Sunday, January 30, 2005

For feeds, one-click is one click too many

Tim Bray writes about how to make RSS easier for mainstream users. The problem, he says, is:
    All over the web, you see these ugly little orange "XML" stickers, but to subscribe you have to get the URI they're pointing at and paste it into your feed-reader somehow, which is awkward and maybe a little too geeky for non-geeky ordinary people.
Tim proposes a solution, a one-click button that works by sending an "application/atom+xml" data stream that your feed reader uses to subscribe to the feed.

Unfortunately, this only works for client-side readers. Web-based readers like Bloglines, My Yahoo, and My MSN are stuck with the current solution, scattering their little "subscribe on X" buttons across blogs everywhere.

But, stepping back for a second, is Tim solving the right problem? Is the problem that it's too hard to cut-and-paste a URL? Sure, that's awkward, but it's not the core problem.

The problem with RSS is that it's too difficult to find interesting feeds.

Right now, feed readers are used by early adopters. Early adopters love to tinker. They love pain. They'll spend hours fiddling with their feed reader, hunting down and adding new feeds. They'll deal with the hassle of manually skimming through thousands of articles to ferret out the few gems that interest them. Mainstream readers won't.

A one-click button makes it easier to add a good feed one you've discovered it, but it does nothing to help you discover good feeds in the first place.

Next-generation feed readers, feed readers built for the mainstream, will solve this problem by abstracting away the cryptic and unimportant details of the data feed. Next-generation feed readers will help readers discover interesting news and weblog articles without caring where the data comes from.

What will these next-generation feed readers look like? Our vision of it is at Findory.

See also "XML is for geeks" and "Getting your grandmother to use RSS".

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