The syndication jungle drumbeats are throbbing back and forth over what to call ’em and how to subscribe to ’em. Feeds, I mean. Which is irritating: the important problem—how to make them easy to use—is easy, and we could solve it pretty well right now if we focused on it, instead of on the other problem—what to call them—which doesn’t matter very much, and we can’t do much about it anyhow. [Update: Dare Obasanjo writes that the problem will be solved in a year, one way or another.]

One-Click Subscription · First of all, most people don’t know about feeds, and most that do don’t subscribe to them. Check out the comments to Dwight Silverman’s What’s Wrong with RSS? (By the way, if there were any doubt that the blogging phenomenon has legs, the fact that so many people read them even without the benefits of RSS should clear that up).

Here’s the truth: an orange “XML” sticker that produces gibberish when you click on it does not win friends and influence people. The notion that the general public is going to grok that you copy the URI and paste it into your feed-reader is just ridiculous.

But, as you may have noticed, the Web has a built-in solution for this. When you click on a link to a picture, it figures out what kind of picture and displays it. When you click on a link to a movie, it pops up your favorite movie player and shows it. When you click on a link to a PDF, you get a PDF viewer.

RSS should work like this; it never has, but it can, and it won’t be very hard. First, you have to twiddle your server so RSS is served up correctly, for example as application/rss+xml or application/atom+xml. If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry, the person who runs your web server can do it in five minutes.

Second, you either need to switch to Atom 1.0 or start using <atom:link rel="self"> in RSS. If our thought leaders actually stepped up and started shouting about this, pretty well the whole world could have one-click subscriptions by next summer, using well-established, highly-interoperable, wide-open standards.

Web Feeds? RSS? · Call ’em what you bloody well want. It won’t matter. Until we have one-click subscription working, most people won’t use them. And whoever gets one-click subscription working first probably gets to choose the name that sticks. I’d be happiest if it was done in an open standardized works-in-all-the-browsers way, but whatever. So if you really want to influence the name, stop agonizing about it and get going on that one-click subscription.

author · Dad
colophon · rights
picture of the day
August 15, 2005
· Technology (90 fragments)
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