A recent interview at Daily Blog Tips showcased the thoughts of Coding Horror’s Jeff Atwood on RSS. It was an interesting viewpoint, and one that got me thinking.
RSS is a technology; it should be completely invisible to the average user. When it isn’t, you get stuff like Oprah redefining RSS as “Ready for Some Stories”. We should no sooner have RSS icons than we have HTTP icons.
The question I come to is: How necessary is it to display an RSS icon on a website? I’ve never really thought about it in depth before. After all, so many blogs and websites do it. It seems natural. And with the pros leaning that direction, what other example do we have to follow?
Practically the source of classy, relevant web tips and practice on the web, A List Apart features a link to their RSS feed in their main menu.
Easily the #1 model for thousands of bloggers, ProBlogger has a link to subscribe to their content displayed prominently above the fold.
The Feed Reader (no, the human kind)
At first glance, it seems there are two type of readers when it comes to RSS:
- Those who use it, and therefore don’t really need the icons and
- Those who don’t use RSS and don’t really care that there’s an icon on the page.
Granted, there are gray areas on the spectrum. There are those who use feeds but need to be reminded of their availability (though I don’t know why), as well as those who don’t use feeds but will after enough visual training.
Honestly, the whole issue makes me think of those Valid CSS and Valid XHTML buttons that I used to see every once and a while. I always think those are silly and unnecessary. Now I’m beginning to see feed icons in the same light.
Standard Technology and Non-standard Visuals
I recognize that an RSS icon standard does exist, to an extent, but there is still a lot of creative liberty taken across the web. As Atwood alludes to in his quote above, at some point this showing off of different versions of the icon becomes just that—showboating. How necessary is it?
Everyone does it—heck, I do it—so I can’t really talk. But at one point that was the case with
table elements. So what excuses do we really have? And, more importantly, how long before this fad fades out, just like the rest have?