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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

RSS interfaces are irritating

So I've gotten really into the utility of RSS-- I really like the ability of RSS and it's friends to publish out new items for those who wish to subscribe. However, I've found all of the RSS interfaces really irritating.

Safari's on Mac OS X is terrible. I'm a smart guy, IT background, know how to deal with klugy interfaces, and I still don't have a clear idea how Apple means for me to use RSS in Safari. When I land on a page with an associated feed, I get a little blue "RSS" icon on the right side of the location bar, which when clicked takes me to the feed's "page" (e.g., http://site name/atom.xml), but I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do there--- bookmark it I guess, but then I can see the number of items I haven't "visited" in my feeds, but going there basically takes me to the atom.xml page. However, I've decided that I want to go to the actual article. Apple also gives me an option to view all RSS articles in a menu, but then interleaves them based on date of publication and doesn't allow me to sort by source. The display of information also takes up way too much room, requiring a lot of scrolling to see the articles, even though the font size is relatively small.

Firefox is better-- I like that it basically places the RSS feeds into bookmark menus-- this is much more intuitive for the user. I recognize that some people would like to see the syndication beyond the title of the new items, but I like this-- it makes the headline/title writer think about how to communicate the important point in a title, which is a good thing. One thing that I would like, however, is for Firefox to keep track of visited RSS articles-- perhaps by bolding unvisited links and unbolding them after a visit. I also keep finding myself wanting to go to the main site, but having to either follow a story link and then backtrack to the main page or having to go to another bookmark (for instance, I see several slashdot stories I want to take a quick look at but can't go directly to the slashdot home page from Firefox's live bookmark).

I've always stayed away from browser plugins that add features-- the only one I've ever really used has been Pith Helmet on Safari-- so I can't comment on IE RSS readers. I've seen a couple of articles on RSS in the new IE (version 7 I believe), and they have generally been positive.

I've also stayed away from using standalone RSS reader applications, although I played around with Thunderbird and it was ok, although I would have preferred that it not load the entire html page in the lower pane-- it seemed to make things slower than they should be.

I'm still hoping to find something worthwhile, but I'm thinking that we're again stuck at a stage where making things the extra 10% better that they need to be is not going to be easy.

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