Continuing where I left off yesterday, the latest round of "RSS is dead" articles is partly the result of this post by Kroc Camen which claims that RSS is in trouble because browser vendors are failing to make RSS usable.
While I don’t see this as any real threat to RSS, I do agree that browsers do a poor job handling RSS. But I would argue that browsers shouldn’t try to be RSS readers, any more than they should try to be email clients. I’m obviously biased here since I develop FeedDemon, but I’m far from the only one who doesn’t need their browser to be a full-fledged RSS reader.
I might think otherwise if any major browser vendor was visionary enough to "bake" RSS reading into the entire browsing experience and make it an equal partner to reading HTML. As Camen says:
Why do we go through the same daily routine of checking certain sites over and over again? Can’t our computers be more intelligent here? Isn’t the purpose of the computer / browser to save us time!? Why doesn’t the browser, when you open it, tell you how many new items there are, on what sites you commonly visit, without you having ever configured this?
That’s certainly a web browser I would use, but I don’t see it happening. Browser vendors consider reading RSS to be too much of a niche activity to re-design their products around it. (Aside: this is why I use FeedDemon as my primary browser – it’s a full-fledged web browser that has RSS baked into it.)
Since browser vendors are unlikely to substantially improve the RSS reading experience, I think they should drop it entirely, but at the same time they should make the benefits of RSS accessible to less tech-savvy users. Browsers are being extolled as platforms these days, so how about making these platforms more helpful when dealing with different types of content?
Provide obvious RSS auto-discovery and perhaps basic RSS viewing, and make it easy to subscribe to feeds in an external RSS reader. Just as clicking a
mailto: link opens your email client, clicking a feed link/icon should open your RSS reader (regardless of whether it’s desktop- or web-based).
If the user doesn’t have an RSS reader, don’t simply show a cryptic error message that says there’s no associated application, or the MIME type isn’t recognized. Provide some basic info about what RSS reading is. Some browser vendors could go a step further and link to the RSS reader category in their app stores.
Browsers don’t need to provide image editing features just because they can display images, but they do need to make it easy to copy or save the images so they can be opened in whatever application you like. Likewise, browsers don’t need to offer RSS reading features just because they can detect RSS – they just need to make people aware of RSS, and make it easy for them to use an RSS reader.