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web feed as RSS

For the record, I’ve never been happy with labelling a web feed as RSS: particularly as it is often used as a generic term for feeds using other technologies (such as Atom).

However I am yet to be convinced by the arguments for using different terms. Certainly I agree there is a need for better labelling, but some of the suggestions I’ve heard so far seem inadequate.

Also there seems to be a bit of a confusion of two issues: accurate labelling and appropriateness for the audience.

  • The Guardian newspaper has apparently renamed it’s feeds from ‘rss’ to ‘webfeed’. This is an example of accurate labelling.
  • Copyblogger wrote about the huge benefits of changing from ‘Subscribe by rss’ to ‘Get jobs by rss’. This is an example of appropriateness.

I’ve been involved in a discussion on Twitter that seems to be confusing the two. When I queried the usefulness of the first example I was pointed to the second as an answer. But these are not the same; in fact Copyblogger retains the use of ‘rss’.

My point is that if the feed is an RSS one then labelling it as such is accurate. It doesn’t help people who don’t understand what RSS is, but neither – I suspect – does ‘webfeed’. ‘Webfeed’ may be more generic, but it’s not more accurate; it may be more descriptive to some but it will be less so to others (particularly those who do understand the differences between various feed technologies).

Perhaps ‘webfeed (rss)’ would be better. For example:

imagine a recipe that stipulates ‘flour’ as an ingredient. It may not matter which type of flour is used, but if one isn’t specified – or no explanation is given – many people will be left feeling uneasy: is the type of flour really irrelevant or is the author guilty of shoddy writing?

There is also the closely related issue of helping people to understand the usefulness of feeds. Trouble is the concept is a hard one to grasp, and relies on an understanding of lots of other concepts first.

For example, my parents do not have an innate understanding of the web or of using computers. If I were to try and explain to them the benefits of RSS over email I would have to go back quite a number of steps: in fact, right back as far as the difference between Word, their browser, and their operating system.

This is because without an understanding of how information connects and relates on the web and on their computer it is very hard for them to appreciate what’s going on, and in turn what the benefits are.

But the discussions about labelling are good food for thought, and it’s heartening to know that people are experimenting with ways of improving their online communication.

tech

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