If The Web Is TV, Then RSS Is Radio

One of the snazziest new destinations on the Web is A Brief Message. It “features design opinions expressed in short form—200 words or less.” What’s neat about it is that each brief essay is accompanied with some nice illustration.

Here’s a snapshot of a recent post:

Notice how nicely the visual aesthetic of the article lends itself to the entire reading experience. Now let’s take a look at the same article in Google Reader:

It’s not exactly the same effect. Yes, the words are there, but the piece has been gutted of its personality.

Let’s look at another example, Cameron Moll’s beautifully designed Authentic Boredom:

Here’s Authentic Boredom seen through the lens of Google Reader (list view):

Again, Google Reader (as would any feed reader) has stripped an otherwise attractive, stylish blog of all its…style.

Be Careful What We Wish For

This isn’t a jab at feed readers. I’m as guilty as anyone for subscribing to countless feeds and gulping down tons of information in a highly efficient manner. All that increased “bandwidth” comes at a price. If we rely on feed readers to consume information from the web, we no longer actually see the web. We just “hear” the raw data, triple-filtered and stripped of any intended style, character, personality or meaning beyond the words.

The image “http://www.constitutioncenter.org/timeline/flash/assets/asset_upload_file162_12197.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.If the real Web is rich and colorful and visual, RSS consumption is anything but. It’s just the data, just as old radio was the words without the pictures. An occasional image will seep through in the feed itself, but that hardly captures the aesthetic of the originating site. I recall when FeedDemon (a great Windows desktop feed reader) started pulling in the site’s favicon (that little icon that shows up in your browser’s URL box). That little icon did a whole lot by giving the slightest bit of context to where I was in my sea of subscribed feeds.

Can We Have It Both Ways?

Is it possible for us to gain the efficiency of RSS reading while still enjoying the web in all its glorious Technicolor? I’m not ready to give up my 300 feeds at 200 MPH. In short, I want it both ways. When I “visit” a feed I want to feel like I’m really visiting. I want the style and mood of the original site to frame the content.

I’d answer the above question: yes, I think we can have it both ways. In an upcoming post, I’ll outline a potential approach to marrying the high-volume/high speed experience of feed reading with the visual appeal and sense of “destination” that comes with visiting a web site.

Stay tuned!

8 Comments If The Web Is TV, Then RSS Is Radio

  1. Phil Barrett

    Interesting POV – and something people have challenged me on recently. Why spend $$$ on a great website experience if people are just going to subscribe to your RSS feed?
    Although i’m much like you in your perspective, RSS to me is like direct marketing – it provides a call to action back to your website…which is why i headlines need to stand out and the content needs to be focused.
    If you treat RSS like a call to action – only publish the first paragraph and force people to click through to your site to see the rest

  2. Rich Ziade

    Yeh that case does apply – but very often the whole post comes into your feed reader. In those cases, there’s no motivation to visit the site … and I rarely do.

  3. Sundar

    The problem pointed by you is kind of solved in the Netvibes site. When the RSS reader of the Netvibes is used, you can read the content in the same way as Google Reader and also read the content directly from the site. I am guessing the content directly from the site is plugged in using iFrame tag.

  4. Adam Bramwell

    Zeldman had a nice metaphor a few years back about inviting people into his house to eat his food, rather than providing it as take-away :-)
    For all those sites that produce content more compelling than just links in their RSS feeds, pop them in a folder and use the gReader “Next Button” to visit them in context. It really is the next best thing.

  5. Lewis

    Use netvibes then, you can view the original site so effectively you can still subscribe to the rss but see the site and article in all its glory.

  6. Hay

    I’m not sure if radio is the correct metaphor for RSS feeds. When you write:
    stripped of any intended style, character, personality or meaning beyond the words
    Radio does not strip it’s message from those things, you can convey a lot using voice intonation, music and sound effects. I think RSS is more like the old news paper clippings, without any of the pictures.


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