How does your blog display RSS info?

Back in the relative old days of 2003-2004 when orange RSS icons started appearing in the sidebars of websites, very few users knew what to do with them. Jeff Veen said said,

“…The vast majority [of users] aren’t even aware of what RSS is…why are we peppering our pages with little orange icons that link to garbled-looking XML markup?”

Showing a bit more foresight than other developers, Veen chose to link the RSS icons to a page which educated users about feeds and what they offered:

But, what does that icon do? Here’s where we struggled with convention. Typically, people either click on the icons or drag them to an aggregator. Some folks right-click and copy the feed’s URL. We decided not to link feeds directly from the icon, but instead offer up a page that shows all the feeds a user can subscribe to.

In 2005, the Microsoft/IE team made the surprising decision to adopt Firefox’s orange feed icon which became a major step in standardizing its appearance. Designers like Matt Bratt offered downloads of the vector image which soon appeared on thousands of blogs.

Fast-forward to the present day — many millions more users are consuming content via RSS. That orange icon is more recognizable each day. But I still wonder: what’s the best way for a site to advertise its feed address?

I’ve been seeing more designs lately with prominent RSS cues in the masthead, as with Adii’s Premium News line. Then there’s Pat Dryburgh’s site which takes the idea to comical extremes. Recently WPDesigner commented:

“…Blog readers expect to find the RSS subscribe button at the top right hand corner or at the top of the right sidebar. Why is that? No one said that’s the best spot, but it’s ‘what-works’ because many popular blogs place the subscribe button there.”

My personal opinion? Prominent RSS info can be an abuse of screen real estate and an almost outdated notion. Modern feedreaders (Bloglines, Google Reader, Netvibes) allow you simply enter a site URL which it uses to auto-detect any/all available feeds, even giving you the option of choosing RSS2 versus Atom. Firefox users can tell if a site offers feeds simply by looking in the locator bar. For that matter, anyone savvy enough to use RSS already knows that certain sites (those which run WP or Movable Type, for example) always provides syndication anyway.

So do we need to actively advertise feeds? If so, how prominently and in what format?

(Regarding gratuitous use of space, I have similar issues with a lot of WordPress/blog data. Not every excerpt needs a Category listed, and depending on the context, some don’t even need date info. It’s in single-post view when that info is most relevant — on the homepage, most users just want headlines to click. Don’t even get me started on prominent ‘tag clouds’, but we’ll save that for another post ;) )

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  • tony

    The biggest struggle I had recently is trying to explain RSS feeds in text format to people who may have no clue. It helps that the client is a friend and self-admitted “techtard”. So if I could get her to follow, I was golden. It’s really been a bit of a learning experience for me, thinking about different ways people may be able to use RSS feeds either for a whole site, or, more importantly, just for a single category.

  • Josh

    I have a pretty sizable RSS reader list (of which you are included) and when I plan to add feeds to my Google Reader the first thing I do is look in the address bar of Firefox (Mac) to see if there is an RSS feed available. If I don’t see it there I *might* look elsewhere on the page or just assume there isn’t an RSS feed available for that site.

    So, not much of an answer to your question, but I don’t really know that you need to go above and beyond in displaying an RSS feed icon when a small icon in the upper right corner would do.

  • Darren

    Another piece of gratuitous info — the BBC’s prominent date/clock info in the masthead.

    The biggest struggle I had recently is trying to explain RSS feeds in text format to people who may have no clue.

    Definitely. I’ve explained it to some people by comparing the old method of channel-surfing on television (active) versus the new method of tivo’ing shows (passive). Then there’s the simplified “Oprah” method of explaining RSS technology to the public:

    We all have busy lives with very little time. Web surfing is fun but can take hours going to visit every single website and blog you enjoy. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if you could just get all the headlines of the most current stories from all your favorite websites and blogs in one place? Well now you can, and it is called RSS feed…

  • Jermayn Parker

    New reader hear…

    The problem with RSS besides the “what is it?” is that they are the same and are very boring, very rarely do they actually go with your design and they just look tacky!

    I try in my designs to fix this, I have two examples which I think are effective and even better than your example.
    1st example –
    2nd example –

    I also include a link detailing what RSS is all about near my germworks feed.

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  • tony

    I had never noticed it until your post on it, but now I see a lot of the “top site design” nominees on various contests with the obnoxiously large RSS logo in the top right. It’s kind of fun to see how it’s implemented, but you’re right, it seems like an abuse of space.

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