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Florian Bailey über Social, User und Online Strategie

Why does every RSS application suck ?

5 Kommentare

The problem with RSS Readers is the baggage they inherited from email applications.
Like any email application most readers have a two pane view and a counting system showing you your unread entries. This user interface makes sense when reading email.
I really need to know if there are new emails and filing them into different categories makes it easier to find older emails.
None of this makes sense when you are reading different kinds of articles partly from vague topic categories.

Imagine RSS Newspapers

Imagine if you would open a newspaper every morning and it would show you all the articles in one long column.
Of course there would be different columns ( on other pages ) for certain article categories like Politics, International and Dining.
At the top of your newspaper and every column would be a giant number screaming at you the current count of unread articles.
The newspaper would show new articles after you read the old ones. Your only way to scan for the most important articles of the day would be to read all articles and decide which were the most important articles.
To show the fundamental error in the User Experience just imagine your newspaper would arrive by email, every article would be one email and the emails would slowly trickle in in the course of the day.
Just to annoy you even more most journalists and editors at the particular newspaper would have conspired to write the most obscure headline telling you actually nothing about the article.

Well what I’m trying to say is this: RSS readers are broken, the developers forgot to include reading in their list of tasks.

Just take a look at Google Reader my favorite web based RSS reader.
The user experience is actually horrible, it has shortcuts to jump from one article to the next, how is this going to help me ?

This is not how the mind works when scanning large amounts of information. We scan for headlines and for patterns. We are pattern recognition animals. But the User Experience at Google Reader is one of jumping, look at an article and jump to the next one, decide if it is relevant and jump to next one. This is the same in every rss reading system I have seen it’s an experience of jumping and rapid decision making. That can be ok and it is a working model if you have only a small number of feeds. It becomes a problem with more than 50 new articles a day.
If you have large amounts of data your mind needs orientation, it needs space and it needs typography. This way information becomes scanable.
RSS could be the premier solution for the customized digital newspaper of the 21st century, but at the moment it’s just a way to centralize your email newsletter subscriptions.

Take a look at it features a new newspaper front every day. You will notice the difference in the information you can grasp in 5 seconds if you take a
look at this random screenshot of my google reader

Google Reader Screenshot

don’t forget to compare it to a quite old newspaper design, quite bad compared to todays newspaper designs but still

Newspaper Screenshot

If you are a developer and are working on a solution and you are in need of some ideas and advice or if you are looking for a partner I’m more than willing to help to solve my own RSS problems.


Geschrieben von Florian

8. September 2007 um 15:07

Abgelegt in User Experience

5 Kommentare zu “Why does every RSS application suck ?”

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  1. Eric Vitiello

    12. Sep 07 um 19:34

    A few years ago (2002) I helped on an application called AmphetaDesk ( It used an interface just like you’re describing. Good times.

  2. Ardekantur

    12. Sep 07 um 20:44

    I’m not a developer, but I have NetNewsWire for the Mac configured in such a way that reading is the most important activity. No subscription lists, no article lists – just one pane with a clean layout and a story. I hit space to scroll through the story, and when I’m at the end, hitting space brings me to the next new story, which replaces the one in the pane. The title bar tells me how many I haven’t read.

  3. Florian

    13. Sep 07 um 07:59

    Interesting, both solutions are better than most but still I get a list sorted by author not by content. The List view alone doesn’t help with the refocusing problem.

  4. Daniel Spiewak

    15. Sep 07 um 18:20

    Considering the layout you’re using in Google Reader, I’m not surprised you don’t like it. Try it in the default view, where you see the entire article in the list. It may seem theoretically less efficient, but trust me, you’ll get through items a lot faster. I can go through 300-400 new items, pick out the ones I want and discard the rest, in about 10-15 minutes. I’m not the only one either; I know a lot of people who go through at least that many feeds every day, sometimes more. To a man, they agree that Google Reader is the quickest way to do that. Seems you’re a lone voice calling for change when a better understanding of the tool itself would suffice.

  5. Florian

    17. Sep 07 um 07:52

    Actually most of the time I am using Google Reader in Full article view, and I use the shortcuts. I think to show the difference between the concepts I would have to develop a prototype or a visual example. I will try when I have some time …

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