The journal of Paul M. Watson.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Email to subscribe to feeds

A good deal of buzz going around on how feeds (aka RSS) are hard to subscribe to. I am working on a feed project and I agree that feeds are hard. The only way I subscribe to feeds at present is via the convoluted process of setting Firefox up with LiveLines and pointing it at my Bloglines account. Not a chance my mom will be bothered to do that.

So what will make it easier?

How about using your email address? Most internet users have one now, most who do also understand how to use email. Email is more complicated than feeds if you get right into it but thanks to its penetration and prevalence in everyday conversations and business it has become easy(ish). Plus it is based on snail mail which goes back awhile.

I haven't thought it through yet (I want you to trample on the idea and kick the bad bits in it) but it would be lovely if my mom could subscribe to a feed via her email address. Not have the feed items delivered via email like some systems do, no. Just make the email address the feed subscribtion enabler ("subscribe feedX to".) So really it is an ID associated with you that your feed reader can use as well.

Technically on first glance whoever captures your email for feed subscription would have to forward onto some central feed system that knows to send it to your Bloglines/Feeddemon/Attensa/Newsgator/Windows/Apple/Google feed account.

The first major objection I see to this idea is spam. As soon as you hand out the ability to send subscriptions there is going to be spam involved. Still, we are dealing with spam in email well enough and I don't see the lack of spam as such a huge benefit to feeds (froth and yell at me all you like on that one.) And as feeds get more commercial even without sending feed subscriptions you are going to see more and more spam in your subscribed feeds. Sure, you can unsubscribe but that feed might have items you want.

The idea has problems but we have to get talking on this issue. How does my mom subscribe to feeds?


Anonymous Derek Lakin said...

The first thing to sort out is the terminology: "subscribe" sounds like you've got to pay for something, "RSS", "XML" and "Atom" are meaningless to your mom and "feed" sounds more food-related that news and information.

TBH I don't have the answer on that one, but only time will tell. Perhaps "RSS" will become the term that everyone gets comfortable or perhaps someone smarter than me will come up with a better word that helps your mom understand what you mean.

I think the next thing to do then is to have all browsers use the same icon (IE and FF are going the right way here) and perform feed discovery to show a suitably sized button (not the small one at the bottom of FF) that indicates a feed is available on the page.

I think this issue is one that will be solved with time and patience rather than radical new ideas, though I'd be happy to be proved wrong. In fact I hope I will.

11:11 AM


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