Feed Readers Kill Design

In [Jason Santa Maria](http://www.jasonsantamaria.com/)’s talk today at [An Event Apart](http://www.aneventapart.com/) he outlined the latest thinking in design fundamentals for expressing your brand and identity through web design. However when his slide came up entitled “Sweat the Small Stuff” and he explained simply that **the details really do matter**, I couldn’t help but think about how increasingly more and more people are experiencing websites through someone’s lens like a feed reader, aggregator or even Facebook, in which a designer’s carefully crafted details, which collectively go not only to supporting your brand, but also the usability of your content, gets completely lost, or in some cases even perverted.
Curious to see how majordojo is experienced by most people, I did a quick survey of how [my very simple design](http://www.majordojo.com/2007/10/attending-an-event-apart.php) is seen via today’s most popular feed readers:
Majordojo through Bloglines
majordojo as seen in Bloglines

Majordojo through Google
majordojo as seen in Google Reader

Majordojo through Sage
majordojo as seen through Sage

Majordojo through Newsgator
majordojo as seen in Newsgator

So if design matters, which it does of course, then why can’t these readers respect the design I choose from my content. Granted, from a pure usability point of view I think I could make a pretty compelling argument that it is in the user’s best interest to make *all* content, regardless of its source, completely uniform. But what if you look at this from a less myopic point of view? How can we appease the need for usability, but also respect the designer’s intent from the source web site?
And can this possibly be solved by technology?
Well, maybe. We already have a mechanism to define how a site should appear when printed via a web browser, or when accessed via a mobile device… why not use the same mechanism to help instruct readers in rendering my content within the context of their application?
Granted, the reader should be allowed to apply constraints to my content for aesthetic, usability and security reasons… but why can’t some of a designer’s carefully chosen fonts, colors, imagery, and detail bleed through? Why can’t there be a middle ground that respects usability and design intent equally? Or is that even possible?

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3 Comments on “Feed Readers Kill Design”

  1. I think it comes from a gross indulgence in making RSS into something that it isn’t. RSS was a way to inform people that you had new content on your site, yet the vehicle for distribution no longer carries just the indicator of new content, but also the content.
    Sadly, it’s now expected that RSS feeds provide all the content, rather than just an update. While this makes it far easier for the consumer, the content provider loses out on the design of the content and how it’s supposed to be presented. Feed readers and aggregators treat your content like plain-text email, devoid of implied design. The thing you should be debating isn’t whether the feed reader should get your design, but if the feed reader should get the content.
    Depending on the context of your content, I’m all for partial content in feeds. Then I’m not losing the context your supposed to get on the site. A List Apart does this, and it works well. Most of the time, you have to go to the site to see the examples, so that works well.
    But for other, you can get the meaning of what’s written solely from the words. There’s no need to go to NFL.com to read a story about the Colts, since the design does nothing to help or hinder the context of the story.
    Sadly, the hAtom microformat makes it easy to do the opposite of what you propose. It’ll let other people repurpose your content into a look that they desire. A greasemonkey script in Firefox would render your site just like Google Reader.
    I would love to bleed my design into the feed, but it looks like the world wants to get it it the other way around.

  2. devwild says:

    It may be an extended use of RSS, but I wouldn’t say overuse. Quite honestly, RSS used as an update notification is simply not useful to me. Until enough of my feeds provided content, I still had to open and read all the individual blogs, which for a handful of sites was easier to just use Firefox’s “Open All in Tabs” feature, and flick through them that way. On a mobile device it was useless because I still needed to view the article on a PC. I think the current use is a sign of a need for alternative ways to conglomerate data.
    Then we come back to the original post. If the data feed has flow control, you risk the integrity of the rest of your feed. RSS allows for basic data and image distribution to any device, and you can’t allow for layout of its content with out sacrificing the reliability and flexibility provided by the simplicity of rss as is. Expecting the user to constrain this data, or the programmer to provide alternative views for different devices simply is not reasonable to expect. The web itself and the failed mobile internet endeavors over the years are proof of this.
    If you wish for your readers to enjoy the rich content and layout of your site, I really don’t see an alternative to simply providing compelling content which will lead them there. That is the only place you will ever maintain some semblance of control.
    Maybe not even then – before RSS, I used to use cron scripts to extract chunks of certain websites and place them on a single page for daily review. On OSX, Safari is bringing that functionality to the common user by allowing them to create widgets from page sections.

  3. It’s kind of funny that at the same time while you were making this post, Nick Bradbury and Sam Ruby were having the same conversation from a different angle. (Or was Nick at your An Event Apart and he’s just not admitting it?)
    http://nick.typepad.com/blog/2007/10/sanitizing-css-.html
    http://www.intertwingly.net/blog/2007/10/04/Stripping-Styles
    http://nick.typepad.com/blog/2007/10/response-on-str.html
    It’s a tricky problem sorting out what is safe and useful. Like so many things in syndication and feeds things are much harder then they appear.


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