Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

It’s a web feed

About this time last year, I was talking to Tim about RSS and Atom. One of the issues was how to present the ideology in a way that people would understand. Calling the technology RSS was confusing, because Atom isn’t RSS, so we settled on ‘web feeds’ as a general encompassing term for the technology. In other words, a ‘web feed’ can be RSS or Atom, like a ‘portable media jukebox’ could be an iPod or a Sony Network Walkman.
Interestingly since then others have adopted the idea – The Guardian’s blogs, like OnlineBlog, offer a ‘web feed’. It’s RSS, but you don’t need to know that.
And now Microsoft, in Internet Explorer 7, seem to be adopting the name too for their feed syndication technologies. It makes sense – the name is descriptive and doesn’t show alliegence to any one format. This, alas isn’t good enough for Dave Winer, one of the people responsible for bringing RSS into the mainstream. In his post, he says:

Like it or not Microsoft, the technology is called RSS. If you try to change that, for whatever reason, you will get routed around.

There’s more from Dave2 at Blogography, with whom I credit for the original link. I don’t tend to read Scripting News as Winer’s often childish attitudes to things makes me want to cry.
As you’ll notice, the home page of this site only talks about ‘web feeds’. The feed is in Atom, but unless you’re using a very old aggregator you don’t need to know that.
Update: Ed Bott has an excellent article on the subject:

Winer thinks this is a battle, and that Microsoft is trying to change the name of a feature because they want to screw him. (I’m not making this up. That’s really what he said.) News flash: Microsoft is in business to sell software. The reason some people at Microsoft are exploring alternatives to RSS is because people don’t understand the term. You put an RSS button on a Web page, and most ordinary people just slide right by it.


  1. As you’ll notice, the home page of this site only talks about ‘web feeds’.
    Except for the menu in the upper right corner, which says “Syndicate content”.

  2. ‘portable media jukebox’ could be an iPod or a Sony Network Walkman. — OR, as most people call it, a MP3 player; which best descrbes the technology IMO. Which is what this topic is all about.
    If you want a technology to be embraced (by them techno-illiterate people) then you’ve gotta call it fluffy and self-explanatory names.
    RSS (to some sites) is Rich Site Summary. I don’t think that’s a great description but it’s OK. Atom is a “rich site summary”… So Atom can be called an RSS-type?
    Web-Feed or Site-Feed is just a lot more user-friendly. People can GUESS what it’s used for, and therefore are more likely to use it. When I talk about RSS I talk about the general concept not specifics such as Atom, RSS1, RSS2, RSS0.91 etc etc etc…

  3. I’d suggest that whatever Microsoft calls it is what will be used. I don’t think even the mighty blogosphere can compete with a billion customer userbase (may not be exact figure).
    Remember that not every blog is aware of what RSS is, let alone know what to call it, “web feed” is as near a real life term as we’ll get.
    I should now link to a post I spotted about cutting down the jargon on the interwebnet as I’m sure it had RSS in there as an example!

  4. Winer’s comment is just stupid. Why does he think the user gives a damn about the technology behind it? Most users don’t. Despite monitors multiple types, most people just refer to them as a ‘monitor’.
    This is why I avoid pretty much every A-list blogger, since most of them tend to have their head up their arse.

  5. Another great discussion and something I’m pondering over at the moment. I’m in the process of shunting over to WordPress driven site for ease of use and to allow their Admin Hayley to post entries as required. I’m trying to provide an adequate explanation of RSS/Atom/Web syndication for users. I think it’s going to go beyond a few lines of explanation.

    Personally I prefer the term “Site Feed” as it specifically relates to this site. “Web Feed” is too much of a general term in my opinion. However, I appreciate the point that if it’s a term that Microsoft uses then this terminology is going to reach a very large audience.
    Glad you brought this discussion up Neil.

  6. I completely agree that the average user could care less what kind of feed it is, just as long as they can make use of it. In fact, I liked the term “Web Feed” so much, I’ve updated my site to include it on in the main navigation. Thanks!

  7. Trovster hit the nail smack-dab on the head. People will use “web feed” because it is more user-friendly than “RSS.” In particular, people will find the multiple expansions of the R-S-S acronym confusing, and rather than trying to understand they will go with the friendlier “web feed” because it’s two English words put together. Personally I think “feed” might be a bit geekier than the average user would normally understand; I suspect many IE users will adopt the term “web feed” without even realizing what the feed part means.
    But hey, I’m cynical about how stupid the rest of the world is. All hail Kibo!