RSS: A case for unsyndication

Zeldman has a new RSS 2.0 feed, but isn’t too thrilled about it, judging from a posting entitled unsyndicate:

We can readily see the benefits of an RSS feed for BBC News, and it also makes sense on sites where page layout is primarily a delivery system for writing, as cigarettes are a delivery system for nicotine.

But most smokers would rather puff than inject nicotine, and most of us used to be as hungry to see a site as to read its words. RSS feeds may subtly discourage that impulse to seek, see, bookmark, and return.

… more design-oriented, visually striking sites such as K10k and Adactio now have RSS feeds, and we’re less certain of the benefits there. In the case of K10k, news feed links gain value and credibility from their visual context.

… RSS turns commercial and personal sites alike into text broadcasting channels that can be quickly scanned like radio frequencies. This is great in many ways, but it has a downside nobody seems to have noticed.

… RSS feeds seem to have commodified the personal web space, turning every scribbler into a pundit or “journalist,” and these are roles to which few personal site designers are fitted. Some sites can afford to be judged by their words alone. Many others can’t, or might prefer not to be. Syndication is here to stay and it has a lot going for it. But something is lost in the translation.

While the power of an RSS reader is undeniable, it does seem like an aesthetic component of the web interaction is effaced. And not just in terms of the visual experience. I find that when I explore the net via hyperlinks, a term like “surf” really does apply. There’s a flow and a direction… but it’s subject to impulse, and there’s a sense that I could go — or be taken — anywhere.

With my newsreader, I feel less like a wanderer and more like an infomation processor. Of course in this context, trying to educate myself within a rapidly changing and expanding field, that’s probably what’s required.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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