Internet Explorer 7’s Greatest Enhancement

Internet Explorer 7 beta

– is this (drum roll): In IE7, Microsoft are calling RSS feeds (and Atom feeds, for that matter) “Web Feeds”. They’re not the first to call RSS feeds web feeds, but by insisting on using the name as the primary term, prominently in their UI, MS are doing the world a big favor.

Despite its potential for push-based content delivery, RSS has only seen modest acceptance outside the tech-savvy world. Research conducted by Ipsos for Yahoo! [pdf] shows that while 12% of surveyed Yahoo! users know what RSS is, only 4% of surveyed IE users knowingly use it. A further 27% use RSS without being aware of it. This leaves 69% of web users – people who use the web regularly to read news headlines and so on – who either don’t know about RSS or just choose not to use it.

A major reason for this, I’m convinced, is its name. When a user sees an RSS link on a web page, it’s likely that he/she will just glance away automatically, because RSS has “geek scent” (aka Joe User repellant) sprayed all over it. When the name has to be explained, you know it’s just not up to the job. Worse still, techies can’t even agree on what RSS stands for.

RSS is an element of geekdom that has escaped into the end-user world. Normally, “mainstream-wannabe” technology of this sort gets rebadged to make it more consumer-friendly. Witness SMS (Short Message Service) being sold to the world as “text messages”, and gaining wildfire acceptance by the non-technical “yoof” market.

Back to Microsoft and IE7: Their simple act of taking the initiative and saying “Right, we’re going to start calling RSS ‘web feeds’” could revolutionize the web. Yep, I know that sounds like hyperbole, but there are many use cases where the typical web user would be better served using a push model for info delivery: filtered news headlines, blogs, website alerts, search updates, that sort of thing. Web feeds are just right for this model.

The name is self-explanatory: a web feed is exactly what an RSS feed is, only less scary-sounding. If people aren’t scared of the technology, RSS could finally realize its true potential.

Another major improvement is that IE7 will incorporate RSS into the browser itself, and will provide a nice, built-in viewer for hiding away the XML on RSS “pages” (see the above screenshot). Making RSS (sorry, web feeds) part of the UI elevates RSS out of the web page, providing a consistent user experience, regardless of which website you happen to be looking at.

About the Author

Matt Stephens is a senior architect, programmer and project leader based in Central London. He co-wrote Agile Development with ICONIX Process, Extreme Programming Refactored, and Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML - Theory and Practice.