Are Branded feed readers the answer?

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Brand Autopsy seems to be advocating branded RSS readers. Perhaps you remember the branded browsers circa 1997? Those worked out well.

While I agree that RSS is hard for the average user to get, having every company offer their own reader download isn’t going to fly. Seth Godin’s having trouble getting people to read his feed through Bloglines, NewsGator and other easy web-based readers — how much trouble do you think he’d have trying to get people to download and install software to read his site?

Readers need to be ubiquitous and feed subscriptions need to be simple in order for feeds to take off in the mainstream. When I click a feed, my reader should ask me if I want to subscribe to it. Instead I get a bunch of XML code, or at best a “browser friendly” feed that looks just like a web page. What the heck is the average user going to do with that? Unfortunately RSS didn’t have any capabilities for one-click subscriptions, so different RSS vendors came up with their own. As a result there’s a number of competing methods and you end up with sites saying,

To subscribe with the feed:// protocol, do this…
To subscribe with USM, do this…
To subscribe in reader X do this.…
To subscribe in reader Y do this…

That’s no better than the page full of XML.

The only way RSS will be interesting to the masses is if it’s not RSS. I don’t mean we shouldn’t use the format, but that consumers shouldn’t need to be aware of the format. No one says they get their daily horoscope via HTML. They get it on a web page. Some of those pages are in HTML, some in text, some in Flash, and some in validating XHTML. The images on the page are a combination of GIF, Jpeg and PNG. Do you think the consumer cares? They open their browser and grab their stock quotes. To many, the browser and their email client is the internet. They don’t think about what they’re doing, how they get there, or which program to use.

That’s how RSS needs to be viewed. Publishers don’t need to provide the cup, and consumers don’t need to bring their own cup. We need to make sure that there is no cup.

Neil T.
November 18, 2005 3:03 AM

You're right about the RSS name. I've tended to name my feeds as 'web feeds', mainly because I use Atom instead of RSS and I don't think the format really matters to the end user. Microsoft seems to be looking to adopt this moniker for its RSS/Atom support in Internet Explorer 7.

Phil
November 18, 2005 6:04 AM

I think you're right. RSS needs a real marketing plan. I don't know the whole history, but I'm going to guess the original concept never envisioned a future where everybody would be using it. Without browsers handling RSS gracefully (display or passing off to a reader), it's not going to go mainstream. Firefox and Safari both try to do something along these lines, but again they're minority browsers.

Steve
November 18, 2005 7:57 PM

I agree that branded rss is not the answer.I think it would be nice if firefox offered an easily usable plug in to handle it well, and I will bucks that IE will have a microsofty way of handing into the new office or outlook that should be out soon. In the meantime I reccomend to everyone to hit up rss in their my yahoo page or via www.netvibes.com, of course these don't really do what I envision a good rss reader will do one day, auto-downloadin pod video casts and such. I look forward to the readers getting better soon!

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