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RSS v Web Feeds: sticking up for Microsoft

RSS v Web Feeds: sticking up for Microsoft

Duncan Riley> In case you’ve missed it there is a storm in a tea cup brewing in the blogosphere over the decision by Microsoft to use the term “web feed” in place of RSS in the new version of Internet Explorer (IE7, currently in beta) and in Windows Vista.

Not surprisingly, the usual suspects have chimed in with their anti-Microsoft rants, including former blog god Dave Winer (former thanks to the new rankings over at Feedster) who believes its another example of Microsoft trying to dominate the world. No I’m no huge Microsoft fan myself, but just for once I’m on Microsoft’s side because most people don’t get RSS, and most people never will.

Only Monday I posted the result of the latest Nielson NetRatings survey results that found 66% of people don’t know what RSS is and only 11% of people use RSS feeds, that’s 89% of people who don’t use RSS feeds. A study I posted back on August 5 from Forrster Research found that only 2% of Americans use RSS feeds. July 21, a study from Pew Internet found that 91% of Americans had no idea of what RSS was.

See the trend? RSS as a promotional concept isn’t working. Sure, the technology is great, but numbers talk. Even here at the Blog Herald and across the Weblog Empire blogs I’ve had to implement a range of subscription buttons to cater for the fact that there are a lot of readers out there using RSS who don’t actually know how to take a RSS feed and use it to subscribe to the blogs in question. Put an RSS or XML orange button on your blog alone and I’ll promise you now that on a level playing field of equal traffic your going to get less people reading your feed than you’ll get if you compliment it with subscription buttons.

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But back to Microsoft. Microsoft have always had a canny ability to measure and understand mass market appeal through the way it both markets its products, and through how they work. Language is an important concept of marketing that Microsoft gets. Take a look at any number of successful Microsoft product names and look at their commonality of structure, they are all short, memorable and easy to roll off the tongue. RSS sound like morse code, where as web feed sounds smoother, is easier to remember, and like key Microsoft products functionally describes what the item is as well as providing a name for it (think Word=wordprocessing, Windows=a window based GUI). What would you rather use when describing a concept to somebody who doesn’t know a thing about this: RSS or web feed? We already use the term “feed” in describing a “RSS feed”, so web feed, or even feed for short would work a lot better. If people who support RSS/ XML technologies are serious about promoting their use amongst the mass market, they’ll embrace and support Microsoft’s push, because without a new marketing tag RSS will continue to confuse and will remain a niche product. Although using a variation of “Site Feed”, even Google agrees.

View Comments (7)
  • Webmasters need to standardise the way in which they advertise XML/RSS feeds. Not everybody uses the ‘big orange button’ approach, so I often find myself scouring a web page looking for the feed address. On some occassions, I’ve had to view the page source to locate the feed address – for less canny visitors, this isn’t an option.

    Since the BBC news website added RSS, they’ve carried the big orange button, with a link to their ‘What Is RSS?‘ page. This has a user-friendly explanation of RSS and links to all of their popular RSS feeds. If more sites adopted this approach, maybe RSS would hit the mainstream – I can’t imagine life without it!

    By the way, I’ve written a three-part introduction to RSS for my website to explain the technology to non-techies. If you’re looking for a quick primer on RSS, please stop by!

  • Dave Winer and Scoble are going to lose this one. Engineering terms always get replaced with soft marketing ones when the serious money gets involved. Over on Windows Visa blog I’ve suggested “Pulls” or “Pulldowns” or “Pullits” to emphasize the pull-down nature of feeds, as opposed to the “push” tendency of emails and newsletters. Jane Kim’s use of “Web Feeds” won’t last either because it’s two words when one will do.

  • I wouldn’t see any problem with the word “feed” myself, but this may be just because I’m used to it. However, when I speak of RSS, I tend to use “feed” for purposes of easiness, as I consider that it probably seems less “geeky” to people who’re not too web-savvy. Everything considered, it likely is. No problem with the “web feed” word for me here, it’s not the fanciest marketing-trendish-fashinon-y word ever created, but it’s easy to keep in mind.

    Come to think of it, fortunately it’s Microsoft we’re talking about, else we would end up with iFeeds.

  • Erf, no thanks! I already feel like barfing whenever I see a Nth drawing/ad imitating the iPod ones just “to look cool”. I can only take that much! ;)

  • I’m not really sure what all the hub bub is about…companies do this all of the time. Apple rebranded 802.11g as something funny like “Airport.” IEEE 1394 = firewire (Apple started this one?) = iLink (Sony?). I think one notable exception is USB…that name has stuck and doesn’t look like it’s going to be replaced by anything weird like “BlockPort” or “EasyConnect”.

    When it comes to making friendly names for stuff, Microsoft seems to go out of their way. I mean look at the name “Windows Vista.” If that doesn’t have marketing speak oozing out of it, I don’t know what does. I work for MSN TV (a division of Microsoft) and can’t begin to count the hours we’ve spent in meetings arguing over what we’re going to call a setting or how we’re going to word sentences in help text (and I work in Test, not UX!!). Anyway, making things “friendly” is always the way to go…that’s how we have cars, telephones, Tivos (death to the VCR Timer!), and other interesting and neat tools for the modern world.

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