Is RSS too damn ugly?

9 05 2008

Trevor cook asks Whatever happened to RSS? and speculates that it’s because subscribing to and managing feeds is “way too difficult”. I agree but I think it’s also because RSS is too damn ugly. Trevor and I were both at Headshift‘s social media roundtable at the MCA on Wednesday.

The most interesting part was the head honcho’s (can’t remember his name and can’t find it on their website!!!) screenshots of what they were doing for clients like Allen & Overy. I was envious. Our intranet is not pretty, it certainly doesn’t look like a modern website.

We have tremendous difficulty persuading people to make the intranet part of their daily reading and I think it’s party because it’s dreary to look at. The same is true of RSS. 

Here’s this blog in four flavours:

Original

With Safari as the reader

With my reader of choice, Shrook

With Google Reader

Maybe this is personal and there’s not much in it but I know I get more pleasure from reading in the original. It’s the same when I read a newspaper online. I just like to be at the site with all the features and the story laid out nicely. I also like that when I finish with one paper, I move to the next and it looks different. When you’re reading plenty it can be draining to have no visual relief.

Perhaps a better example is this comparison of the Sydney Morning Herald in its original and RSS versions:

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5 responses

11 05 2008
Lou Veyret

Hi Steven – was at the Headshift event too (Head honcho – Livio Hughes, http://www.headshift.com/about/team.cfm).

I understand what you mean about appearance – I find that when I’m going through posts in Google Reader the content has to be pretty appealing, or I just move onto the next thing..I guess it places more emphasis on having a catchy title, graphics and words as opposed to the layout on the page.

Although, I’d much prefer to read an actual newspaper 🙂

12 05 2008
Steven Lewis

Hi Lou,

Well-found on the Headshift website. I don’t think it’s a great website, especially for a company in the online world.

Couldn’t agree more about real newspapers. Are we dinosaurs or retro?

12 05 2008
Dane Glerum

Great post. I completely agree that viewing content through an RSS reader can be a visually unappealing task. Whilst it would be nice to say “Oh but the content is all that matters.” anyone working with content, especially on the web, understands that the visual appeal of the content is very important.

Now that said I find it very frustrating to follow a site that doesn’t offer RSS.
My workflow for reading blogs is usually the following;
Open RSS reader. Notice new content. If the content is interesting I will start reading it. Now here is where it gets interesting, after a short time reading as if by magic I find myself clicking the link that will take me to the content’s original page. Here I can see the content in all its visual glory.

I think that the goal for content producers is to aim for this with their readers. Simple tricks like only offering an abstract in the feed can help achive this.

What do you think?

ps. All that said I didn’t find this entry through RSS 🙂

12 05 2008
Steven Lewis

I think an abstract in the feed is a good idea, except it does alienate some readers. As a reader I like to have the choice and am frustrated by news sites that only give me a sentence in the feed. A good compromise might be a paragraph. I might try that in my own feed.

My flow is similar to yours. I have my reader set-up so if I click something it opens a Safari tab in the background. When I’ve finished going through the reader for interesting stories, I go to Safari and read the interesting ones there.

12 05 2008
Dane Glerum

I agree with you about the abstract alienating some readers. One blog I read, Daring Fireball, does this and the abstracts just aren’t long enough to get you interested. But I guess if you are trying to push readers to your site this is the pay-off.

I have a feeling that feedburner will give you the option to offer up shortened copies of your feed. You might want to check it out.

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