the iCite net > news / blog > a permalink

news and thoughts on and around the development of the iCite net
by Jay Fienberg

Feed readability for accidental (human) readers

posted: Dec 7, 2003 10:28:10 PM

Jason Shellen has posted a good proposal, Atom Info Proposal: Improving the human readability and understanding of Atom feeds (via Evan's EvHead). It's a practical suggestion, though I can't help but think there is still something weird and unresolved in the relationship between a readable web page and a "feed".

Usability-wise, if autodiscovery isn't sufficient (see Mark Pilgrim's Ultra-liberal RSS locator post), it seems like feed links need to be accompanied by a link to contextual help text (the link to the how this works page on as an example). Or, generally, a feed-indicating link should be for humans and should go to a feed explanation + feeds page, rather than directly to feed data (the feed page on Sam Ruby's blog as an example).

The basic point is that the human readable interaction is probably better accomplished in the human readable context (i.e., the web page HMTL) than in the machine readable context of the feed itself. So, making feeds more readable for this situation might best occur on the website than in the feed itself.

One other thing to note: some of Sam's feeds use mime types like application/rss+xml. In general, if these mime types are used, the browser will not display the file but will suggest the user download it or open it in another application.

RSS and Atom feeds are in the realm of file issues that I mention from time to time here. Communicating through files, in general, reflects human habits more than machine processing needs.

Even with files, a more machine oriented way to handle this might be for a user's feed reader software to install browser plugins that define themselves the viewers for mime types like application/rss+xml.

But, if we look at this as a user-gets-a-file issue, I think it is useful to compare XML files with other file types that are not especially end-user human readable in the browser. For example, PDF files are not natively displayed in the browser.

If a PDF file is served without the correct mime type, the browser will display it and the user will see a mostly unreadable mess. With the correct mime type, the user will either get the PDF in a PDF reader, or will get prompted to download the file, etc.

If you look at how people serve PDFs from their websites, it is common for websites that link to PDFs to include indications that the files are not of a browser-native type (e.g., a [pdf] after the link), and otherwise suggest that the files might be downloaded or viewed outside of the browser. As well, a link to get a PDF viewer is often included.

Anyway, I thought I would think aloud to my blog about this—the iCite net is planned to be very autodiscovery oriented, and perhaps browser-plugin-able as well, and so I think about these things sometimes.

permalink | comments {3} · trackbacks {0}

also available as: rss · rss2 · rdf · atom

Comments and Tracbacks

Comment by: EddieMarghidan ·
posted: Dec 14, 2003 5:11:22 AM

IE can display XML but it's a proprietary implementation, of course. But I like the RSS idea and I hope it becomes more widespread in usage so that sites could reference other sites which reference other sites endlessly... I would like to see more open source implementations of RSS for content delivery to many devices. This should help aggregate content on super-sites dynamically, instead of just building static directories a la Google... not much use to anyone to have 2 million links by relevance if they could just get relevant content in the first place. mimetype: application/pdf: Linking the PDF's is always a pain for me in the end, because the client-side reader is usually set up to display the document in the browser. I haven't found a way around that... need to tell surfer to disable that reader capability so that they get prompted to download. Maybe Adobe will understand someday that's not a cool thing?

Comment by: Don Park ·
posted: Dec 18, 2003 7:07:18 PM

In general, removing pot holes is good so grandmas don't have to call geeks like us or close the browser thinking they broke the computer somehow. :-)

Comment awaiting approval
posted: Mar 19, 2006 7:55:32 PM

Note: All comments and trackbacks are moderated. Spam is deleted. Other comments are approved as promptly as possible.

Note: Older posts no longer accept new comments or trackbacks.

« prev post
blojsom rss / atom aggregator dispatcher idea

» next post
At Tufte course today

blog newsfeeds

brief content:

 XML  ·  RSS  ·  RDF  ·  Atom 

full content:

 XML  ·  RSS  ·  RDF  ·  Atom 

blog archive

jan · feb · mar · apr
may · jun · jul · aug 
sep · oct · nov · dec
jan · feb · mar · apr
may · jun · jul · aug
sep · oct · nov · dec

jan · feb · mar · apr
may · jun · jul · aug
sep · oct · nov · dec

may · jun · jul · aug
sep · oct · nov · dec

first post: 
April 30, 2003

highlight views:
Spammers' Choice

Jay elsewhere online
Jay Fienberg - the official home page

Wrong Notes - the music blog of the Ear Reverends

Fine & Full, aka, a fine and full burger

Sociomobilepoetextologia (moblog, currently inactive due to lack of proper mobile)

to enjoy roll
sites I like to read when I start from here

· Anastasia Fuller
· Andy Baio
· Biz Stone
· Boris Mann
· Bre Pettis
· Chris Dent
· Danny Ayers
· Dare Obasanjo
· David Czarnecki
· David Weinberger
· Don Park
· Evan Williams
· Greg Narain
· Jason Kottke
· Jim Benson
· Lucas Gonze
· Marc Canter
· Matt May
· Matt Mullenweg
· Michal Migurski
· Nancy White
· Rebecca Blood
· Reg Cheramy
· Richard MacManus
· Sam Ruby
· Shelley Powers
· Tim Bray
· danah boyd

powered by blojsom

Entries by blojsim