(This entry was originally posted by Dave Lee on jBlog)
A few days ago on this blog, Paul Bradshaw wrote what he called one of the most important posts he’s ever made. Here it is.
In it he describes how the era of the awkward, socially backward geek is nearly behind us. They’re not geeks, he says, they’re early adopters. And you’d better listen to them if you want to stay a step ahead of the game.
What Paul didn’t mention in his post, and what I feel is worth pointing out, is that as well as being early adopters, geeks are also early rejectors too.
In other words, listen to the geeks. If they use something for a long time, then it’ll slowly become mainstream. If they ditch it, then you should ditch it too.
This theory stacks up for almost any example I can think of. Except one: RSS.
Really Simple Syndication. Now, you and I know it’s brilliantly simple, but for some reason it has yet to hit the mainstream.
So why hasn’t it taken off? I’ll offer up some reasons for debate:
- People don’t know what it is. This, as I see it, is the most minor problem — people can learn. I asked my Dad if he’d ever heard of RSS. He said no. More needs to be done by news companies to make sure people like my Dad know what RSS, and why it is of use to him.
- We’ve got the language all wrong. Feed this, feed that. Subscribe to this, subscribe to that. The word ‘feed’, in everywhere other than the internet, means the reverse of RSS. When you feed something, it requires YOU putting something in. You feed a paper shredder with paper. You feed your dog by giving it biscuits. And then there’s subscribe. We’re on a newspaper website — is it unreasonable when non-tech-savvy users associate the word subscribe with handing over money?
- RSS readers are too complicated. Using RSS is messy if you don’t know what you’re doing. Sign up to a service (or download a program) and the first thing it’ll ask you to do is add a feed URL. Feed URL? Normal people don’t know what a feed URL is. You’re scaring them off.
Why can’t feeds just be called ‘stories’? Why don’t we ‘follow’ stories instead of subscribe to them?
Why are we relying on explanations like this to educate readers?
Newspapers need to make and market their own RSS readers.
Think about it. Make an RSS reader, and invite people to sign up. Once set up, offer a huge array of simple one-click subscribes, sorry, follows. You could even make this follow list user generated — if you find a lot of people are manually adding feeds, then these can be added to the simple one-click list.
And if you’re wondering how it makes money, then think of it this way: “Hello Mr Website Owner, for £loadsa-wonga we’ll add you to our list of feeds,” you say.
“Wow! Great! Now I have thousands of new readers clicking on my ads!” say they.
What’s more, just think of the hits. Now that your readers don’t need to go to each of their favourite sites to read new stuff, they’ll spend more time on your site. And with all those reading habits you’ll be able to target adverts like never before, right down to knowing if Bob from Newquay keeps making the type bigger. Maybe he wants some new reading glasses?
It solves all the problems I’ve described in this post. First, you’ll have a nice new budget to advertise your ‘Story Follow’ service, thus people will know what it is. Second, because you’ve made the technology you can strip out all the horrible terms like feed and subscribe and replace them with friendlier ones. Words that makes sense. And finally… users will feel at home using a website from a brand they trust.
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What makes this different than just "reading" our own newspaper? It seems like we're replacing the Chevette with a newer Chevette? Don't we want to change how we communicate with people? I'm not saying RSS is bad…it is good. But building an RSS reader is just changing the delivery mechanism. We should deliver the information any way the consumer wants…they choose. We need to change the way we do news, what we do after we've posted the article and how we connect with the consumers. In my opinion, it is more about us giving the readers value for choosing us as the news source. To me that is where semantics come into play and how we must connect with other content providers.
also, even if people know what RSS is the know it by a dafferent name, i.e. news feed on facebook. So, the problem is they don't know how to use it.
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I'm with you when it comes to making RSS more accessible. It's been around long enough, and it hardly works. Even I sometimes have a hard time when this or that feed isn't configured properly. And it's all very easy to explain… until people get to that 'how do you want to subscribe?' message and can't make heads or toes from Bloglines, XML, Live bookmarks… I also support your terminology. Follow works great (as on Twitter), although 'stories' might need some work. But I'm not sure whether newspapers need to make even more RSS readers. Let's just make up our minds about Atom and RSS 2.0 first, then combine forces and make it easy, before we start branding it again. Good and inspiring post nonetheless!
The Guardian has an RSS reader years ago – don't know what happened to it.
RSS is sometimes not that friendly for newcomers which is a big problem for something supposedly simple. The first time I used it, I was baffled that I'd get a page of html when I clicked the link rather than instructions. Also there are still many feeds not set up properly. Just then I tried to add culture blogs at The guardian, but reader just put up a list of identical headings with no topics.
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