4 December 2006

Dreaming of people-centred RSS feeds

Be the first to share

Rss_icon
To write a professional blog like Putting People First, one needs to scan a lot of material. In fact, Putting People First would be impossible to compile without the help of RSS. I am subscribed to a great many of them. 331 at the moment. You can see them here.

RSS helps me a lot of course. With one click, I can see what has been updated on 331 websites without having to go any of the 331 websites involved, or without having to scan through material that I have scanned or read already before.

But RSS is not yet a mature technology. Much could be improved to make it more helpful, more practical and more pleasurable to use. In fact, if an innovative tech company were to embark on a qualitative, ethnographic study of 10-12 people who use RSS regularly (with both more and less intensity than I do), I am sure that a great many design opportunities would arise. When carefully implemented, prototyped and tested, this could quickly position the company as the leading innovator in this very handy and practical technology.

In its current incarnation, RSS is a simple and blind technology. Through a feed reader (or “aggregator”), I can check a list of feeds (which are basically XML-versions of a blog or website) and display any new or updated articles on these feeds directly in my feed reader.

RSS is not “Web 2.0” in and by itself. There is nothing particularly social in the experience of using it. RSS feeds do not become better because more people read them.

So let me set out five areas for improvement, which are based on using Bloglines but also largely apply to other online readers such as Rojo and NewsGator:

Feeds are dumb
Most news websites provide thematic RSS feeds. For instance BBC News has a feed on technology-related articles that I am subscribed to. I now receive all the BBC News articles on technology, including many that I am not at all interested in. I cannot refine my feed through the BBC, nor can I benefit from the shared intelligence of the many others who are also subscribed to the same BBC technology feed and have similar interests as I do. We all have to keep on going through the same weeding process and we cannot benefit from each other’s weeding. Yes, there are services as Digg, del.icio.us and others, but nothing that allows me to fine-tune my various feed subscriptions. I am stuck with having to read large amounts of material that I am not at all interested in.

Aggregators are dumb
I have my particular RSS behaviour: I click on certain titles to read the full post or go to the original site that it was posted on. So I portray a certain behaviour through my choices and selections. But this behavioural pattern is not registered and cleverly used to fine-tune my RSS feeds and to gradually supply me with more articles that are relevant for me and weed out the ones that are not.

The way feeds are displayed is too standard and too rigid
The way a reader shows the RSS feeds s not very sophisticated: I get to see the title, an excerpt, the first 50 words or so, or the full post, and it is often not even I who decides on that. When people publish full posts via their RSS feeds (as I do), some things tend not to show up, e.g. YouTube video links. I also loose any graphic sense of the originating blog or site, even though that is sometimes relevant. For instance, BBC News (again) has leading features and smaller stories. In RSS this qualitative difference disappears. I cannot see when a blog undergoes a graphic redesign, unless the author writes about it. I don’t even know when a feed is no longer working, unless I go through convoluted steps, like opening folders, scrolling a lot, and looking at tiny exclamation points. The graphic style of my feed reader is not customisable. I can make the text bigger or smaller, nothing else. Flexible use is also not supported: I cannot choose to be selectively updated on the comments of one particular blog entry, without having to read all comments on all other blog entries of that feed as well. I cannot sort my feeds or my feed results in some meaningful way. I cannot create hierarchies within my feeds: as I may want to read all posts from some blogs but only some from others.

Who are my RSS feed readers?
I have no idea. I know a great deal less about them than I know of the people who access the blog directly. Any free web analytics programme (e.g. Statcounter, Google Analytics, Logdy, MeasureMap, etc.) provides me with much richer insight on my regular blog readers, than dedicated services such as FeedBurner provide me on my RSS readers. I have no insight at all. I only know how many there are and which aggregators they use. Luckily about 10% my RSS readers read the RSS updates every morning via e-mail, so I know those people’s email addresses. I review them sometimes, and it is nice to recognise a company name, a country code, or even a person’s name. It makes it all a lot more human. But I know nothing about the other 90%.

Restricted RSS
RSS is limited to public blogs and websites. We at Experientia use a lot of password protected blogs to manage projects and share their results but these protected blogs don’t provide functioning RSS feeds. I can also not subscribe via RSS to password protected Yahoo! Groups. There is no real clever integration yet between email and RSS, which might be nice given the amount of email spam these days, redirecting POP3 emails to RSS is just for geeks, and sending an email directly from RSS is still impossible.

There is a lot to be done. I didn’t even talk about the process of subscribing itself, which has its own set of problems.

Note that this article is but the point of view of one person, and other people will have other issues and other needs. Yet it’s worth understanding them.

It may also be that some of these functions already exist, that some companies are working on them. I hope they do. But I have not yet heard about them. And this is the problem. After all, I am a heavy user and write every day about people-centred use of technologies. So mine is still the mainstream experience of using RSS.

And frankly, it is just not good enough.

Be the first to share
19 January 2017
Anthropologist Sally Applin on the automation of qualitative methods
Anthropology and its methodologies cannot easily be automated. However, both design and engineering based organizations are attempting it. Anthropologist Sally A. Applin argues that this is based in part on historic legacy systems, a misunderstanding …
19 January 2017
Social science must return to qualitative research to understand social and political shifts
Social science has become increasingly beholden to analysis derived from big data: large numerical sets analysed computationally, write Pamela Prickett and Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University. This, they say, "has brought us much insight …
19 January 2017
Don Norman on what Apple, Google and Tesla get wrong
Don Norman is a technological optimist. The author of The Design of Everyday Things and head of UC San Diego's Design Lab believes that artificial intelligence might only take the worst parts of our jobs, …
19 January 2017
[Report] Behavioural Insights at the United Nations – Achieving Agenda 2030
In 2016, the UNDP Innovation Facility collaborated with the newly engaged UN Behavioural Science Advisor to work on behaviorally-informed design with 8 UNDP Country Offices in all 5 regions: Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Jordan, Moldova, …
8 January 2017
The complexity of plastic bags
As societies face increasingly complex problems, design is emerging as the tool to solve some of Asia's biggest issues. Through field trips with designers skilled in human-centered design, the team behind Ethnographers' Field Guide to …
23 December 2016
ING DIRECT’s sponsored content in The Guardian on the value of CX and human-centred design
ING DIRECT Australia has published yesterday and at the end of November no less than 10 articles in a paid section of The Guardian on the value of customer experience and human-centred design, entitled "Being …
23 December 2016
Innovative PhD dissertations at Harvard use ethnographic methods to understand organizational culture
Three innovative PhD dissertations have been published at the Harvard Business School's Doctoral Program on Organizational Behavior that use ethnography and qualitative research to understand and map organizational culture: Curtis K. Chan Chan’s research (The Double-Edged Sword …
19 December 2016
Australia’s Digital Ethnography Research Centre on experiencing the digital in everyday life
The Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC), part of RMIT University, focuses on understanding a contemporary world where digital and mobile technologies are increasingly inextricable from the environments and relationships in which everyday life plays out. …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

12 January 2017
Experientia’s CITYOPT project awarded prestigious French award for its sustainable development design

Following the 2016 Smart Innovation Award at “FIMBACTE Trophées du Cadre de vie”, the CITYOPT project has once again been recognized, this time in the prestigious French design competition: “Observeur du Design 2017”, in the Service Design category. In June 2016, CITYOPT won the first stage of the Observeur du Design. Now the project has […]

1 December 2016
More on upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities

Last month Putting People First announced the upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities in Nice France. Meanwhile we are pleased to announce the full event agenda (see below). This event will feature professionals from leading research institutes and industry gathering to present key initiatives which combine Energy Efficiency and Service Design […]

29 October 2016
Upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities

Invitation to the International Conference on Design & Sustainable Innovation for SmartCities Nice (France) 8 December 2016 On the 8th December 2016, the CITYOPT project will host an international conference on Design and sustainable innovation for SmartCities, at the Centre Universitaire Méditerranéen, France. An open invitation to attend is offered to people and organisations who […]

28 October 2016
Experientia’s President, Michele Visciòla, panel judge for MacArthur Foundation’s “100&Change” competition

The 100&Change is an international competition and a landmark opportunity for thinkers and designers to tackle critical challenges affecting the world. Michele Visciòla will be one of the panel of expert judges who will select which project is worthy of the $100 million grant. 100&Change is the MacArthur Foundation competition – launched this year for […]

5 September 2016
Great engine, but the fuel seems poor. Discussing insight development in corporate marketing

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) contains a lengthy essay, entitled Building an Insights Engine, on how Unilever has created the organizational capabilities to “transform data into insights about consumers’ motivations and to turn those insights into strategy.” The article was written by Frank van den Driest and Keith Weed of a […]

29 August 2016
Experientia discussing ethnography and patient-centricity at EPIC 2016

This week Experientia joins our colleagues and peers in Minneapolis at EPIC 2016, the premier international gathering on ethnography and design in industry. The theme for the conference this year is Pathmaking, emphasizing the power of ethnography to create transformative innovation, growth and strategic success for companies, industries and communities. On the second day of […]

See all articles