RSS is Sexy

posted on August 1st, 2006 by Anthony

But Why Can’t Everybody See That?

How come a sexy orange technology like me can only attract web geeks?

It’s not a new problem, many have tried to tackle it – .Net magazines Mr Oxton, for one:

…that is until I started trying to introduce the idea of RSS feeds, and I am realising that feeds are just not a mainstream technology. (John Oxton – Syndicate My Mum)

I am just putting the finishing touches to a site for the Society of District Council Treasurers. In their loose brief they asked if there was a way in which the site could automatically email all the members when the site was updated.

Being a card carrying web geek I naturally explained that there was no need for such a feature and that RSS would be the solution to all their needs.

Seriously guys, you've been great... but... there is more to life than liquid layouts and blogging... I want Desperate Housewives, I want Pop Idol... I want BIG BASTARD BROTHER!!!

How easy it is to forget that technology we take for granted can be massively alien to people on the outside.

Like in John’s example, how on earth do you get people to use RSS when they don’t know what it is, or why it’s there, or what it will (and won’t) do?

Obstacles

The first massive hurdle (well after the crap name…) is having to use a separate reader. How do you explain and justify the need to visit some other site, or download something extra, when they are just using the web?

“Can’t I just do it in Explorer?”

Where do you start when recommending geeky software to an unsullied mind?

It’s not for a want of options of course:

  1. There are the web based solutions that don’t require extra software or installations… but visiting a website to check on a website seems to kind of defeat the object in some small way…
  2. Then there are the browser integrated plugins. Again for the web savvy amongst us this isn’t an issue. But does your Mum use Firefox? Even you have managed to convert her form the darkside, does she know what a plugin is? And if the user is stuck in an IE only council environment…
  3. Lastly there are the standalone options. They work fine and dandy, and will sit in the background often handing out little alerts when news becomes available… but are there any truly user friendly options… and lets face it the Nazi Death Squads IT Departments aren’t going to let stuff be installed willy-nilly any way.

Basically none of these provide a perfect software solution to the n00b RSS problem.

(For the record I tentatively suggested Google Reader to the SocDCT. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m not getting my hopes up.)

What about after the reader?

I like reading about CSS... really I do... but I wanna know if Glynn has chundered in the diary room again...

Once you’ve actually got someone up and running with a reader of some kind the problems don’t really stop.

Sure, us geeks all know the logos and lingo that point us to the source of the RSS wells… but does everyone else? All the bright orange logos saying RSS and funny semi-circle speaker thingies – what do they mean to public at large?

Even if they do come to recognise the logos, how do they transfer the feeds to their new reader? As usual it’s not as simple as just clicking it which – let’s face it – is all you should have to do.

If the icons are clicked all that happens is a pop up error about not understanding, or users are left exposed to raw XML. That’s no use to geeks, and actually scary for everyone else.

Too much fiddling about is needed to get stuff working with RSS. That’s great for us web geeks, it’s what we love to do, but most people simply can’t be arsed. They will click once, get ‘computer code’ then go back to the MSN home page.

There needs to be a solution which is transparent to the people at large. One that doesn’t need the knowledge of a SxSW delegate. One that basically just works.

At the moment that just does not exist and until it does RSS seems doomed to be stuck in web geekery.

The Future

You could say it needs Microsofting. And fortunately…

IE7 is set to have much better RSS awareness (notice the article tackles a lot of the problems mentioned here), clicking on a feed will produce a nicely rendered page of the feed, offering users a way to subscribe – but this might also confuse users into thinking it’s just a very boring page…

Vista is supposed to use RSS technology quite heavily and Outlook is also offering RSS integration, but it remains to be seen how far it will go.

With other heavyweights like the BBC getting behind the technology you have to think that there will come a time when it all matures and comes together – but at the moment it’s hard to see that coming anytime soon.

Bad Idea

It’s got me thinking a little bit.

At least we can agree on one thing... Feeder suck bigtime hairy ass!

There is definitely room for a site that pools everything together in one easy to use space. There’s the Technorati’s of this web that attempt to aggregate feeds into a single site – but they are definitely pandering to the geek market.

What is needed is some sort of Yahoo! circa 1995 that slipstreams and organises the whole process… add some social aspects like user voting, stir in some gradients, top with wet floor logos, and bake with $3.4 billion of venture capital…

Voila – a stone cold web 2.Bollocks hit.

You could even call it Feedr.

Except that reminds of the annoying, whiny bunch of idiots that play in a band.

You heard it here first.