Yesterday, Jeffrey Zeldman posted his thoughts about RSS:
we prefer that you see our words in the context of the page because, for us, text alone does not equal content (although text sans layout is fine in limited environments like Palm and Nokia). We can readily see the benefits of an RSS feed for BBC News, and it also makes sense on sites where page layout is primarily a delivery system for writing, as cigarettes are a delivery system for nicotine.
But most smokers would rather puff than inject nicotine, and most of us used to be as hungry to see a site as to read its words. RSS feeds may subtly discourage that impulse to seek, see, bookmark, and return.
All sound and illustrated with style, as always.
Today, surprise, Z blesses us with his own handcrafted RSS feed!
One day I discovered NetNewsWire, an RSS feeds aggregator for Mac OS. Needless to say, I became addicted to it very quickly, soon taking direct injections of tens of RSS feeds several times a day. Gradually, I indeed moved away from the browser bookmark collection to the aggregator subscription list, keeping bookmarks only to those very few sites I cannot miss but which do not have an RSS feed. It did not discourage me to seek, quite the contrary as the discovery of new sites and journeying was increased by a lot of weblogs and sites that I subscribed to. My return was favored, yet in an utilitarian, efficient way, not the sheer impulse of discovery, by the timely notification of fresh content. But it is only after a while that I became conscious of the fact that I was reading some content entirely within the aggregator and some through a web browser, on their original context.
Triggered to analyze this by Zeldman's post, I think I tend to switch to the browser for some posts because:
- the post is inconvenient to read on the small aggregator window. But it is only a matter of time before my aggregator displays HTML directly and (I think), browsers start offering an integrated RSS aggregation feature
- the links are not conveyed in the feed. Some sites do a good job to convey clickable URLs in their feed, some don't
- the feed only carries excerpts. For some, like Zeldman, this is a design decision which invites me to go to the site to continue my reading. For others, this is simply the default setting of their weblog software (my case, I admit it). This highlights one thing: an RSS feed has certain rules and effects that one needs to know and incorporate in the design. Did Jakob forbid us to smoke RSS in a certain way already? Apparently not, yet
- I know that readers of this site comment and participate to a positive discussion that adds to the content. Some sites convey comments in feeds, I found this actually highly annoying (tested with Joi Ito) because the aggregator keeps showing new content but does not help me to distinguish what's really new (see Mark's suggestion of colored diffs of a post when it changes)
- I love the site design
Thought provoking, really. Those who use an aggregator to passively consume what gets pushed there are missing something indeed.
What did Zeldman is provide me with a nicotine patch, to drive me to quit injections and puff instead. It's too late, I need both, and now -- thanks Jeffrey -- I can have both!