RSS is great for those of us who are severely design-challenged. Unfortunately I was born without whatever gene that one needs to enjoy spending hours tweaking CSS files or editing PHP templates. And after all, who still visits blog sites in this modern age? That’s what feed readers are for, right? Even among the few sites that I do visit, there isn’t much too be missed in the way of pleasing visual design. Now most bloggers, myself included, use some free blogging tools that make it simple to publish. The blogging tool probably comes with a set of built-in themes and even few that aren’t too ugly. This is mostly a good thing since it lowers the barriers to making personal publishing trivial even for the non-tech savvy (which delivers on one long-promised feature of the web). And it is also great for those of us don’t want to spend our nights working to get nice rounded corners or understand pleasing color combinations (I went to university where the school colors are brown & blue - needless to say they didn’t teach me any better) .
So hopefully content will be king and we can all stop playing with font sizes. But to do that, the gospel of RSS needs to be spread far and wide. Listening to a recent talk by Google’s Adam Bosworth at the MySQL conference, only roughly half of the attendents identified that they had heard of RSS or Atom. Now maybe they were just being lazy, or were insulted by the question, or were too busy playing with their laptops. But these are tech people and should be early adopters compared the rest of the web users. To help adoption of RSS, I’d make two humble suggestions. The first is that, like so many tech things, learning about RSS is way overcomplicated compared to how it is actually used by most people today (notwithstanding Adam’s interesting ideas for the future of RSS). Fundamentally, users don’t care about the RSS wars and the relationships between RSS 0.9x, 1.0, 2.0, Atom, RDF, XML and the rest of the alphabet soup. Nor should they care. All most people use it for is to subscribe to a feed. It is easy to explain to someone, “Stop visiting sites to see if there are new things; let them deliver to you!” They’ll get the value of that. What will be harder to grasp is why they would ever want to click on the button labeled . That’s like labeling something “Binary” - not very “self-describing” (to borrow an XML property). And labeling it “RSS” instead only raises it to a C- (sorry, no grade inflation). That is still the point of view of the technologist, not the user. My vote would be for “Subscribe…”, which is a user-oriented action (and is how FireFox begins the label for their button). Secondly, it would be helpful for the average user if it was easy to configure have a MIME-type or file extension automatically add the feed to their preferred feed reader. I use the Bloglines toolkit FireFox extension to do this today, but it isn’t trivial yet.
Vancouver, B.C., from Stanley Park, just because it looks nice