Apparently Dave Winer has been thinking about the same problem I was in terms of RSS subscriptions. I’m in favor of something a little simpler than what he described, but I can certainly see value in what he’s talking about. I emailed Dave to see if we could start trying to spin up something like this. In my mind one of the important aspects is that all the code running behind this should be open sourced. Code has a way of allowing problems to be wrung out quickly, discussions get a lot shorter and consensus is more absolute. I think it’s the only way to end up with the kind of trust that would be needed to get most publishers to use a service like this. It also guarantees that if the current service provider does something to lose that trust, another source can come in to replace them without too much effort. Of course, the ideal is that everyone decides to trust the same source, and that a users preference setting is used at every site they go to.
It seems like one of the major complaints that I hear most often about RSS is that it’s hard to use. Finding the XML link if there is one, choosing from multiple if there are different options, cutting and pasting the link, knowing where to put it, and dealing with any potential problems. It’s just too complex for most people to care about. So publishers attempt to make it easier to subscribe by putting badges on their pages. You know, those little buttons that say “Add to Bloglines” or “Subscribe with NetNewsWire”. Unfortunately that puts the burden on the publisher to know all the different services that a user may want to subscribe with, and clutters up the interface with dozens of buttons. A solution like that also increases the barrier to a new aggregator entering into general usage. Publishers won’t want to update their site for an aggregator that’s only used by a few people, and users won’t use an aggregator that doesn’t provide them with an easy subscription feature. The interface could be modified a bit, to something like QuickSub, to help with the clutter caused by all the extra buttons. But the user still has a boatload of options there, and again creates some friction with respect to adding a new aggregator service. The aggregator provider could do something like create a bookmarklet for easy subscription, but this also has some disadvantages. Such as not normally playing very nicely with pages that contain more than one feed and not being available when the browser has restricted functionality (such as on mobile devices). The ideal I think is a service that:
Michael Fagan, author of FaganFinder.com, is going to be working at Feedster for the next few months. His site is a well respected web search tool. He’s been out there interacting with people. Tweeking, tuning, and expanding his site. We’re hoping he can teach us some of the lessons he’s learned and help us put them into practice to make Feedster a more effective tool overall.
One of the questions I’ve been asked by a number of people since joining Feedster is “Are Technorati and Feedster competitors?” (or “Is there a difference between Feedster and Technorati?” or something along those lines). I was going to write up something to explain my take, but it looks like Dave Sifry over at Technorati has been seeing the same kinds of questions and decided to answer publicly. So I’m just going to build off Dave’s statements, in particular the part about:
Howard has posted a manifesto titled Mobile and Open, so I’m going to take this chance to jump in and reframe some of the stuff I’ve said along these lines before. I think it’s a great topic, and most people misinterpret what I mean when I say that there must be more openness to the mobile infrastructure. So now that we have a great touchpoint in the writeup from Howard I want to run thru a few things.
Thanks to Grant Schofield, who informed me that there was something wonky with comments on this blog. I ended up with a typo after my last spam filtering additions. Sorry if there are others trying to comment who haven’t been able. It should be all nice and cooperative now.
I was sad to see that Niall thought that the Feedster contest didn’t go well, especially because I’ve just recently joined Feedster myself. If his sentiment is shared by a lot of others I would like to hear about it. Email me at mrowehl at feedster dot com if you want to gripe.
Fooling around a bit with the Feedster feed info API I was looking for a way to export Firefox bookmarks as OPML and then use the feed info API to fill in the feeds associated with bookmarked web pages. There’s a bookmark extension which apparently will output in XBEL. But in my opinion even just asking users to install an extension is too much. People should be able to export their bookmarks from the stock tool and upload the file to an aggie or online service to bootstrap their subscriptions. From what I’ve seen this is where the standard users are living right now. Some are using portal services, but not all. And those who are using portals normally have some info they still read outside of the portal. They have their favorites bookmarked, and they run through their bookmarks reading news. We can figure out if there are feeds associated with the pages they have tagged, there should be an automatic process for this. Sorting through sites and looking for XML buttons and cutting and pasting URLs is a pain in the ass, and that assumes a level of knowledge that I’m not seeing in the non-geek crowd I’ve been chatting with lately. Anyone know of tools or services that do the conversion?
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