The Web would be much more chaotic than it already is without standards. Today we’re going to talk about how various content on the web is being represented by standardized icons. Several groups of people have come together and agreed upon these simple yet distinct icons for identifying syndicated, OPML, geotagged, shareable content.
It’s interesting to note how these standardized icons emerged. The OPML, geotag, and open share icons all base their design on the feed icon. They each consist of a white symbol on a square box with rounded corners. The boxes have a subtle diagonal gradient and an inner border which gives a slightly beveled effect.
The feed icon was introduced to us by Mozilla and is used for syndicated feeds in either RSS or Atom. You can instantly infer that it stands for a signal being beamed to the rest of the world. This icon is so popular that it has been transformed in so many ways to match websites and tastes. (It’s even been turned into a real-life pillow!) But now matter how many bells and whistles designers add onto it, the icon is a much more comforting sight than other buttons and chicklets labeled XML, RSS, Atom, My Yahoo!, Bloglines, or whatnot. Icons say so much more than words than obscure acronyms—which ordinary Internet users don’t even understand. They don’t need to!
Related to feeds is OPML, which is an XML format for outlines. Its popular use right now is listing a group of feeds. Think feed reader reading lists and blogrolls. They can easily be shared with the OPML document format. Compared to the feed icon, the OPML icons is not as meaningful, but it’s still catchy especially since it looks like an “O”.
Geotagging is basically adding geographical information to certain content, such as photos, through a link. The geotag icon is a pushpin on a globe, which stands for pointing out a certain location in the world. It’s a really good symbol (though if you read Jeremy Keith’s tweet you might think differently from now on). It’s just that the globe looks too small for the pushpin.
Open Share Icon
You might have heard about the Share Icon, which came from Alex King’s excellent plugin, ShareThis. We’ve talked about the service here on Wisdump not too long ago, but there’s been a controversy surrounding the use of the share icon itself. Thus, the Open Share Icon Project was formed to address such limitations.
The open share icon shows a hand passing an object to another hand. It also looks like an eye. This is much more descriptive than the share icon, which is a node branching out into two like a binary tree, if you’re familiar with Computer Science, and feels too tech-y for the mainstream crowd. A star could have been an easy choice for an icon, since it’s used in both Internet Explorer and Flock to denote “favorites” or bookmarks, but the act of sharing isn’t conveyed with it.
More Standard Icons?
What sort of actions and content on the web actually need icons like these? File uploads and downloads? Email addresses? Tags? Asking these questions makes me want to discover what the next generation of web technologies will give us. It could be something we haven’t even imagined before.
Steal These Icons
If these icons aren’t used, they’re all for naught. We all want some consistency on the web, especially it’s made of tons of information constantly being created each second. Especially when the technologies that provide this information are still very new. Using these icons means turning data into more meaningful and properly labeled content we can all identify and understand more easily.