When asked about the future of RSS, too often, I am guilty of getting wrapped up in the client/UI aspects. It is easiest to form strong opinions about that with which we interact everyday. I, for example, primarily use Bloglines and am now comfortable with what I like and do not like about their approach. While that certainly is an aspect of syndication that needs to be solved, I think that the core business opportunities lie within facilitating publication, distribution, and monetization for content creators and that focusing upon explicitly reader-side issues is missing the bigger picture.
Back at Speedera we built a caching and streaming platform for content sites. Essentially, it allowed site owners to focus on content production and outsource the ops side to us. Early Speedera was merely offloaded bandwidth and storage. However, we evolvled the business to include a wide range of advertising, fulfillment, and web analytics capabilities.
The content creators loved it. They no longer needed to worry about building in-house global delivery and ops expertise. Instead, we gave them easy UIs and gateways to feed things to our network. (We also pulled things from theirs to make it even easier.)
I bring this up because when Speedera was first built, the focus was entirely upon improving the end-user web surfing experience. Back in 1999 Gartner's 8-second page delivery rule was all the rage. As the Internet and site delivery sped up though, companies like ours soon realized that the true path for building a business in the content space was to focus less on the end-user and more upon the publishers. Make it easy for them. Make their content available and reliable around the world or to specific areas. Secure it. Account for it. Encode in a variety of formats and normalize it along the way. Let them know how their content was being accessed and what about their site worked and didn't. Back it up. Help them get paid for it, etc.
I see the RSS space evolving in parallel. The first stabs at RSS businesses have mostly been around the immediate end-user demand for an aggregator. Whether client-side or hosted, built into the browser or mailreader, there are clearly a host of companies trying to solve this piece. Nevertheless, with sites like MSDN taking down feeds after server crashes caused by client side reader spikes and Engadget estimating they are leaving 30-40% of their ad money on the table because RSS readers never see the page there are clearly some significant problems to be solved for which the solutions could bring real money.
Thus, I am going to be paying particular attention to the players within the space who are cozying up to publishers and establishing themselves as platforms. I think this is where the genuine business opportunity lies. Take one easy feed, normalize it for a variety or formats, for mobile devices, for languages, for geolocation, distribute it worldwide (or to a requested subset of places) add monetization, analyze usage and present that info to the publisher, and voila, you have yourself a solid syndication business.