Syndication has the potential to make browsing more selective and efficient. Prominent web sites have been offering feeds for several years, and many aggregators exist, so Why hasn’t syndication caught on?
Lack of Browser Support
RSS use remains elusive to most users. Modern browser RSS implementations (Firefox 1.5, Safari 2, IE7 beta) simply apply traditional web mechanics to feeds – bookmarks and site-by-site display. This offers little advantage over traditional browsing.
An ideal browser allows the user to intuitively subscribe to available feeds with a single click. An user is more apt to subscribe to a site’s feed if it doesn’t involve typing, or cutting and pasting, and if the feed links do something more useful than displaying a raw XML tree.
Odds are good that Microsoft’s upcoming Windows RSS Platform, included with Internet Explorer 7, will accelerate RSS adoption. The API, comprised of a Common Feed List, Download Engine, and Feed Store, is available to all applications. One-click IE subscriptions are thus available to any application that wants to use them – Outlook, tickers, screen savers, etc. Once applications begin to leverage this functionality, the market for such applications will broaden.
Even with intuitive subscriptions in place, it can quickly become difficult to determine which headlines warrant further investigation. Even a single feed can provide more items than are practical to review item-by-item.
Web desktops, such as netvibes, my.yahoo.com, and live.com are intuitive enough, but they cannot efficiently aggregate more than a handful of sites due to their one-site-per-window layout. On the opposite end of the spectrum, an unfiltered river of news can efficiently display numerous links, but it is easy to get swept away in such a river.
Web aggregators, such as Tailrank and memeorandum are beginning to address the problem of prioritization with a combination of user feedback and metadata related to link popularity and content. Desktop applications can apply traditional filtering techniques, such as manual rules or some form of Bayesian filtering, as used in spam filters.
Syndication must overcome the hurdles of inconvenience and overindulgence. Windows RSS Platform may provide a critical mass of capable clients that usher in a new era of interoperability among RSS applications. One-click subscriptions, combined with filtering that reliably prioritizes items relevant to the user will allow the information consumer to process more data, and with a higher signal-to-noise ratio.