RSS Is a Label We Dont Need to See

Opinion: It's no disrespect to the technology to replace the term RSS with something like Web feeds, just a friendlier public face.

Regardless of what Dave Winer—or anybody else—thinks, the term "RSS" should never be seen by the average Internet user.

I am weighing in on this because Microsoft is taking some heat from Winer, who invented RSS, and others for using the term "Web feeds" instead of RSS for a new feature in Internet Explorer 7. The new browser has a button that displays a sites RSS content.

A beta of IE7 is included with the Windows Vista Beta 1. When the new browser is released, Microsoft promises it will be available for Windows XP, as well.

Someone at Microsoft made the mistake of suggesting the "Web feeds" decision wasnt cast in stone, which opened the way for the vocal minority to weigh in against it. Now, I dont have any problem with using RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, to describe the technology.

But, RSS is only a technology, a way of doing things, and doesnt have to be the name of the feature that appears on user desktops. Arguably, the most significant factors in most peoples lack of understanding of RSS is its cryptic name and lack of tight integration with applications.

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In making RSS part of IE 7, Microsoft gave the feature a friendly name, "Web feeds," which describes what the user sees much better than RSS, the sort of name only a developer could love.

After Microsoft started calling RSS feeds "Web feeds," Google followed suit, using the term "feeds." Firefox uses the term "live bookmarks."

I am looking forward to a day, hopefully soon, when all those RSS buttons are gone, replaced by "Feed" buttons. Even worse are the XML buttons, which never should have appeared on Web sites in the first place.

For the purpose of this discussion, I wont get into how I think RSS/Web feeds arent all that useful. Maybe, Im just old-fashioned but I like mailing lists as a way to update readers of new content. Looking at an RSS version of a Web sites home page is just a less dense (and slower) way of viewing the same information, minus the graphics. OK, the ads go away too, but that wont last. And shouldnt, though Im biased since advertiser revenue pays my salary.

The "let RSS be RSS" movement sees Microsofts, and presumably Googles, move as somehow trying to wrest control of RSS away from Winer and the masses. Winer himself called Microsofts move "childish and self-defeating" though its neither. Rather, Microsoft knows something about popularizing technology that Winer, et al., has obviously missed.

Bring on the Web feeds.

Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at

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