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Best Practices for Feeds

John Panzer is an old compatriot from my AOL days in Mountain View (although I have to admit - I never got to work with John as closely as I would've liked. We always seemed to just miss each other on projects, or be off working on different bars of the same Gantt chart.) But the fact that John is still at AOL is one of the things that gives me great hope for the ol' mothership. John's a smart guy: he's knee-deep in the Microformats efforts, and he's just posted some best practices for constructing, serving and offering RSS & Atom feeds from your property/product/website/whatever. John says:

The following may be useful if making the pipes work is your job, and:
  • You need to produce RSS or Atom feeds.
  • You consume feed data.
  • You cache, proxy, or transform feed data.
  • You present feed data to an end user.
  • You need to create feed extensions.
  • You want to provide open, standard APIs for your data.
There's some good stuff in there (although a couple of the links seem to point to AOL internal locations.)

While John does make a couple of suggestions with user experience impact (see autodiscovery or 301 permanent redirect) none of his recommendations are specifically geared toward facilitating user consumption. I'd love to see a complimentary set of best practices around feeds user experience. (Ahem, are you listening Mr. Laaker™?)

Here are a couple of my suggestions for additions in that area:

  • Consider using the standard Feed Icons to indicate the presence of a subscribable feed on your site. (And pay attention to the usage guidelines, even though they're more like brand guidelines for the icons; I'd really appreciate some suggestions about where to place the icon, what text labels should accompany it or what the suggested course of action should be when you click on the icon.
  • Provide a styled and human-readable view of your feed from within the browser. (John hints at this with his suggestion: 'Consider XSLT style sheets.')
  • Include scaffolding information for new or potential feed users: tell them 'what is this?' as well as 'what can I do with it?' and suggest some tools for consuming feeds. Provide a link to more information.



This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 13, 2006 3:03 AM.

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