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Submit Response is a weblog by Jack Mottram, a journalist who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. There are 1308 posts in the archives. You can subscribe to a feed. This post was made on and belongs in the web category. The previous post was , and the next post is .

RSS For The Mainstream

Dylan Greene has compiled a list of 10 reasons why RSS is not ready for prime time. Now, I wouldn’t presume to know more about RSS than Greene, but from the position of what you might call an enthusiastic consumer of RSS feeds, he seems to be missing the point rather.

  1. RSS feeds do not have history

    Well, no they don’t, but nor do they need history. RSS feeds are for notifying readers of new content, or providing them with new content. They aren’t meant to replace a website and its structure, they are meant to complement it.

  2. RSS wastes bandwidth

    Again, yes, some RSS readers poll feeds too frequently, and some gulp up too much bandwidth. But those files, compared to a web page, are tiny wee things.

  3. Reading RSS requires too much work

    True. Even with NetNewsWire’s easy subscribing method, subscribing to a new feed can be a laborious process. Without going into the pros and cons, it looks like the feed URI scheme might be the answer.

  4. An RSS Reader must come with Windows

    Can’t argue with that.

  5. RSS content is not User-Friendly

    Erm, no. The lack of formatting, tables and images makes RSS more user-friendly, placing total control over presentation in the hands of the user. (Not to mention the fact that RSS feeds can be styled and formatted by the publisher, and can include images.)

  6. RSS content is not machine-friendly

    This is a problem, but again, RSS is not a replacement for a website, it is a gateway to it. This is rather like the criticism of Google for overly favouring weblog content, since if I’m searching feeds and end up on a site quoting the content I’m after, I’ll be inconvenienced by the need to click through, but I might come upon valuable context for and criticism of the content I’m after.

  7. Many RSS Feeds show only an abridged version of the content

    Agreed. There is nothing more irritating than feeds that cut off content at an arbitrary point. Feeds that summarise content are good, feeds that provide unabridged content are good. Feeds that trail off mid-sentence are the bane of my life. But this is a problem with the people and applications generating the feeds, not RSS itself.

  8. Comments are not integrated with RSS feeds
  9. Well, they often are. Many webloggers either include a link to comments at the foot of each feed item, often with an indication of the number of comments. This doesn’t go as far as Greene wishes, but then most weblogging applications don’t provide the commenting features on his wish-list. It also seems a mistake to criticise RSS for shortcomings in this area - just because it has been enthusiastically adopted by the weblogging community, who live for comments and interaction, RSS is not a tool for webloggers alone. Why should a format meant to deliver news and updates handle comments in such a sophisticated way?

  10. Multiple Versions of RSS cause more confusion

    Damn straight.

  11. RSS is Insecure

    I wouldn’t know, to be honest.

So, you can’t argue Greene’s points on improving the usablity of RSS. The technology can’t truly take off until finding and subscribing to feeds is made as simple as, say, clicking a link. But most of the points in the list read as if Greene wants RSS to conform to the modes of presentation and interaction we find on the web, when it’s strength - again, speaking as an avid consumer, not a clever expert - is that it does away with that very presentation and interaction.

It would be impossible for me to keep up with the 200 or so sites I subscribe to if I had to load each and every one in a browser, check for new content, and read on. RSS makes this easy, not just because the headline reader takes care of checking for new content, but also by providing that content in a format that has no distractions, is quick and easy to read, and can be presented in the manner I choose. And if I want to join a discussion on a website, I don’t need RSS to handle the whole process for me - it’s job is done once it has provided me with new content, or alerted me to it. Adding complex formatting and the capacity for tracking and participating in discussions would turn RSS feeds into… web pages. And we already have those.

So, usability improvements aside, I’d say RSS is ready for the mainstream, if it is presented to the mainstream for what it is - Really Simple Syndication.

Posted at 3pm on 22/01/04 by Jack Mottram to the web category.
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