RSS Readers Are Too Hard To Use

And could be “fixed” with one simple change in their user experience.

One-click subscribe. Currently, you have to cut-and-paste RSS feed URLs into RSS readers. If RSS feeds ended with “.rss” (instead of .xml or .rdf), then simply clicking on them should launch your preferred RSS reader and automatically subscribe you to the feed. Cutting-and-pasting is a pain, and will keep RSS out of the hands of the less tech-savvy, because it requires them to understand things like “URLs” and that they’re “subscribing” to a “news feed.” What is understand is that I cilck and I get stuff. Currently, if I click an RSS feed I’m awash with unformatted gibberish.

Alternatively, I suppose it’s pretty obvious that RSS aggregation will simply become a feature of next generation web browsers. I now use the RSS reader Shrook, which utilizes the Safari toolkit to embed a web browser in the reader. How long until Safari (and IE, and Mozilla, etc.) simply allow you to track your RSS subscriptions? It would be a pretty simple addition to the web browser interface, and have the added benefit of being the first significant bit of browser evolution since Mosaic allowed for inline images. (Though I suppose auto-filling of forms was also remarkably valuable.)

18 thoughts on “RSS Readers Are Too Hard To Use

  1. RSS readers aren’t too hard to use. (Or at least the one I use isn’t.) In NetNewsWire, subscribing is as easy as hitting the big Subscribe button, entering the URL and wala – I’m subscribed. Reading feeds that I’m subscribed to is easy as opening up NetNewsWire. I open it up, and it updates my subscriptions.

    RSS readers aren’t too hard to use. RSS alone is hard to use because there’s a disconnect between the web browser and the RSS reader. You’re right, simply clicking on RSS feeds should launch your RSS reader and automatically subscribe you to the feed. But be careful what you blame. The problem is not the reader, the problem is the connection between the browser and the reader.

  2. Mozilla’s already there, courtesy of NewsMonster — aggregation built into the browser, plus one-click subscribe.

  3. On the PC side of things, NewsGator lets you right-click on a feed subscription button or link and automatically subscribe. Many aggregators on Windows make a notification icon visible if there’s a feed available for the current site, as is elegantly implemented in FeedDemon.

    The technical shortcoming is that (current) syndication formats don’t have a unique MIME type, so aggregator clients can’t be configured to handle feeds when a user would like to subscribe to them. Seems like a potential area of improvement that could be offered by future formats. Requiring auto-discoverable links would be a vast improvement as well.

  4. Joshua’s right — the readers aren’t to blame, the format is.

    And, yes, Anil, many people do make a feed icon available. But you still have to cut-and-paste. Perhaps NewsGator addresses this (a little) with the right-clicking on windows.

    I haven’t played around with NewsMonster. Interesting. Though, again, I suspect Mozilla and Safari will sooner than later simply embed RSS readers. We’ll see.

  5. Seems like a potential area of improvement that could be offered by future formats.

    Anyone know if this a feature in line for Atom?

  6. Another One For One-Click Subscriptions

    I picked up a post by Peter Merholz through Feedster about wanting one-click subscription. He suggests an .rss suffix method. Downloading a feed file, then subscribing to it is not the best way to do things because you have to

  7. many people do make a feed icon available

    I should’ve been clearer. I don’t mean the little XML icon, I mean applications that monitor the page you’re browsing, determine if it has a feed, and then pop up a notification icon in the Windows system tray or in the browser app that essentially lights up when you’ve got a feed you can use. Then you can click on the button and it’s autosubscribed, no copy & paste.

    I’ve been trying to talk to everyone involved in the Atom project to make sure that the format supports truly automatic subscribing in the reader of choice with none of this copy & paste nonsense. The first requisite, a unique MIME type for the format which can be recognized by a “player”, is already part of the spec.

  8. In Defense of Aggregators

    Wow – sit down to my aggregator and see…

  9. Try RSS Explorer. Its a browser toolbar which grabs RSS feeds via autodiscovery and you can subscribe to the feed right from there.

  10. Agreed. Check out news.infobeing.net, where you submit a keyword subscription and get relevant RSS feeds from thousands of sources. You don’t have to think about URL’s or Feeds at all.

  11. Another option for browser-based reading is Bloglines, which offers a boomarklet to make it easier to subscribe to feeds.

    rOD.

  12. usability

    WebWord.com: Usability and Human Factors for the Internet- RSS Readers Are Too Hard To Use [ Newsability ]

  13. It freaks me out when all these XML languages try to hijack the file extension for their own identification. File extensions are meant to express the format of the file. The format is XML, and until there’s a filesystem that handles nothing but xml, it’s important to leave “.xml” on the file.

    But don’t worry, the very first line of any decent XML file tells you exactly what model it matches, so that’s where you should be specifying “RSS” or whatever else, and your XML reader can do what it wants from there.

    I hope browser designers are reading this, but then again, I hope they already know this.

  14. I just read this quote today and I think it’s awesome:

    It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. For if, by ill luck, people understood each other, they would never agree.

    Charles Baudelaire

    Just thought I’d share.

    Mike

  15. I just read this quote today and I think it’s awesome:

    It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. For if, by ill luck, people understood each other, they would never agree.

    Charles Baudelaire

    Just thought I’d share.

    Mike

  16. I just read this quote today and I think it’s awesome:

    It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. For if, by ill luck, people understood each other, they would never agree.

    Charles Baudelaire

    Just thought I’d share.

    Mike

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  18. The Usability of Subscribing to Feeds

    I have always been bothered by how difficult it is to subscribe to RSS/Atom feeds. Consider the user experience –…