As we noted last month, some uses for email will give way to blogs and RSS feeds. People are just starting to replace email newsletters with RSS or Atom feeds. They "pull" updated content via HTTP and XML, rather than have it "pushed" to them by SMTP. They read it in RSS readers or aggregators, rather than in traditional mail clients.
As well as newsletters, we’ll start to see see B2C transactional communication offered in personalized feeds (suitably authenticated and encrypted, of course). Not to mention replacing the ubiquitous "family round-robin" emails with blogs.
We’ll see this trend get much bigger in 2005/6. But there’s a problem…
I can almost hear the blognoscenti rolling their eyes as I write this, but the fact is: RSS readers and aggregators are still too hard to use. Hard,
that is, for the majority of consumer users … like my parents, for
Despite some encouraging developments such as feed integration in the Yahoo! and MSN
portal pages, we’re still at the "baby steps" stage. In order for there
to be a substantial shift away from email to feeds for this type of
content, we should look to the vendor of the operating systems
pre-installed on 80% of consumer computers to make it easier to consume
RSS and Atom feeds.
It’s not sufficient to add a button to allow the user to paste a URI
into a list of feeds to watch. This fails the "aged parent test," falling at the
first hurdle. We need far better user interface paradigms for that
functionality. Some signpost examples:
- The Mozilla Firefox web
browser points the way with its "Live Bookmarks" feature. If the user
surfs to a page that advertises a feed, an icon appears at the
bottom-right of the window. The user can click on the icon to
automatically add the feed to their live bookmarks.
(a feed aggregator, offered as a web service) supplies a browser plugin that allows a user to subscribe a page’s
feed by right-clicking in the page and selecting "Subscribe to this
- FeedBurner (a collection of useful web services for feeds) can automatically reformat an existing feed so that hapless users who try to open the feed as a web page actually see a useful page in their browser, instead of miles of unintelligible XML. See an example here.
Those examples aren’t perfect by any means, but they do point the
way. Successful mass consumer adoption of feeds requires slick integration,
in order to hide the ugly jargon of URIs, HTTP, XML, RSS1.0, RSS2.0, Atom, feed
readers, aggregators, and so on.