Jacob Nielsen: what about RSS?
Jacob Nielsen's written up a look-back article on the 10th anniversary of his widely read Alertbox column series.
Nielsen as succeeded in being the customer advocate regarding the usability of sites, and while I don't always agree with his views, I'd say he's generally right most of the time.
"My most-read article, " Top Ten Mistakes of Web Design ," has long passed two million readers. The average Alertbox gets 300,000 page views; the total number of page views for all columns is about 50 million. Even if I never wrote another article, the Alertbox would be a 100-million-page-view project, because the next ten years will double the readership of the archived pages.
Yes: it was worth it.
When I conducted my first user tests of websites and intranets in 1994, I was probably the only person in the world with this esoteric interest. Web people didn't care about usability, and usability people didn't care about the Web. After years of incessantly promoting user research findings for websites and intranets, the situation has changed: thousands of people now work on online usability. Nielsen Norman Group alone has trained 11,208 people and, given that many other places teach usability as well, the worldwide total is no doubt much larger. "
On the subject of RSS though, Jacob Nielsen has been very quiet.
In fact the only thing I've seen Nielsen write on the subject is the comment he posted on my 'Email v RSS, let us move on' article last year:
"There are several additional positives for email from the customers' perspective. For example:
*) Easily forwarded to friends and colleagues.
*) Easy to add comments to forwards.
*) Easy to edit forwards to only include the info you want to show to your friend/colleague.
*) Can get fullly formatted newsletter in a medium that you are checking every day anyway.
(There are several more, but these were some of the points to come out of our recent usability study of how users deal with email newsletters, see
A negative for RSS for most mainstream users:
*) One more application to download and one more user interface to learn.
For expert users, email has the additional advantage that it can be filtered, sorted, and archived, but most users don't know how to do any of this."
Great feedback, which I added to the email/RSS comparison matrix.
On the matter of the RSS downside, that using RSS requires 'one more application to learn',...great point...but there are two thoughts I have on this. First, if potential users of RSS readers understand the value it can bring, then users will learn (remember: the email clients and browsers were once new apps to learn, but their value was enough to get over the learning barrier). The second is that web-based readers are 'apps' too, but with Yahoo, MSN and other online services companies bringing in RSS to their offering (while investing in usability dollars as they do so), the customer won't necessarily feel they are 'learning a new app' - it is just another feature of a website.
My ask for Jacob is this....what about RSS? I haven't seen much in the way (in general) on the subject of the usability of RSS (this is a short but good example by Jeffery Vreen and this thread discussing the 'RSS Customer Experience...search Google for 'Jacob Nielsen RSS' or MSN and you don't get much!)...So come on...I'd love to understand Nielsen's take on the facets of RSS usability.