RSS = Absence of Expression

A while back, I remember some discussion arose about how feed readers and RSS sort of render visual design obsolete. The reason is obvious: If you’re tracking blogs and news sources through a feed reader of some sort, it’s only pulling the content. The only hint of distinctiveness is the optional header graphic offered up by the RSS 2.0 spec.
Over time, I’ve become increasingly reliant on my feed reader. My feed reader of choice is Newsgator’s excellent FeedDemon. FeedDemon allows for a whole slew of ways to view and scan feeds. Newspapers, Outlook-style headers, and the like. It’s all offered up to optimize your feed scanning abilities. Way back when, Scoble even noted that the absence of presentation is actually a benefit to feed reading (i.e. All headlines look exactly the same).
While this all may be true, I’m finding that this sort of “direct input” way of getting information is feeling increasingly sterile and disconnected. Like it or not, we are not machines that only process data. The layout, color and style of a site is not only created for usability and readabilty, but to evoke a certain mood or emotion. After all, these “sources” of information are often people with a desire to get something about themselves across beyond just pure information.
We talk about RSS today in the context of boosting productivity and increasing the exposure of sites. I’m the first to extol the virtues of RSS. But I think something is lost in the leap to pure information consumption. It’s a bit ironic that with the elevation of the individual publisher as a new voice on the Internet comes a stripping of their own personal style and expression.

5 Comments RSS = Absence of Expression

  1. JesterXL

    I had a similiar, albeit lower key effect as well. I’ve tried to utilize FeedDemon twice. Both times, I felt like a lot of “substance” was being removed. To me, going to the places where the information changed was me taking an active part in getting the information I wanted to read about.
    While FeedDemon is insanely cool in that it collects a wide array of blog sources for me to read… I must say, to truly experience those writs of work, I really feel better doing so in the environment they provided; aka, the design.
    Both times, I uninstalled FeedDemon to go back to using blog Aggregators.

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  2. Nick Bradbury

    If you’re using the FeedDemon 1.6 pre-release, you might want to give the new “Prince” newspaper style. It enables quickly scanning headlines so can locate items of interest, and then once you’ve located them you simply click an “Open in new tab” icon to open the actual article in a separate tab.

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  3. Richard Ziade

    Nick:
    Your suggestion raises an interesting point. Should feed providers not provide the whole post in the feed? For example, Gizmodo puts the entire entry in the feed – thus eliminating the need to ever visit.

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  4. Nick Bradbury

    It really depends on what the feed author wants to accomplish by having a feed. In my case, it doesn’t matter where people read what I have to say.
    In Gizmodo’s case, they use AdSense for RSS, so it makes sense for them to provide full-text posts. However, a “normal” AdSense-enabled site might want to use partial feeds to drive interested traffic to the site iself.

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