Brian Feeney

Designer & Front-End Developer

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Resident of Brooklyn, NY. Senior Product Designer at the Wall Street Journal.

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March 23, 2012

Innovate with RSS

Dave Winer thinks it’s time to give RSS another shot:

If I were Google I’d fight Facebook with RSS. Re-integrate RSS with Chrome. Make subscription something browsers support. Provide an open, clonable, simple web service that returns a subscription list for any user with permission of course so a million ideas for RSS aggregators can bloom. A browser button that says Subscribe To This. Surround Facebook with open innovation from small developers everywhere.

I agree. I really appreciate the functionality of RSS, of being able to curate my own reading list, and I’m certain most people would, too, if they understood it better. As it stands, RSS isn’t so easy for the average internet user to comprehend. It’s not obvious enough. RSS needs a rebranding.

If I were Google and were taking Winer’s advice I would focus on rebranding the experience. A few things need to happen for it to be a success. First, RSS functionality needs to be as clear and fundamental as the address bar, tabs, and navigation. Place it where it won’t be missed. Second, make organizing feeds a smooth and frictionless process. It could still be folders and tags, but designed so it doesn’t take much time or thought. And third, advertise it. Make it clear how many feeds are out there (A: millions), and convince people of how much they’ll benefit.

If done well, I can’t see how it wouldn’t take off. People are devouring apps like Flipboard and News.me. Since Google wants so badly to be a Social player, Winer might be right in suggesting they pull in their reins on RSS. What I’m imagining isn’t too far off from Google Reader. They’re close. But Google Reader feels more like a feature than a central product. It just needs all the TLC they gave to the Google+ failure.

Clearly, Google wants what Facebook’s got. And I think Winer’s right in that it should tack in a different direction. Instead of attempting to clone Facebook, it should make the rest of the internet feel as Facebook-like as possible. Facebook is a walled-in garden. RSS is open ocean. If done right, there wouldn’t be the friction of a suspicion-inducing opt-in. If you’re reading on the internet, you could just as easily be doing so via RSS.

Another thought: RSS could also be a revenue stream for magazines’ online content. They could sell subscriptions to their writers’ feeds for $1/yr (or something), or subscriptions to different sections (i.e. Financial sections, Editorial, etc.), or, for a higher fee, to bundles, or maybe even every feed (the entire magazine) for a premium price. For example, I’m sure the New Yorker would make a pretty penny selling a subscription to only their fiction section. Even at $12/yr, I would probably buy that. I would certainly pay $1/yr for just the World in Review section of the Economist.

I don’t assume I’m the first to have these thoughts. But they make sense to me and I wonder what’s the hold up?