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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Finishing Touches: Presenting Feeds

Almost every weblog and news site now offers XML-based content feeds, but the way they’re presented is a mess. I have to incorporate new features into sites all the time and try to make them seem clear, consistent and user-friendly, so I thought I’d cast aside the history and the egos and approach the issue afresh.

The following points soon became clear:

  • Don’t use ‘XML’ as link text, it’s far too generic and unhelpful.
  • When referring to the technology in general, remain format-agnostic; I would suggest referring to ‘feeds’ or possibly ‘web feeds’ in the context of supplying web site content. A decent case can be made for pushing the name ‘RSS’, but I think the overall concept should be considered bigger than any one format (confusingly, Dave Winer wants everyone to use ‘RSS but defends ‘XML’ links).
  • Where a link goes directly to a feed, by all means use the format as part of the description, e.g. ‘RSS 2 feed’, ‘Atom feed’.
  • Feel free to use orange, it’s as good a colour as any and having some kind of visual theme for the technology is probably a good thing.
  • Stop prominently linking directly to feeds without having first introduced the concept. Either have a heading and short explanation preceding the links, or only use a link saying something like ‘Subscribe to this weblog’ or ‘Subscribe to feed’ leading through to a page covering the technology and different ways to make use of it. Most technically-minded users will rely on auto-discovery nowadays, people investigating feeds and clicking links are more likely to be new to the whole thing.

So, as mentioned a few months back, I followed my own conclusions and switched from direct feed links to a ‘Subscribe to this weblog’ page. I’ll continue to refine that page’s explanation, and may even add an email subscription option (e.g. sending out a weekly list of entries and their summaries) as an experiment to see how people respond.


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