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 October 2017
Experientia is hiring! Service design intern
Service Design Intern: Lausanne, Switzerland and Turin, Italy Experientia, an international experience design consultancy, is looking for service design interns for our Turin, Italy office, to support research, concept development and design. The ideal candidate will be …
23 October 2017
Experientia is hiring! Senior Service Designer
Senior Service Designer: Lausanne, Switzerland and Turin, Italy (*) We are looking for service designers with outstanding design skills, methodical thinking, and experience in designing complex service ecosystems using a human-centered design methodology.   Required 2-5 years' experience …
23 October 2017
Experientia is hiring! Lead Service Designer
Lead Service Designer: Lausanne, Switzerland and Turin, Italy (*) Experientia is seeking a Senior Service Designer to lead service design projects from the Turin, Italy office (*) or the Lausanne, Switzerland office. The Senior Service Designer …
22 October 2017
Nudges that fail
Nudges that fail Cass R. Sunstein Behavioural Public Policy, 2017, 1(1), 4-25. doi:10.1017/bpp.2016.3 Why are some nudges ineffective, or at least less effective than choice architects hope and expect? Focusing primarily on default rules, this essay emphasizes two …
18 October 2017
Innovate through service design – The Innovation Center of Intesa Sanpaolo and Experientia for “Torino Design of the City”
by Erin O'Loughlin - Photos: Naz Kazazoglu In Turin, you only need to tell your taxi driver "Take me to the skyscraper" to end up at the impressive Innovation Center of the Intesa Sanpaolo bank, rising …
3 October 2017
Don’t miss Experientia at Torino Design of the City
Torino Design of the City is nearly here! Experientia will of course be part of this exciting week (10-16 October) of events, meetings, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours about design, and we warmly invite you …
1 October 2017
Half-day event on service design innovation in Turin
(This page will be regularly updated to reflect minor programme changes) To Innovate through Service Design - Conference for Torino Design of the City From 10 to 16 October, the City of Turin will host Torino Design of …
1 October 2017
Google’s Director of User Experience on the power of ethnography in an era of Big Data
Elizabeth Churchill, Google's Director of User Experience argues that there has never been a better time for an ethnographic embrace and a reconfiguration of what it means to render meaning into big and small data. …

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.

18 October 2017
Innovate through service design – The Innovation Center of Intesa Sanpaolo and Experientia for “Torino Design of the City”

by Erin O’Loughlin – Photos: Naz Kazazoglu In Turin, you only need to tell your taxi driver “Take me to the skyscraper” to end up at the impressive Innovation Center of the Intesa Sanpaolo bank, rising in the heart of Turin, with a fine view of the Turin hills and the Italian alps. Here on […]

17 October 2017
Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize is a win for good design

by Erin O’Loughlin Richard Thaler’s 2017 Nobel Economics Prize on Monday was met with more buzz around the offices of our design agency than is usual for economics news. What people outside of the industry probably don’t realize is that service designers don’t think of Richard Thaler as an economist — instead, we consider him one of […]

3 October 2017
Don’t miss Experientia at Torino Design of the City

Torino Design of the City is nearly here! Experientia will of course be part of this exciting week (10-16 October) of events, meetings, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours about design, and we warmly invite you to join us. The event is organised by the City of Turin and will take place in strategic city locations […]

1 October 2017
Half-day event on service design innovation in Turin

(This page will be regularly updated to reflect minor programme changes) To Innovate through Service Design – Conference for Torino Design of the City From 10 to 16 October, the City of Turin will host Torino Design of the City. This week of events, meetings, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours about design will take place in […]

4 August 2017
The human side of autonomous cars — with Nissan Research’s Melissa Cefkin

Reposted from Medium Beyond the engineering challenge of creating cars that drive themselves lies the social challenge. Before autonomous cars are ready to navigate our roads, they must be able to navigate the vastly more complicated nuances of human behaviors and interactions — from that friendly nod that says “You first” at a four-way stop, to the […]

31 May 2017
 Intervista a Todd Harple di Intel sul tech-fashion

Ripostato da Medium – English version Il mondo del fashion sta diventando sempre di più digitale — e non si tratta solo di dispositivi da indossare, ma anche e soprattutto di abbigliamento, realizzato con tessuti in cui sono effettivamente integrati dei sensori in grado di misurare e monitorare il corpo di chi li veste. Dato che la […]

See all articles