People can understand RSS and still not like it

16 August 2005

Nielsen NetRatings has come up with some research on the use of RSS among blog readers and the findings have troubled some posters, such as Steve Rubel.

People are getting perhaps a little too worked up about the findings, seemingly believing that not having RSS take-up will develop into a problem for blogs and that this research points to an ease-of-use problem. It's OK, you can stick with the orange logos and cryptic syndication messages: the problems are obscurity and lack of need.

In the Nielsen study, 11 per cent of blog readers said they use RSS to keep up with postings. The others didn't use RSS (or Atom) for a variety of reasons. But only 16 per cent said they did not understand RSS. Close to a quarter said they understood RSS but chose not to use it. Half said they had not heard of RSS at all.

Most of the hand-wringing is over the 66 per cent who do not understand RSS. I would have expected a larger number to be honest. The figure that interests me is the 23 per cent that chose not to use it. This points to a way of users managing blogs that runs counter to what bloggers believe they should be doing. Rather than choosing a discrete set of bloggers they monitor via a feed aggregator, they are presumably surfing to sites directly. Why would they do that? As Robert Scoble pointed out, they probably don't have a large collection of sites they want indexing.

That 25 per cent probably use Boing Boing, Fark or Engadget or one of the other big blogs as shared indexes to find stuff then just go surfing around. There is probably a good proportion buried in the other categories who would choose to use blogs in that way. As RSS support becomes a standard feature of browsers, maybe more people will use it. But I wouldn't get too worked up about ease of use. Once you've figured out what the orange logo is for and whether to left- or right-click on it, it's easy to remember.

However, I did decide to scrap the logo as I didn't feel it made life any easier for people. Browsers like Safari 2 pick up on the presence of the feeds directly and littering the page with three near identical logos for the different formats didn't make a lot of sense. Sometimes just having a description is just as good.