Content Usability in RSS

By Deane Barker on September 1, 2003

I think it’s time to address content usability in RSS feeds. I subscribe to about 100 feeds, and I run through postings really quick, either hitting the Delete key (thanks Newsgator!) or the down arrow to move to the next item (when I’ve looked at them all, I go back to read what’s left).

Every once in a while, I stumble on something like this:

romper bomper stomper boom
tell me, tell me, tell me do
magic mirror tell me today
did all my friends have fun at play?

That was the entire entry. The title wasn’t any help either: “romper bomper stomper boom put away your vibrating broom.” Needless to say, entries like this hit me like a speed bump would at 150 m.p.h. Everything comes to a screeching halt.

What is this about? Do I care enough about it? Where do the links go? In most cases, I stop just long enough to hit Delete and move on.

This wasn’t an isolated case, either. I get several of these a day — entries that don’t have enough information in them to help decide if I actually want to read them or not. A lot of them just have a title and a link, and the titles of news articles are pretty ambiguous these days.

With RSS, this is more serious than with HTML. RSS content exists in much closer proximity to other content than HTML does. Your content is fighting for attention in a much smaller space.

With HTML, I’ve actually taken the time to visit your site so (1) I’ll probably look around a bit, and (2) there’s usually other information with the content to help me decide if I should care about it (comments, for instance). With RSS, you’re one tap of the delete key away from oblivion.

Upon further review, this entry turned out to be a collection of links to sites about the kids show “Romper Room.” That’s great and all, but couldn’t you have just told me that? Maybe just one little sentence at the end?

If you’re trying to be witty or something, that’s your call, but the usefulness of the content will suffer for it. If I wasn’t annoyed enough to write this entry, I never would have followed any of the links. I’ve got, like, 400 other entries to look at.

I’m not asking you to give me all your content in RSS, because I understand about ad impressions and all that. But at least give me enough information to decide if I want to investigate.

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Comments

  1. A great point. Another annoying ‘feature’ of many RSS feeds is entries that are truncated after a certain number of characters, leaving off important information about the topic of the post/story/whatever.

    Someone (oh, Lazyweb!) should write an MT plugin that grabs the first sentence or two of a post for your RSS feed.

  2. Here was another one. The title read “Weird World Series” and the text was:

    “Carter defends GM crops 40 years?”

    That’s it. Gee, thanks for being so forthright about the whole thing.

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