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January | 2011 | Tech-Right Documentation Blog

At The Four Seasons

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January 31, 2011 at 7:59 pmCategory:Technology

I haven’t had overpriced hotel food for a while. And I needed to spend some time before the TSPUG presentations began.

SharePoint is a fun beast. As a user, I see the surface of what it has to offer. Then I come to these Toronto SharePoint User Group meetings to get a handle on some of the tech behind it.

The highpoint of the evening is a set of ten minute presentations. All these SharePoint experts getting up and sharing their knowledge through demos and talks.

A good time. And as for the cafe at the Four Seasons, the dungeness crab salad is recommended, the sweet potato gnocchi not so much.

The RSS and the Browser

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January 2, 2011 at 9:22 pmCategory:Technology

So, Mozilla is going to yank out the RSS button from the next version of Firefox. Their reason: lack of usage.

If you’ve ever worked in coding, you know that ripping a piece of code out of something is almost as much a pain as adding new code. There is testing involved in both. Sometimes doing regression testing is more painful than testing new functionality, although in the case of an RSS button, it seems like mostly standalone functionality.

Still, ripping code out takes work. Even if users aren’t using it that much, why bother? I can think of two reasons:

  • Mozilla wants more screen real estate for some even better piece of shiny stuff that will make RSS users not lament the loss of the RSS button
  • Business analysis at higher levels has decided that anonymous browsing of peoples’ Web sites is not desirable. All input should be first filtered through a corporate aggregator, like Facebook, or Twitter. This lets the corporation track what interests users, and serve up ads and other revenue attraction interfaces designed  to pull money out of people based on their aggregated browsing habits.

I echo the last point based on what I read here. The point made there is not that the technology behind RSS is bad, but that the user interface to access RSS is barely implemented on most websites. You get a cryptic little button which looks like the end result of a snail race, and then the average end user winds up not clicking on it. The fact that it’s a crappy implementation winds up being interpreted as “It’s not a function people need”.

Basically, it’s like having a little hole in the wall restaurant that serves delicious food cheaply and quickly, but the owners never spent any money on the front of the shop, so people walk by the concrete facade with the sign saying “RFF” (Really Fine Food) because it looks ugly and they can’t be bothered to figure out what it means if the business owner didn’t care enough to put an effort into it..

I mean, this is basic usability. This is like, first year usability. Don’t make your users struggle excessively  to figure out what something does. And don’t make it difficult for them to do a task when they do figure out how to start it up.

Dave Winer was talking about forking a branch from the Mozilla code and making a version that implements RSS properly. Heck, I’d install that. But at least Mozilla had an RSS button. Goggle Chrome doesn’t support it. I’ve never seen such a thing in any version of Internet Explorer either.

RSS is an invaluable service, and it’s not going away, because it powers too much stuff. But here’s hoping some bright people get to work on something that seems to have been ignored, making it accessible to the average non-technical user.