Sunday, November 20, 2005
Is RSS Mainstream Ready?
I'm not quite sure where my dad lies on the adoption curve.
He loves trying new things... Laying around the Dad-pad, you'll find:
- A $400 Archos portable media player (he's never used)
- A $500 programmable digital touchscreen entertainment center remote control he had to hire somebody to program (we never use because it broke and there's nobody to program the new replacement)
- A Sony Vaio laptop (he uses once a year)
- A brand new Thinkpad X41 Tablet (he's had for months and is waiting for "spare time to practice" before using it)
- An HP photo printer (he's never used)
- About a hundred shrinkwrapped DVDs (he's never watched)
- An abandoned blogging effort (lasted about 11 days)
So, given Dad's love for new things, I figured I'd spend a few minutes this morning showing him how I read RSS feeds through Bloglines.
Of course, he loves the idea and wants to try it!
Now, while Bloglines is a great service and works well for me, I wouldn't exactly call it usable for the average user. I figured we should try setting him up with one of the newer, more mainstream services.
First, we tried Windows Live. We signed him up for a Passport account, and began setting up a few RSS feeds. Most of the news sites he wants to subscribe to provide a concise list of about 10-20 feeds. The Live.com RSS search feature returned a horrible list -- nothing like the lists on their sites. So, I manually copied and pasted a few specific feeds into Live.com for him.
The next problem with Live.com was that the feed we subscribed to is named "News". My Dad and I didn't know which "News" feed we were reading, and there was no way to rename it!
Finally, the biggest issue, was that Live.com doesn't mark feeds as read, and only seems to display 5 feeds. I'm getting the impression by this point that it's not meant to be a news aggregator, but rather uses RSS to provide a little value-add here and there to its portal. I'm not sure it's all that useful, but hey, time will tell!
Next, we tried Google Reader. Google Reader was definitely better as a content aggregator, but still didn't meet Dad's needs. It also wouldn't let us rename the feed from "News" to something else, and the information architecture/navigation model is a bit difficult to get used to. I love keyboard shortcuts, but Dad will never use them. While tagging is cool, he's never gonna use it (at least not for another 2-3 years?). Dad loves Gmail, but Reader was too far out of left field.
In any event, it became clear to me very quickly that the biggest hurdle to RSS adoption by mainstream folks like Dad is going to be adding feeds. Right now, Dad has to find the url to the RSS feed (incredibly difficult), then copy it, then paste it into the right one of many obscure form fields in any of these interfaces. Discoverability is something that browsers (IE7, Firefox, etc) are working on bigtime, but as far as I know, they only add the RSS feed to the local store. Dad wants his feeds in sync on his home and work computers. Some services are working around this by providing "Add to My Yahoo!, Add to Bloglines" type links next to feed icons - a hack that won't scale. I'd propose an "rss://" application handler or similar, that could be bound to any RSS service or software. Does it exist today?
Well, that's all I've got! It's a sunny day in sunny Los Angeles, and time to get off the laptop and enjoy the beautiful weather. In the meantime, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts! Is RSS ready for my Dad?
And lastly, why can't RSS feeds be renamed like bookmarks/favorites can? Hmm...