A website by Jeffrey Veen   more →

The Usability of Subscribing to Feeds

26 May 2005

I have always been bothered by how difficult it is to subscribe to RSS/Atom feeds. Consider the user experience — Someone sees an orange button with an unfamiliar acronym, they click it, and the browser starts spewing undecipherable code. Peter wrote about this a while back, and considering how much excitement there has been in the blog world, little really has changed.

Thankfully, Apple recently made Safari handle the RSS feeds, or send it off to an aggregator you’ve chosen. If you’re using Tiger and haven’t found this feature yet, look in Safari’s preferences at the RSS pane. There, you’ll find a dropdown menu for setting which application you’d like as your default news aggregator.

But that’s just one browser, with an unfortunately small marketshare at that. Feedburner does a great job of designing feeds for browsers so that they look attractive, and have clear instructions on what they’re for — but you still have to click on them to get there.

I’m working on a product right now that is full of feeds, and I want to make sure the experience is appropriate for anyone, regardless of how much experience they’ve had with RSS. Should I help people subscribe?

sub-feed.png Here's a super quick rendering of one idea. It's a javascript-based intercept that tries to explain what is happening, offers a link for more help, and provides the actual feed link. It leads me to all sorts of questions:

Lots of questions, but an interesting discussion. Is there anything we can do to the sites we build to help people subscribe to feeds? ​