Making news aggregators easy

by Michael Alderete on 1/17/2003

The time has come to make using news aggregators easy, Mac OS-style. Every browser should have a “Subscribe to this Site” command, which should send a standardized subscribe rss AppleEvent (or similar message on other OSes) to the user’s preferred news aggregator, which would use RSS auto-discovery to subscribe the user to the news feed.

This is a suggestion for Chimera, Safari, and other Mac OS X browsers to have a menu command “Subscribe to this Site” (I’m sure there are better words), and a corresponding toolbar button.

This is also a suggestion for Mac OS X to have a new standard Internet application category, of news aggregator, that the user would select in the system preferences. I think it would deserve its own tab, News, in the Internet preferences panel. (This could also be combined with Usenet reader prefs, I suppose, though that’s not my focus here.)

Aside: A promotion to a standard internet tool would require that Mac OS X include a news aggregation application in the distribution; I would imagine that there are a few third-party developers who could help out here (Ranchero and UserLand come to mind).

This is also a request for all the Mac OS news aggregator application developers to work together to design the right AppleEvent; that ought to be pretty simple. (It might even already exist…?)

Why is this a good idea? Here’s the Before and After user scenario:

Before Subscribe RSS support:

  1. User finds an interesting news site or weblog, and decides they’d like to read it regularly.
  2. User hunts on web page for a “RSS” or “XML” logo, or other subscription button or link (different for every site).
  3. User (hopefully) finds link, right-clicks “copy link to clipboard”.
  4. User switches to preferred news aggregator application.
  5. User selects the Subscribe to New Site command (different for every aggregator).
  6. User pastes in URL copied to clipboard.
  7. User clicks Subscribe button.
  8. User (hopefully) gets confirmation page/screen that they have successfully subscribed.
(Brent, apologies, I know NetNewsWire makes it a little easier, but I’m still using Radio right now.)

(Dave, apologies, I know that Radio has the slick coffee cup icon approach to subscription, but it’s Radio-specific [for both user and site author], not a general approach.)

After Subscribe RSS support:

  1. User finds an interesting news site or weblog, and decides they’d like to like to read it regularly.
  2. User clicks the “Subscribe to this Site” button on browser toolbar.
  3. System switches the user to their preferred news aggregator application.
  4. User (probably) gets confirmation page/screen.
A lot fewer steps, and all of them are simpler (except #1, the eternal dilemma of the Internet).

This is an opportunity for leadership from browser authors, especially Apple, to really leverage the weblog and news aggregation waves. I frankly find my news aggregator more important to my “digital life” than my camera, DVD drive, or even iTunes. This kind of usability could make news aggregation a part of everyone’s mother’s lives.

LazyWeb, take me away!
Mac OS X
Ranchero Software
UserLand Software
Radio UserLand
Chimera Project

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