Sunday, February 18, 2007

RSS Part 2: Taking Stock

The most interesting thing I came across in the study was the degree to which people equated the concept of an RSS feed with that of a "ticker" at the bottom of a TV screen, with stock prices zooming by from right to left. If this is representative of a larger portion of the population, no wonder RSS hasn't caught on -- where's the value in being forced to stare at the bottom of a browser window all day?

The findings and recommendations for content providers are as follows:

  • Finding: Although users continue to employ “hunting” methods most often when checking for added or updated content, certain “gathering” methods (such as email notifications & alerts) are used frequently and provide a sense of value for users (saving time and effort, better organization of important information, serving as a reminder for busy people to "check in" with a site).
    Recommendation: Companies investing in RSS feeds and technology should find ways to incorporate the concept “invisibly” (i.e., deliver the benefits without any learning or undue effort required on the part of the user). Read Gossnickle et al's .pdf, RSS – Crossing into the Mainstream, for more information (Acrobat Reader required).

  • Finding: There is not a high degree of awareness or understanding of the terms and visual targets used to represent “gathering” methods on websites (see Part 1); for those that are noticed, there remains a strong association with delivery via email.
    Recommendation: Aside from direct links to personalized “start” pages (“My Yahoo!", etc.), content providers should devise and use a single, more intuitive means of conveying the RSS feed concept. (“XML” is highly misunderstood and should not be considered.) In addition, differentiation from delivery via email should be emphasized and explained simplistically.

  • Finding: Understanding of the RSS concept (as a “gathering” method) can be improved by exposure to a well-written description; however, understanding of the implementation/delivery of information continues to be a problem.
    Recommendation: Short-term, companies need to make the required use of an RSS reader/aggregator more understandable to the general public, in a positive way that eliminates any association with email notifications or content “crawls” within browser windows. Descriptions and definitions of RSS require clear, plain English -- technical-sounding phrases such as "XML-based format" and "aggregating Web content" are big no-no's).

  • Finding: The already recognized benefits of “gathering” methods (time savings, organization of information, etc.) are enough to encourage further investigation of using RSS feeds. Concerns about information overload, management, privacy and technological conflict (can it lead to viruses and/or spam, etc.) can discourage investigation.
  • Recommendation: Further promote the “gathering” concept within all references to RSS on websites, while directly addressing the areas of concern as noted.

My sincerest thanks for those who took time out of their busy schedules to speak with me. Please leave a comment if you'd like more details about the study.

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