RSS Sucks 9

Just think about it. How would your mother, father or some other person that is computer illiterate be able to to make use of RSS. Without good support in the browser or OS there is no way that RSS will be something for non geek users.

This all started a few days back when me and Guilherme Blanco was chatting on IM.

Perfect world scenario

  1. A name that people can guess its meaning from. “News feed” is most likely the best alternative at the moment.
  2. When a web page includes links to alternate news feed the browser should make this clear to the user. Currently we got the XML/RSS button in the status bar.
  3. Clicking a link to a news feed should display the news feed and the feed items in your news aggregator (browser or OS bundled application). From this page the user can then bookmark/subscribe to the news feed.

Steps to achieve this

This is specific to Firefox and Sage.

Better Feed Discovery
  1. Whenever an (X)HTML page has an alternate link pointing to a feed we need to make this clear to the user.
    1. If the Sage sidebar is shown the “Discover Feeds” button needs to change. I think a drop down button here with a menu item for every found item is the way to go and at the end have an item with exhaustive search. (The current settings for the feed discovery mode makes no sense since “Exhaustive” means that it will check on other domains and “Conservative” that it will only check on the current domain.)
    2. If the sidebar is not shown I think there are a few options here. One is to show an icon in the status bar. Another is to change the Sage icon on the toolbar. Other options include showing a popup for a while.
  2. When a link to a feed is clicked we need to do one of the following
    1. Prompt the user whether he wants to subscribe to the feed. If the user chooses yes then show the Sage sidebar and load the feed. This is what Opera does and it is better than nothing but prompts interupt and confuse people.
    2. Show the Sage sidebar and load the feed. If the user has “render feeds in content area” checked then the feed content will be shown in the current browser tab. Now the user should be able to bookmark the feed.
Hook into rendering engine

With this I mean that we should extend Firefox so that it knows how to render RSS and Atom feeds. This is basically what Safari 2.0 is supposed to do. I’m not sure this is suitable for Sage but I believe Sage needs this to be able make to make News Feeds more accessible to normal users.

This has to be done in a few different ways:

  1. Build stream converters for application/atom+xml and application/rss+xml. If this isn’t done Firefox will just ask the user to save the files somewhere.
  2. Listen to load events for the browser. A lot of feeds are sent as text/plain, text/xml and application/xml (text/html?) and for these we need to listen to the load events and use some heuristics to figure out whether the content is a news feed.
  3. Associate .rdf and .atom with Sage so that if someone downloads a file in Internet Explorer Sage will be started. (I’m not really sure this is needed.)
  4. Here one might also want to add support to OPML files.

    I think that we need to hook into the rendering engine to be able to show HTML for the feed in the contents area in a secure way. See
    http://erik.eae.net/archives/2004/08/06/17.15.09/.

  • http://mxn.f2o.org/index.html Minh Nguyễn

    A name that people can guess its meaning from.

    How about “Site updates’?

  • http://www.originalwavechair.com skotwheels

    [from your chat log]

    [21:21] EA: Personally I don’t think RSS is ready for the masses
    [21:22] EA: and I don’t think the masses need RSS
    [21:22] GB: But it can be, if we do in the right way.
    [21:22] GB: why don’t the need?

    I’m not a super nerd, but I probably couldnt live without RSS. Having to check the news/blogs/even my comic strips, would be too time consuming. I use NewsFire on my apple computer.

    RSS def. needs to be made simple and easy to use “for the masses,” but it’s pretty simple as is.

  • http://erik.eae.net Erik Arvidsson

    RSS is pretty easy but take a clean windows/mac/linux installation and someone who knows how to use a browser and get them to use RSS. Do you see the issue here? If they are lucky they might get a download dialog at best. I should have mentioned that using text/xml, text/plain or whatnot for RSS is evil. How is your system supposed to know that this is a feed? Stick to application/rss+xml and application/atom+xml.

  • http://www.pontukom.com Guilherme Blanco

    My idea when I told you that was, not use a new content-type, and get the browser parse and display the content as Opera does.

    I thought something to integrate an appz to the browsers (I mean, all of them), and let this application parse the content.
    Ok, this can be consider as a spyware, but IMHO the idea is good. You enter in a RSS link, a popup window is shown to you, like the bookmark window; but it’s the Reader window. You select the category you want, name, etc.
    Now, you can simply load the reader and read the news in your “RSS Bookmarks”.
    It’s the simplier way I could thought. If you “do not accept to bookmark the RSS” in the RSS Bookmark add window, the RSS is shown to you like in Opera.

    Doing in this way, you can turn the content of RSS (the XML tags and hierarchy) almost invisible to the not-tech people.

  • http://erik.eae.net Erik Arvidsson

    I think displaying using XSLT is probably one of the better ways to get RSS to display in IE and Mozilla but then again I think serving RSS/Atom as text/xml or application/xml as bad. If a user has an application installed that handles the correct mime types then this will break a working configuration… damn this is messy.

  • Ed

    I’m trying to add Wired RSS to my list of feeds in the Sage extension in Firefox. How do I do it? 5 minutes, and I can’t add it to the list of feeds.

    These guys suck at usability testing.

  • http://erik.eae.net Erik Arvidsson

    1. Go to wired.com
    2. Click Discover Feeds in the Sage toolbar
    3. Select the feed you want to subscribe to and click ‘Add Feed’

    Alternative just add a new bookmark pointing to the feed.

  • thomas

    rss sux – browsers and bookmarks for me

  • Joe Geek

    RSS is annoying and confusing, and it uses a useless and failed technology: XML. RSS will not last out the year.