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
23 July 2016
Emerging social roles for life in 2025
Over the last five years Ericsson's Networked Society Lab has been exploring what social life in 2025 might mean. How have 20th structures of industrialization been challenged? What is happening with life and lifestyles right …
22 July 2016
[Book] Overcomplicated (or when systems go feral)
Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension by Samuel Arbesman Current (Penguin Randomhouse), July 2016 256 pages Abstract Why did the New York Stock Exchange suspend trading without warning on July 8, 2015? Why did certain Toyota vehicles accelerate uncontrollably …
22 July 2016
A nudge toward participation: Improving clinical trial enrollment with behavioral economics
A nudge toward participation: Improving clinical trial enrollment with behavioral economics Eric M. VanEpps, Kevin G. Volpp and Scott D. Halpern (University of Pennsylvania) Science Translational Medicine - 20 Jul 2016 Vol. 8, Issue 348, pp. 348fs13 Interventions informed …
18 July 2016
Design research at the New York Times
The pressure to anticipate an audience’s needs and desires is intense—no longer only of concern to business sides of media organizations but a part of the editorial mission, writes Heather Chaplin in the Columbia Journalism …
11 July 2016
[Book] LEAP Dialogues: Career Pathways in Design for Social Innovation
LEAP Dialogues: Career Pathways in Design for Social Innovation Edited by Mariana Amatullo, with Bryan Boyer, Liz Danzico and Andrew Shea Published by Designmatters at ArtCenter College of Design July 2016, 360 pages The professional landscape for design in …
22 June 2016
A united energy economy: Experientia helps wrap up the CITYOPT Nice pilot project
Can behavioral change address local energy issues, raise people’s awareness energy consumption issues, and directly support non-profit organizations at the same time? With the Nice pilot of the CITYOPT project, we have seen strong suggestions …
21 June 2016
‘Big data is people!’
The sum of our clickstreams is not an objective measure of who we are, but a personal portrait of our hopes and desires, argues Rebecca Lemov, associate professor of the history of science at Harvard …
17 June 2016
Remember the people: The foundation for success in 21st C infrastructure
Infrastructure providers are used to focusing on issues of project selection, funding, and regulation. The most successful firms are learning to provide great consumer experiences too. "The consumer experience matters. Infrastructure providers therefore need to …

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.

22 June 2016
A united energy economy: Experientia helps wrap up the CITYOPT Nice pilot project

Can behavioral change address local energy issues, raise people’s awareness energy consumption issues, and directly support non-profit organizations at the same time? With the Nice pilot of the CITYOPT project, we have seen strong suggestions that it can. It also suggests that the sense of belonging to a local community is a strong motivation for […]

23 May 2016
Experientia white paper: “Conducting clinical trials is about working with patients”

Patient-centricity is one of the defining issues facing clinical trials in the pharma industry. The past few years have seen a growing awareness by pharmaceutical companies of the importance of patient-centricity – but they have also illustrated that not everyone is clear on just what patient-centricity is, or how to achieve it. After using UX […]

12 April 2016
The latest on innovation in Energy Efficient Buildings: annual round-up of EU Commission projects

Every year, the Energy-efficient Buildings (EeB) Public Private Partnership (PPP) publishes the EeB PPP project review – a round-up of energy-efficiency projects that have been co-funded by two European Commission schemes. This year, the print and digital booklet design was done by Experientia, in particular by our talented visual and interaction designer Dohun Jang. Experientia […]

8 March 2016
Behavioral modeling – Shaping cultural change and behavioral evolution

One of the things we do here at Experientia that really sets us apart from other UX agencies is behavioral modeling. Our cognitive and behavioral models go beyond the standard customer journeys and personas (both useful tools, and often preliminary steps to behavioral modeling) to create frameworks that can be used to make people more […]

1 March 2016
Singapore’s main newspaper on Experientia’s design with the elderly

Arti Mulchand reports in the Straits Times, Singapore’s main newspaper, on Experientia’s “Design for Ageing Gracefully” project: Putting faces to end-users early in the design process is changing the way designers and organisations are approaching products aimed at Singapore’s growing elderly demographic. Experientia’s ethnographic study, which was commissioned by DesignSingapore Council in a collaboration with […]

18 January 2016
Experientia website completely reshaped

Experientia is pleased to announce that we’ve started 2016 with a brand new website. Experientia’s now officially 10 years old, and we decided that the best way to celebrate is by building a new website that showcases our growth – with new projects, new people in the staff, and two new locations in Lausanne and […]

See all articles