There was a discussion going on in the IndieWeb chat yesterday about feed readers. One big point that I took away is that developers must abstract away from technical terms that mean little to nothing for those who might use a tool. Technical terms are useful for implementation: they help developers communicate. But end products should be as easy as possible for someone to use, requiring little to no technical knowledge.
An important point was raised about how modern "feed readers" should not merely aim to replicate the same features that RSS and other feed readers have previously implemented. Feature parity with feed readers is a good start but must not be the end of the evolution in the web reader world.
Feed readers are personal tools. They let you follow content on the web that you find interesting. But their influence is only on how you follow information sources. That doesn't have to be the case though. Microsub, a draft standard that is being incubated and experimented with in the IndieWeb community, has brought an important idea to my attention: modern "feed readers" should be social.
I started building my web reader as a way to keep up to date with bloggers. Then I realised that social interactions could become part of that reader. A few IndieWeb developers had already added likes and comments to their social readers. I done the same. In doing so, I realised web readers could be two-way. We have technologies that facilitate these interactions, we just need to use them and create a beautiful experience in our products so other people see the appeal. Standards should aim to help facilitate technical interaction. Product developers can then turn the building blocks in a standard into a 10x experience for those using the product.
I have been spending a bit of time thinking about how I can make my feed reader a bit more social. I have added like, bookmark, and reply support to all posts. If I see a cool photo or post from a blogger who I follow, I can press one button and both save a like and have that like show up on my website. I can comment from the same interface, too. That comment is then sent to my site and a notification is sent to the original author of the post I have commented on, as long as that author's site supports receiving Webmention. (Yes, most sites don't support receiving Webmention. But I can still show my comment on my website and share it with the site owner on another platform if I wanted.)
Here is how these features look in action:
I can react and comment on the Garfield comic all from my feed reader. If this post was a longer article, I might click Read Full Post to get a more detailed preview of the post. Or I could click on the link to the site itself and browse the full piece of content.
Also, you may have noticed the green border around the like button. This is an experiment in application state where I save a record of social interactions so my reader can save them. This is something I would eventually like to see in the Microsub standard.
My reader above is two-way. I can consume content and also react to it in the same place. This is where I see a whole new category of readers opening up.
There is one part of my reader above that I haven't really touched on yet. It uses open standards. The feed presents contents using the Microsub draft standard. The feed server saves content in accordance with that same standard. A separate server called a Micropub server turns my likes into posts on my websites. Because this reader uses open standards, my reader can work with tools that also comply with that standard. I can change to use another feed reader like Monocle or Indigenous tomorrow if I wanted to do so. I don't but this is a major benefit for people that open standards would facilitate. If someone used a reader and noticed it started showing ads, they could move to another reader. This is a long way down the line but is something I am excited about.
My social reader is far from complete. I am presently trying to figure out how to reduce the amount of steps and taps it takes to perform any one action on the reader. This is important to me because I want my reader to be frictionless. I also want to build something that proves how much more there is to explore in the world of social readers.
I am interested to chat more about this topic. If you have an experience with a previous feed reader -- whether it is something like Instagram, owned by a social media company, or an RSS feed reader -- I would love to hear from you. I would particularly love to hear parts of web readers you like and dislike. If you could build a social reader tomorrow, what features would it have?
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