Saturday 2 April 2005

Where is YOUR Feed?

WHERE IS YOUR FEED? Syndication feeds have become a predictable blog feature. But finding them on a site can be a bit unpredictable.

Digging around in my blogroll today, I began to notice that syndication feeds on blogs tend to have inconsistent naming and design approaches, and that this was a potential problem.

So, I decided to compare the location and type of syndication links on over sixty blogs. You can view a complete table of the results here. Yours might be one of them!

When in Doubt, Default

This is what occurs when the blog author never changes the syndication link from the original blog template. What’s humorous about this is that you can pretty much tell which blogging software a person is using based on the naming of the links.

In WordPress, you’ll typically see “RSS” and “RSS Comments” as the text links (I’m guilty here). With Movable Type, it’s “Syndicate this Site.” Other blog software use terms such as “Site Feed.”

What’s not so funny here is that to someone unfamiliar with blog technologies these words carry no meaning whatsoever. My folks have been known to drop by my site and I can guarantee you that none of this terminology makes sense to them. It’s too bad, they might find using a feed helpful, if only they could figure out what a feed actually is. Are we leaving potential readers out by not using clearer, more consistent terms?

Button Button Who’s Got the Button?

Some people forsake the use of text links, or use them in conjunction with buttons and badges. Some common examples of titles you’ll see on buttons n’ badges include:

  • XML
  • Atom
  • RSS
  • RSS Valid

These buttons and badges always seem to contain the color orange. There’s a convention for you! But again, what do these things signify to the non-blogger? Not much.

The Sophisticates

Then you’ve got the sophisticated folks who are separating out their feeds into intelligent groupings. In these cases, a link within the navigation scheme of the site will take you to a complete page with helpful information about what feeds are, why they are useful, and how to subscribe. Some folks that do this are Eric Meyer, Jonas Luster, Durstan Orchard, Matt Mullenweg and Shirley Kaiser.

This is an awesome approach! It puts the entire technology in context for anyone. However, there’s still a nomenclature problem in that no convention for naming exists. Some people use “Feed,” others use “Syndication,” still others are using “Subscribe.”

I do think “Subscribe” is likely the most globally understood of the three.

Location, Location, Location

The location choices of syndication links within a given blog is definitely problematic. They’re showing up in every conceivable location within the blog: at the top of the page, in a left column, a right column, a center column, at the bottom. There’s no consistency in placement, and what’s worse, sometimes a person will have numerous links to the same feeds in random locations.

We might want to talk a bit about where we’re placing our feed information. We can do this better.

When Hunger Strikes

Feeds are useful, and I am always hungry to follow certain blog discussions. There have been many debates about feed technologies and standards, but addressing the nomenclature and design issues are also a part of how we’ll move the practical use of feeds forward.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 04:21 | Comments (47)

Comments (47)

  1. My own feeds at

    Virtuelvis – Multiple feeds:

    1. Link elements.
    2. “Newsfeeds” link at top of page
    3. Links in the footer.
    4. Links before my bookmark section.

  2. Surely autodiscovery is *way* more important than where a text link is in the page. Enter as a URL in your aggregator of choice and you should successfully be subscribed to my feed.

    All thanks to a link to an alternative in the head of the page:

    [link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”rss” href=”/rss/” /]

  3. I agree with Drew. I would love it if every site had their RSS file linked in the head of their page. It annoys me to no end when I have to go and look around the page for the XML/RSS/ATOM/Whatever button or link, then copy it to my clipboard and open my newsreader and paste the link.

    BTW, on my site, aside from auto discovery, my feed links are in the footer of the site, as text links.

  4. If there’s a link to a main feed, I couldn’t find it

    Guilty, as charged…

    /me runs off to add to the list of things that need to be fixed/changed stat

  5. I have a ‘syndicate’ link at the bottom of every page that links to a section in my colophon. The section offers all available blog, Flickr, and feeds and some information about syndication software and websites.

    What annoys me the most is a broken feed or no feed at all.

  6. What I did at was offer text links for both RSS and Atom, and next to it I added a (?) gave it a cursor: help, and the link takes the visitor to a page that fully explains what RSS/Atom are for.

  7. I think the autodiscovery concept is pretty useful, but I have two pet peeves about the current feed autodiscovery system.

    1. Why do so many feeds have incomprehensible and irrelevant TITLEs? For example, when i click on Firefox’s orange “Live Bookmark” button for this page, i have to choose from a pop-up menu that says “RSS 2.0”, “RSS .92”, and “Atom 0.3”. That’s a completely meaningless choice. That information belongs in the TYPE, not the TITLE. (Not to single you out, Molly — lots of blogs have this problem.) Since there’s only one feed, i shouldn’t be asked to make a choice in this case; clicking on the orange button should immediately bring up the Add Bookmark dialog.

    2. Why do the pages for individual entries often specify links to the entire feed as an alternate? That’s an abuse of the “alternate” relationship: the whole feed is not a substitute for a single entry. An “index” relationship would be more appropriate and could be interpreted by the browser to yield a more effective user interface.

  8. Ironically, when I opened up Thunderbird (which I use for reading feeds) and clicked to load this post, it gave me the following WordPress error:

    Error establishing a database connection! This probably means that the connection information in your wp-config.php file is incorrect. Double check it and try again.

    I don’t know if it makes a difference, but sometimes I find Thunderbird’s a bit buggy in getting posts, and my school’s network is utter crap, so it could be a problem with the connection getting to this area. But the fact that it was on *this* post was what amused me most.

  9. I must admit, I expect people to be using autodiscovery, but those links are pretty small and hard to find.

    What annoys me are MT users who haven’t changed the link values in the template, so the feed title is “RSS 0.92” instead of the blog title. This sounds like the problem Ping has just described.

  10. Darn browser autofill – wrong URL. Sorry.

  11. autodiscovery should be the primary means of making feeds available…however, an additional “feeds” page with a straight link to the rss or atom is useful if you want to copy/paste it for whatever reason (otherwise i always have to view source and go on a – albeit predictable – hunt for it)

  12. I’m not sure that terminology/jargon is as big a problem as technology. That is to say, most people don’t have any kind of aggregator/reader installed, and don’t know how to or even that they might like to.

    I guess my point is, that if someone knows enough to go install something that can aggregate feeds, then they would probably recognize all of the various terminology.

    I know the next OS X will include better RSS handling, but Windows is way behind, and that accounts for most of the users out there.

  13. Good to see someone else thinking about this! I posted some very similar thoughts on my site just a few days ago.

    I think subscribe is absolutely the right word to use, for reasons I go into on my site. Another big problem is the presentation of the feeds themselves. To someone unfamiliar with RSS, clicking an RSS link and getting a mess of code isn’t very inviting… It’s like slamming the door in their face. XSLT offers a wonderful workaround to this problem. Simply adding an HTML page with an explanation is a big help too, something I also do.

    Browsers with auto-discovery are a big step in making feeds easier to find, but that won’t help the average person until IE adds it.

  14. Psst! Mine’s in the right column not the left.

  15. Oh this is awesome. I recently launched a blog for a decidedly non-blog reading audience and I wanted to try and explain RSS feeds and syndication.

    It was one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written. Part of this was dealing with the inconsistency in display, naming and all of that.

    I’d never thought on it before, and the thing is, if we want to open things up to a wider audience we need to do so. Thanks for the post and table. When I’ve got more time I plan on really looking hard at this and updating my sites accordingly.

  16. Autodiscovery is a good path to standardization.
    syndication feed and subscribe are meaningless taken alone, sentences are more instructive.
    As for the position, since the feed is one of the most important feature of a blog and one of the most sought thing by visitors, I recommend placing it at the top.

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  18. Here’s another issue: Just about every weblog platform has several different feeds by default, one for each of several incompatible standards (RSS 1, RSS 2, Atom…)

    This is great for geeks, but when an average user clicks Bloglines’ “subscribe” bookmarklet, they see lots of choices. Which should they choose? Try it on this site, for example: 8 or 9 choices. One of them is for comments, the rest are variations (RDF, RSS, Atom…)

    Aggregators could simplify this choice, but with most aggregators happily supporting every syndication standard there is, maybe we don’t really need so many different feed options.

  19. As much as I love autodetection on other blogs, I hate it on mine. Why?

    Because my online reader of choice – bloglines – has a not understandable concept which feeds it presents and I as a blogger seem to have no way of changing that behaviour. This is one reason, why I added buttons with subscribe links to my blogs, so the user would choose hopefully them not the autosubscribe feature. *sigh*

  20. Nice topic Molly.
    I also favour ‘subscribe’ over ‘syndicate’, and agree that it’s a more universally understood word. But do you think there’s a danger of scaring off new blog readers because ‘subscribe’ is generally associated with ‘I want your money’?
    Is there any way of getting around this?

  21. I changed the default text that WordPress put in my footer.

    To subscribe to feeds, I use Firefox/Sage so I haven’t noticed a pattern as to where the feed link is.

    Very interesting topic. I love when you make me think hard.

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  23. I use “add to bloglines”, problem is I get six results all with the same titles normally I have to poke thought and decided which feed I want to use. Bit of a pain in the ass, but better than trying to copy and paste stuff myself.

  24. If not Subscribe or Syndicate, how about Firefox’s term, Live Bookmark?

  25. Live Bookmark isn’t very appropriate because that’s a specific example of how RSS might be implemented, as opposed to a more universal term.

    Steven Tew makes a very good comment that has me thinking about this some more. I recently changed the link on my site from “RSS Feeds” to simple “Subscribe”, which I’m beginning to reconsider. Another concern is that people already familiar with RSS will be looking for either “RSS” or “XML”… They may glance over “subscribe”. I think “subscribe with RSS” or something of the sort is ideal, but sometimes a shorter link is preferred.

    I may return to my “RSS Feeds” link. The term RSS is becoming more and more ubiquitous, and I expect seeing it everywhere will make the unfamiliar curious. Most importantly, I still have a page explaining RSS and how to use it, so I won’t be pushing people away.

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  27. How about “Subscribe to my Syndicated Feed”?


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  29. On Blogger users never having site feed links: what’s funny is that while the standard Blogger templates often don’t include a site feed link, feed publishing in Blogger is default-set to “yes”, so most Blogger blogs do have a feed – just no link to it. Its usually in the same place, too: [blogurl]/atom.xml – very helpful for grabbing feeds of Blogger blogs that don’t advertise them.

  30. I just noticed your feed is full-content now. Thanks!!

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  32. I try to be as helpful as possible. My blog uses the Kubrick for MT template, which already has a good layout for this sort of information, but I try to be as comprehensive as possible. At the bottom of every page, below the usual copyright statements, there’s links for all the syndication options I offer: my main blog in three flavors (a straight RSS 2.0 feed, a FeedBurner formatted feed, and an easy link to subcribe to be on Bloglines), my linked list, and my soundbyte, which is a short sweet, and to the point entry about something. I really hate searching for RSS links in a page I like, so I try to make it as easy as possible in mine.

  33. Feedburner is the mac-daddy.

  34. Autodiscovery on all pages as well as a full explanation on what feeds are along with links to the actual feeds on a Subscribe page.

    Sshh, I know I’m late 😛

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  38. Well, I am using and I dont know why my Feed has stopped working. Its link: gives the following error:

    XML Parsing Error: prefix not bound to a namespace
    Line Number 211, Column 44:Residing in:

    Any idea what is wrong (and how to fix it?)
    Plz help me out!

    Gr81 :

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