So I had a basic idea, what I lacked was background. I had to validate my idea to make sure that it could work and could offer something different and unique. So I started researching existing RSS readers. What I initially found was quite un-inspiring, but it turned out this would lead my development in an interesting direction.
RSS On the PC
I checked out RSS readers on the PC, I first looked at Microsoft Outlook, a tool a lot of people have access to at work. It supports RSS feeds. This application support RSS feeds. I won’t go into the details of how to set it up, but what I will describe is the user experience. To set up Outlook to use an RSS feed you need to know the Internet address of the RSS feed you are interested in. RSS feeds have internet addresses just like web sites, you know “http://www..blah…”. Once you’ve worked out the address of your feed and added it Outlook provides stories grouped together by RSS feed name. Basically you just get a list of text.
When you click on a headline you get a little more information, and a link to a web site. It works, but it’s not the most appealing interface, surely the open source community, and the folks who created the standard could do better? In fact while studying Firefox a stumbled across something that would change my impression of a 10 year old technology.
How the Mozilla folks do it: FireFox
The user experience on FireFox was better. There is no need to type in the address of the RSS feed. If the web site you are visiting supports RSS feeds and little Icon appears in the address bar. You can click it and it will automatically show you the RSS feed. You can then subscribe to the feed. If you do the feed appears as a “live bookmark”, basically a menu in your browser where the menu items are actually headlines from the RSS feed you selected. Still this is basically a list of text, not the impost appealing presentation. There is a “browser” view which displays some additional information in addition to each headline. Here is how the BBC News feed appears today:
I checked out the BBC News feed on the Nokia N97 and I saw another long list of text:
However I got a big surprise when I actually looked at what was contained within the BBC news feed:
The line above which says “media:thumbnail” got me. There was an embedded image inside the feed. These means that feeds don’t have to be bog standard lists of text! – They can be graphical. Now using this I can make RSS feeds more interesting and approachable.
The next question was – how can I format and present RSS feeds and in an attractive and informative way.