I've had this happen a couple of times now, so I know I'm not alone: I monitor a lot of web feeds (RSS/Atom/RDF) using Mozilla Firefox's "Live Bookmarks" feature. Firefox is not the best web feed viewer, so I also recently started use RSSOwl, but my list of feeds in the browser far outweighs the list of feeds that I track using RSSOwl, and there doesn't seem to be an easy way to export the Live Bookmarks to OPML for importing into RSSOwl. Thus, I haven't made the switch over to a dedicated web feed aggregator... yet... Anyway, as part of my morning ritual, I usually go get a nice and hot beverage, open up Firefox and check all my feeds to see if there are any new entries I might like to read. The way it's supposed to work, Firefox lists the most recent entries first, so I usually just remember the title of the last entry I've read and base my scanning off of that. This can lead to problems though.

Check out the W3C feed. As of 2005-10-20, the feed has the following first three entries:

<item rdf:about="http://www.w3.org/News/2005#item137">
<title>W3C Office Opens in Australia</title>
<description>2005-10-06: W3C is pleased to announce the CSIRO ICT Centre in Canberra hosts the W3C Australian Office effective 10 October....</description>

<item rdf:about="http://www.w3.org/News/2005#item142">
<title>W3C Process Document Published</title>
<description>2005-10-19: The 14 October 2005 W3C Process Document is operative. Reviewed by the W3C Membership and staff and produced by the Advisory Board, the Process Document describes the structure and operations of W3C...</description>

<item rdf:about="http://www.w3.org/News/2005#item141">
<title>Working Draft: Mobile Web Best Practices
<description>2005-10-17: The Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group has released the First Public Working Draft of Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0... </description>


I'm not expert on RDF, the above looks ok to me since they do mark each item with the proper date despite being out of order chronologically. The problem is that Firefox simply lists the items in the order they are seen in the feed. Since I've already read the "W3C Office Opens in Australia" item, I don't even bother looking down the list of other items, since in my mind they must be older items (which I would have also already read). In this case, since October 6th, every time I had checked the feed I failed to discover any new entries and thought there was no activity. And this is not the first time I've had this problem with a "sticky" entry/item in a feed.

The above situtation is a combination of several factors: 1) My mind being lazy enough not to scan down the list of all items and try to remember whether I've read any of them, 2) Firefox listing items in order of appearance (not reverse chronologically), and 3) the W3C forgetting to bump down the Australia item in their feed. Maybe none of these things are strictly incorrect (again, I'm no expert on RDF), yet they all conspire together to wipe out the usefulness of the web feed in general for me.

Worse, the feed does not give any information about who to contact to update the feed. This is a major area of disconnect for web authors and their readers (who then have to go to the parent website, search for contact information and send off an email or leave a comment, if the reader can be bothered at all). Of course I don't expect authors to put their contact information directly into the feed thanks to all the evil spammers out there, but somehow this problem should be solved. It remains to be seen how quality feedback is going to work in the new web syndication universe.

I guess the only real option for me right now is to move over to a dedicated aggregator which actually tracks entries that I've read (and allows sorting by date), but I find checking my web feeds from within the browser so much more convenient since I use it for so many other things (checking email, searching the web, participating in online forum discussions, etc).

§168 · October 20, 2005 · Software, Technology, Web, XML · · [Print]

Leave a Comment to “Syndication Quibbles”

  1. Rob says:

    I had the same experience trying to go to a dedicated feed reader. I was actually about to go get rssowl since I hadn’t heard any complaints from you yet.