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.
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.