When something that seems to be ideal for mobile phone use is relegated to a separate position and treated as an anomaly, the HC Andersen story of the Ugly Duckling comes to mind. How else can one explain the treatment that RSS feeds receive from mobile browsers and apps where they are lumped into separate RSS tabs or applications? When it comes to the mobile web, RSS feeds are clearly not treated as equals of web sites or apps. Now why is that? Before we answer this question, let us take a look at Real Simple Syndication feeds.
In their most commonly used form, they are feeds of headlines and updates from news media, magazines, web sites and blogs, but they are also summaries of news, events, store offerings, magazine articles and even twitter feeds. If well written they are like headlines and the first paragraph in a good newspaper article or catalog entry, designed to want you to read the whole article or buy a product. Granted, everything does not lend itself to RSS summaries, but when it does, RSS headlines and summaries are probably the best way of quickly cover large amounts of information in a small space. And the good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of them.
Needless to say, this format is ideal for mobile phones where limited screen size and usage patterns make condensed info a plus. But how do you find them and how do you add them to your mobile apps? Here the bad news starts as RSS feeds have somehow taken on a separate ugly duckling status! Many phones and phone browsers support RSS feeds, but then often as a separate 'RSS reader' in a tab, app or function recognized by the orange RSS button. In order to read an RSS feeds you need to open a special RSS reader and then painstakingly find and add the RSS feeds you want to follow to your RSS reader. So what in many ways is the ideal information presentation format for mobile phones, has instead become a difficult to use special application.
What is needed is a user experience where an RSS feed is treated like any other application with its own app icon, ease of discovery and simple user interface. Given that many news and web sites have multiple RSS feeds, it would not hurt if the RSS app was able to simultaneously display say the news and sports feed from one publication under a common app name! RSS feeds can then become the information swan they really are instead of an ugly duckling!
Are there such user experiences for mobile phones? The answer is YES, but more about this in a later blog.