What RSS users want: consistent one-click subscription

Saturday's Scripting News asked an important question: What do users want from RSS? The context of the question is the upcoming RSS Winterfest. Dave Winer adds:

I thought we should try to put the focus on people who use the technology, to let them set the agenda for the developers.
Amen. Over the weekend I received a draft of the RSS Winterfest agenda along with a request for feedback. Here's mine: focus on users. In an October posting from BloggerCon I present video testimony from several of them who make it painfully clear that the most basic publishing and subscribing tasks aren't yet nearly simple enough.

Here's more testimony from the comments attached to Dave's posting:

One message: MAKE IT SIMPLE. I've given up on trying to get RSS. My latest attempt was with Friendster: I pasted in the "coffee cup" and ended up with string of text in my sidebar. I was lost and gave up. I'm fed up with trying to get RSS. I don't want to understand RSS. I'm not interested in learning it. I just want ONE button to press that gives me RSS. Like Technorati gives me a simple list. I don't want to look under it's hood to learn the mechanics of how it works. RSS sales folk speak a different language from customers. RSS designers/instruction writers need work in tandem with people who write plain English and talk the language of the customer. [Ingrid Jones]
Like others, I'd say one-click subscription is a must-have. Not only does this make it easier for users, it makes it easier to sell RSS to web site owners as a replacement/enhancement for email newsletters. Managing newsletters is a huge PITA - spam filters and the general unreliability of SMTP for large scale broadcasts has led to a Rube Goldberg nightmare. (NOTE: I'm not talking about spam, so no flames please. I'm talking about opt-in.) There are a LOT of companies that would jump on RSS if enough end users adopted it and it did away with the need for cumbersome email delivery technologies. [Derek Scruggs]
For average users RSS is just too cumbersome. What is needed to make is simpler to subscribe is something analog to the mailto tag. The user would just click on the XML or RSS icon, the RSS reader would pop up and would ask the user if he wants to add this feed to his subscription list. A simple click on OK would add the feed and the reader would confirm it and quit. The user would be back on the web site right where he was before. [Christoph Jaggi]

Clearly the current approach -- linking the orange XML icon to an XML file, whose address must be captured and pasted into a feedreader -- isn't working for many users (or would-be users). There has been lots of discussion about creating a standard one-click subscription method. Dare Obasanjo reviews some of the issues here. Phil Ringnalda reviews some current solutions here. On purely technical grounds, I'm frankly not sure which of three approaches -- a feed:// URI scheme, a MIME type, or a local HTTP listener -- is the "right" one. Dare writes:

With all these varying approaches, it means that any website that wants to provide a link that allows one click subscription to an RSS feed needs to support almost a dozen different techniques and thus create a dozen different hyperlinks on their site. This isn't an exaggeration, this is exactly what Feedster does when one wants to subscribe to the results of a search. If memory serves correctly, Feedster uses the QuickSub javascript module to present these dozen links in a drop down list. [Dare Obasanjo]
I checked, and that's exactly what Feedster is doing. Yes, it's preposterous. Nevertheless, I've decided to try the same method myself until the market converges on a single approach. Which convergence, it seems to me, can't happen until users of feedreaders reach some critical mass. Which, in turn, won't happen if feed publishers and feed readers continue to violate users' expectations of how something as fundamental as subscribing to a feed should work.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2004/01/19.html#a890