If RSS=Really Simple Syndication, Why Is It So Hard?


When I got my first computer in the dark ages of MS DOS, the commands above were something like what I had to type to get my word processor to run. This was not an especially user-friendly part of the information age. Nowadays, of course, users have Windows XP or Mac's simple OS (although diehard Mac users will argue they had it from day one). Users rarely have to think about directories, .BAT files, .EXE files, or Config.SYS--they can usually just double-click the shortcut from the desktop.

But if users don't have to use obscure commands and remember strange abbreviations to use their desktops anymore, why do sites force them to do it to use Really Simple Syndication subscriptions?

Average users, to subscribe to the average RSS feed, have to download an RSS reader or find a Web-based one, figure out that they should be clicking the orange "RSS" button (which is often marked "XML," or is sometimes neither orange nor a button, to further complicate things), then copy and paste the URL into their RSS reader, which will then allow the program to get the feed and download the articles.



This is why RSS adoption still remains very low, and 83 percent of those who do use the technology don't even realize they're using it, according to data released by Nielsen//NetRatings last month. RSS technology is extremely useful for consumers, publishers, and advertisers alike, all for the same reason--it's constantly updated, so consumers get the content (and the ads) all day, every day, without having to keep going back to a Web site. But until it becomes more user-friendly, adoption will inevitably lag.

Fortunately, some companies realize this, and are working to remedy the problem. Google's Web-based RSS reader doesn't mention XML, Atom, nor even RSS--it simply is about subscribing to "feeds." Internet Explorer 7, when it finally comes, will reportedly be quite RSS-friendly, integrating feeds into its browser environment. And more and more sites are integrating RSS and subscription buttons prominently into their site design.

On the other hand, the link to the New York Times' RSS subscription page is tucked away and unheralded at the very bottom, right above the copyright notice. So we're not quite there yet.

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