Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Putting Interactivity into RSS

Like other news and blog junkies, I was interested to hear that Apple is building a RSS reader into its new OS, Tiger. It looks pretty nice: like a cleaner, more integrated version of my friend Rob Adams' Newsable project (which of course he's already noticed). I'm not sure if it'll be enough for me to switch from my current newsreader, NetNewsWire, but we'll see.

But what the Safari RSS reader (and indeed, every RSS reader) does is strip away the interactivity of blogs. In an ideal state, blogs should used to be for discussion--a means of exchanging ideas between writers and readers. A blogger posts, readers respond, and a community is formed. With RSS feeds, this doesn't happen as often. There's a disconnect. I seldom visit websites to read comments anymore, and the comments on my blog dropped like a stone after I started having an RSS feed. And especially when I added a full-entry feed. Now, weeks go by when the only comments I get are ads for v| and online casinos.

With a RSS reader, you can keep track of many more sites than you otherwise could. As of today, I have 57 feeds coming into mine, and I've been told I'm a piker compared to some who have hundreds. But the trade-off is that you aren't as invested in each of the feeds. Worse, it takes considerable effort to actually visit the feeder site to comment on an entry. Or to see if others have commented. As they currently work, RSS readers, and indeed the whole RSS system itself, widens the gap between writer and readers, between post and response.

RSS isn't designed for interactivity; it's designed to display text and images in an agnostic, Simple way. You can, of course (although not easily), embed a link to your comments in your RSS feed, or have a separate feed for your comments (an asinine solution, IMHO). This still breaks up the dialogue that should naturally occur. Imagine if we were having a face-to-face conversation and I said, "I think so-and-so is a moron" but you couldn't respond until you'd gone into another room and changed clothes. That's what the current solutions are like.

The problem is that RSS feeds are usually generated right after posts are published (ie before anyone can comment on them). Thus, naturally, there can be no indication that a post has generated discussion because there isn't any yet.

Either RSS, the RSS generator, or the RSS readers (ideally some combination of all three) need to be smarter. The RSS generator has to generate the feed several times a day and include comments (or some indicator that there are comments) into the same feed. The RSS feed itself should also contain either an email address of the poster or a link to a comments form that RSS readers should be able to use so that people have a means of responding to a post either via email or through a comment form inside the RSS reader. It should be easy to talk back without switching to another program. In a sense, it should be more like email.

Doing this would bring interactivity and dialog back to blogs and news. And isn't that the promise of the web, that we become more connected to each other?

Posted at 02:45 PM | comments (2) | trackback (1)


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