I Want An RSS Reader/Writer

For some time now, I’ve wanted a new kind of RSS client: one that reads and writes. Today’s RSS apps artificially separate us from the content we read. If we want to reply — if we want to participate in the conversation — we’ve got to use an entirely unrelated set of tools. This division feels increasingly needless.

Since “RSS reader/writer” is a mouthful, I’ll call these apps microbloggers instead1. I’m not convinced that they need to be limited to micro content but it seems like a reasonable place to start.

A great microblogger must first and foremost provide a great user experience. Twitter apps are a fruitful design playground that can point the way. We’ve become familiar and comfortable with endless streams of content2. We’ve designed many clever ways to manage new posts and replies, and to explore ongoing conversations. Our microbloggers can adopt the best experiences for themselves.

A great microblogger must also be built on well-established technologies. We’ve got feed formats (RSS, Atom), publishing APIs (everything from MetaWeblog to AtomPub), and a Cambrian explosion of link-back techniques to choose from. Our microbloggers can adopt the most useful technological subset for themselves.

What might the microblogger experience be?

On first run, I’d expect to create a profile or attach to an existing profile. If I create one, some back-end service will provision space for my content; I will always have the keys to this kingdom. If I attach, I’ll specify a pre-existing blog to connect to.

After creating my own profile I’d start following others, which is to say I’d start following feeds. Discovery is a tricky issue that can be punted in the early days: today’s readers don’t do discovery and yet I’ve never had trouble finding great new content.

After these first steps, I’d expect early microbloggers to provide an experience similar to today’s Twitter clients. Over time, however, I’d expect them to become fertile new playgrounds for design, discovering new interactions that could never take root in today’s closed ecosystems.

[1] Whatever these tools are eventually called, RSS should always be considered an implementation detail, hidden from the typical user’s view. As a class of apps, microbloggers will only succeed if they provide a fantastic user experience.

[2] Today, most RSS readers provide the equivalent of an inbox with unread count. This has always struck me as odd, since email inboxes are designed to capture content that requires personal attention. Try as we might, we can’t possibly capture all the world’s content for ourselves.