Web Sites in an RSS World

Steve Rubel has written an interesting post about the future of web design in the face of the RSS movement and the resulting increase in the use of news aggregators. Steve’s point is that the news aggregators currently have a lot of control over how the packaging and presentation of the content they aggregate. Here’s my take, from a slightly different perspective.

rsslogoI resisted news aggregators because, for me, part of the appeal of both a web site and the content thereon is the web site’s look and feel, as well as the little extras (music lists, book lists, Flickr badges, etc.) that give the post its context. I often find new web sites I enjoy by looking at links on the web sites I read. News aggregators strip down and re-package the content of a particular article or post on a web site, but ignore the other stuff. They are functionally very efficient, but lack the pizazz of the web page in its native and intended form. All of this is fine for straight news (Google News, Yahoo News, etc.). All of this is not so fine for blog posts and other more specialized content. If the source of the content is important (beyond being merely a trusted name for headlines, etc.), the packaging of the material should also be important.

But notice that I say only that I resisted news aggregators. The fact is that I use one. Onfolio is such a wonderful program that I stated using its news aggregator functions and have continued to do so. But not as a complete substitute for visiting web sites. More as an alternative to use when I am in a hurry and want to quickly see if the sites I enjoy have any new content.

All of this design and content re-packaging business needs to be worked out. And I agree with Steve that the owners of the content will eventually demand to control the presentation of such content (I learned that lesson many times over when developing ACCBoards.Com). But an equally important issue is the stripped down, sterile nature of the content delivered by news aggregators. Yes, I can change the way the content of a blog post looks via an aggregator. But if I want to see Flickr photos and linkrolls along with that content, I need to visit the page.

News aggregators are like Greatest Hits albums. Great for the casual listener or the person who just wants a Cliffs Notes appreciation of an artist. But the true music lover wants to hear the entire record- just the way it was conceived and created by the artist.

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