On Integrated Feed Reading

Feed IconRyan King pointed me to a post by Tim Bray about how unintuitive feed consumption is in browsers today.

I couldn’t agree more. Indeed, RSS and general feed consumption in browsers have been tacked on, hacked in, and bludgeoned into the UI in inconsistent and narrow ways. Safari‘s got its poorly-named RSS view. Firefox (for now) has its simple toolbar and livemark feature as well as countless third-party add-ons.

We’ve also got some great web-based and desktop tools whose tasks are to deal only with feed content.

But all those are simply not sufficient nor reflect how fundamentally syndicated content is changing the way people interact, publish and share on the web.

To date, we’ve taken mere baby steps towards a truly syndicated web. We’ve tended to stay close to our concrete, static websites because of the familiarity and stability they offer us. We’re used to things existing in one place at a time in real life; on the web, general expectations have stuck to this powerful paradigm (look, I had a talk with my mum about this stuff so I know it’s true! If you already get RSS, you’re excluded from this generalization (notice my use of the word “general“?).

What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is that the old ways of thinking about content and where it should exist (or indeed where it actually does exist) no longer need apply. Consider podcasts, the perfect example of empheral media. You can’t search for podcasts directly; no, instead you have search for text about the podcast unless you go to some visual directory, which still relies on word and image (still not aural search technologies — we need the Riya of podcasting!). On top of that, you typically have to download the “physical” file and play it locally or on your pacemaker, severing the link back to the original source which may be updated or changed later.

The point is this: Tim Bray is not only right but the problem he describes goes deeper than just poor feed integration and workflows in existing browsers. It’s that browsers aren’t moving fast enough to embrace the potential that syndicated content has for radically improving the efficiency, responsiveness and collaborative nature of the web. Think about all the information you consume with feeds already — it’s only going to get worse until browsers fundamentally look at the web as an event stream and less as a library of independent books and pages.

Browsers in particular need to change to address this emerging opportunity and make it both easy and seamless to leverage the benefits of syndicated content. Flock is obviously taking a stab at it, both in the browser and in how we’re architecting our web real estate (or should I say faux estate?). In my view, Flock is an API aggregator that lives and breathes syndicated content. Yeah sure, it’ll load up webpages like any other browser, but it’s how we expose web services and feed content that’s really exciting and new.

So now I’m curious. As hourly Flock builds aren’t terribly stable, I’ve been without an aggregator for some time and so I’ve probably gotten behind in personal aggregation trends. How have you guys been managing your feeds? I notice that I get a lot of traffic from Bloglines and Rojo, so what are the key features you’re dying for in a syndicated content app?

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: Molly.com (YC W18), Uber, Google.

7 thoughts on “On Integrated Feed Reading”

  1. First off, I’m a noob, so take this for what it’s worth. (I tracked in via Flock Radio, BTW. I’ve been using Flock about a week and I love it.)

    I’ve used NetNewsWire for about 18 months, and I’ve tried Firefox and Safari’s readers (and I absolutely agree with your assesment of those two). I have about 150 feeds in my NNW. What I’d really like is some powerful search capability *within* my feed stream. I don’t have time to wade through 150 feeds a day for interesting or important content.

  2. To be honest, i’ve been using the google homepage. I find that viewing everything in that manner helps me read the most the fastest.

    I didn’t read the whole thing though, been busy all day. Sorry. I’ll probably re-comment or make a post about this because i think you people are on to something.

  3. I know what you’re saying – but isn’t a ‘browser’ supposed to be just that? Search = Google, Browser = IE/FF/Flock and RSS = NNW/PulpFiction etc. All Internet activity doesn’t have to happen through a browser window – I don’t mind using more than one application.

    Having said that, I think what you’re doing with Flock is taking a browser and making it into a Web Tool (need a better name than that though!) that allows people ‘Find – Read – Comment – Track’ through the various API’s for blogs, search and bookmarking. When Flock finds its feet and starts telling people it’s NOT A BROWSER I think it’ll have much more success – especially since you’re building an on-line app component as well as an installable one.

  4. I do most of my blog-and-other-feed-reading in Thunderbird. It was counter-intuitive to set up, but it’s simple, functional and doesn’t require a lot of thought to use.

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