CSS and RSS: Rivals or Partners?

I recently made plans to attend this year’s South by Southwest conference and was reminded of a conversation I had at last year’s SxSW. I was talking about RSS with someone who has long been a supporter of CSS-based web design, and he feared that the success of RSS meant that design has lost the battle to content. After all, RSS is all about content – when you read a site’s feed in an aggregator like FeedDemon, you’re not seeing the hard work put into that site’s design. This lead to a comment that TopStyle and FeedDemon were in fact at odds with each other.

I hadn’t considered that before, but it made sense. TopStyle is all about designing standards-compliant CSS-based designs, whereas FeedDemon enables skipping the design and just reading a site’s content. But then it occurred to me that instead of being polar opposites, my programs are actually complementary. TopStyle’s CSS creation enables the separation of layout from content, leading to smaller, faster-loading sites whose design information is contained in style sheets rather than interwoven with every page. This makes it much easier to repurpose a site’s content for use in an RSS feed.

Plus, in many ways RSS is an offspring of blogging, and blogging tools rely heavily on CSS-based design. Just look at sites hosted by TypePad and Blogger, or sites which rely on blogging tools such as MovableType and WordPress – almost all of them use CSS to separate their layout from their content.

So, rather than being rivals, I think CSS has helped enable the spread of RSS.

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6 thoughts on “CSS and RSS: Rivals or Partners?

  1. May be I’m “not getting it”, but is content really only the text (and possibly the images), i.e. what you can include into an rss-feed? I know a lot of people claim this (in particular more technological/geeky people), but I’m not buying that.
    To me content is more, the way the words are presented enhances the plain text. Be it the way the text is distributed over the page, be the surrounding design which creates a certain mood.
    Even if the rss feed contains the full text and most images I more often than not still visit the full page, simply because it gives me information I otherwise don’t get.
    Content is more than machines can read.

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  2. RSS might be our first chance to start applying standard naming conventions to content. Which has always been a problem. I can’t have a local Style Sheet overloading the sites own style sheet unless my CSS calls the same classes and ID’s. RSS might provide that.
    Another idea :
    I think the above idea is very key to understanding what the future of the internet can be. Think about an RSS/XML newsreader with style sheets coded to the standard markup RSS. Now think of that RSS application living on a server and consumed by a browser. Bing, you have a Blog. Now add enclosers, and bing you have a photoblog and a podcasting. Now think of tracking viewers and limiting their accesses. Bing, you have a Social Network. Add calendaring/events and some type of messaging (email/instant types) and now you have an online personal web ‘proxy’ who can answer questoins about you and what you and for you.

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  3. You might be able to argue that RSS helped push CSS to the fore; once we had RSS, we were able to conceive of our content without presentation, which made the idea of using CSS on a bare-bones HTML page more palatable and obvious. This argument might suffer from the chicken and egg problem, though. I imagine CSS came first.

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  4. I think CSS and RSS are complementary, rather than rivals. I’m looking at it from how I use FeedDemon. I use FD for reading content, but probably 80% of the time I want to read more on the actual site, or look at what else is on the site from which the feed came. At that point, once on the site the design, look and feel are important if I’m to stay at the site. So design and content are equally important in my eyes.

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