couple of seconds later you get your first message. Subscribing to RSS feeds has never been simpler: all you need to do, say, to subscribe to CNN is type in the word "CNN." It gives you back three choices, as in the screen shot from my Skype client below:
To select CNN.com -World (which you can see is subscribed to by 129 others) you simply enter the number 2. I subscribed at 5:31:10 pm, and received the first batch of news items--the three most recent--only 47 seconds later.
Each feed gets assigned a number (in this case, it's 5) and if I wanted to cancel, all I'd have to do is open a chat dialogue with the Anothr bot and enter "-5" to have it removed.
To subscribe to an RSS-enabled site (a blog--my blog, for instance) that no one else has yet subscribed to, you need only enter the site's URL. Add a popular blog--say, Danwei--and it knows of course what you want.
Jim has a team of 10 people working on this startup, which was introduced to me by Isaac Mao, who's on their advisory board. Good guy to have on an advisory board.
The question, of course, is how is it going to make money. I believe there's real potential. You know what feeds the user subscribes to, you know what's in the text of each feed, you know (based on his IP address) where he is, and you know what his status is (busy, away, what have you). I think targeted and highly relevant advertising could be introduced unobtrusively. Perhaps context-sensitive ads in between feed messages? Perhaps some primitive behaviorally-based ads? Or in-text ads? Anyway, I'm confident they'll find the right approach.
They've got the interface now in six languages (Simplified and traditional Chinese, English, French, Japanese, German, and Russian). There are English and Chinese versions of the website already up. Click on "Tools" on the website and, if your blog service provider supports it (mine doesn't, alas!), you can put an Anothr widget button on your blog so that people can subscribe with ease.
Most significantly for me--as someone who often grouses about the lack of real innovation coming out of China--is that this isn't a model copied from the Valley. (You hear all the time now how "C2C" means "Copy 2 China"). Jim Sang and his team oughta pat themselves on the back: They came up with the Anothr idea by themselves. Perhaps it's not for people who already use RSS readers and have gotten comfortable with them, but it's an elegantly simple little app, and it's really great for entry-level people who already have Skype or MSN on their desktops and don't know their RSS from a hole in the ground.