There’s been some discussion flying around about how the rising popularity of RSS is slowly rendering design irrelevent. Michael Efford blogs about it. He noticed that his stats showed
more people were pulling his RSS feeds than visiting his site.
This really leads into an interesting discussion about where the value of RSS really lies. While an obvious benefit is the separation of information from presentation, it isn’t the primary driver for RSS. I think RSS is catching on because:
- You can ping many sources at once and gather a lot of data without visiting each site individually and wondering if it’s been updated or not, and
- Because only raw data is sent, your consuming client (e.g. a feed reader) can present that data in a consistent way – thus allowing you to scan large amounts of information without dealing with the clutter of layouts and graphics. A feed entry is a feed entry regardless of where it came from.
I think these two factors really drive RSS’ popularity. As to the impact on design: there is no doubt that window of opportuntiy is far narrower with RSS. It has to be in order for its value to remain.
Nevertheless, I think a lot can be done to enhance or “color” feeds so that this scanning capability isn’t lost while allowing the style and flavor of the feed source to come through. We see this a bit in the ability to add a channel logo/graphic to your feed and the ability of some feed readers to pull favicons off of servers (e.g. FeedDemon and Bloglines).
Beyond aesthetics, I think more can be done to not only enhance the visual appeal of RSS feeds but to allow them to become even more useful. The RSS traits module is an attempt to enrich and enhance feeds so that clients can not only show more but do more as well.