Dave Winer wrote that "Every blog should have a Subscribe button."

Before the mass adoption of social networks you would have been hard pressed not to find a site with some variant of the RSS icon. Now it's just the "follow us here" badges asking you to go to someone else's property.

People got out of the habit of following actual sites so RSS buttons largely disappeared.

I've been thinking about this for a while and wondering how and where to reintroduce a button or link to this effect.

Last night, while remodelling the footer menus (not that you'd actually notice) I added a "Subscribe" link which points to the site's RSS feed. In future, I think this may become a page giving different options but it'll do for now.

  1. canion says: #
    @colinwalker the problem with the subscribe buttons have always been workflow. For non-nerds, it was not apparent what to do with it. Sometimes it would even just load the XML, or try to save the RSS file – and now browsers have dropped what support they did have for RSS.
  2. frank says: #
    @colinwalker The thing with RSS is what happens after you click the button. In Chrome, you get the XML feed. In Firefox a “Choose your reader” dialog. That’s too difficult for casual visitors and non-tech people. Facebook/Twitter made it easy. Yay for silo-thinking on that part!
  3. colinwalker says: #
    @frank @canion Absolutely! There needs to be a better, easier way to use the buttons before they become popular again. Social networks let you write and consume in the same UI, that’s why m.b works so well even though you are subscribing to a feed when following someone.
  4. vasta says: #
    @colinwalker Grappled with that recently when I re-designed my site; ended up putting a “feed” link in the top right of the header. I’ve had three people ask me what that meant since then; subscribing to feeds definitely has fallen out of parlance.
  5. amit says: #
    @vasta @colinwalker Google’s initial attempts (i.e. when it was still in love with RSS – Reader days) did try to solve that. Especially Feedburner provided an easy to understand and follow interface.
  6. colinwalker says: #
    @mrkrndvs Not so much, more like what happens when you actually click on the subscribe button. As @canion said, now that feed support has largely disappeared from browsers many don’t know what to do with them.
  7. mmarfil says: #
    @colinwalker Maybe what you’re looking for is some sort of “open with” action. So while clicking the subscribe link, a popover or something would show up with the following content:

    Subscribe with [Service Dropdown]
    Descriptive text

    The dropdown menu would contain many RSS services (Feedly, Feedbin, FeedWrangler, etc) that the user could pick, then after doing that, you could take them directly to the selected service (if url scheme/api) was available.

    As for the descriptive text, it would explain what RSS is and its benefit, possibility linking to some sort of documentation.

  8. frank says: #
    @mmarfil Are you sure you want users to make a choice between Feed readers? Most of them don’t even know what they are, that’s why RSS failed in the first place. I’d opt for a in-browser or in-phone solution. Kind of like Podcasts on iOS now.
  9. frank says: #
    @mmarfil You’re right, we need the support from the big boys. My experience with RSS has been that even explaining it makes it hard to start, understand ánd keep the usage up. I’ve written countless articles and gave presentations and workshops on it but it didn’t help.
  10. mmarfil says: #
    @frank but that’s not something you can control. That’s up to Apple, Google, Mozilla. What I suggested is a way to educate users and make it easier if you already use some of those services.

    As for not knowing what RSS is, that’s what the descriptive text is for. If you just put an RSS button there, you can’t expect uncle Joe will understand what’s that for.

  11. colinwalker says: #
    @mmarfil @frank The only problem is we went through all this before, browsers got on board and various solutions were created only to be dropped when ‘social’ became the new shiny. I’m not convinced the major players will want to retread old ground.
  12. Zsolt Benke says: #
    @colinwalker I did the obvious thing: there is a big Subscribe button in the header with the classic RSS glyph. Some people know what to do with it, well, others don’t. It’s still better than writing manuals about how to subscribe to RSS.
    I’m not sure how we could solve this, but I remember it was a problem with indie blogs back in 2007 as well.
  13. nitinkhanna says: #
    @colinwalker @vasta thinking about this, an obvious solution is to support a cross-browser in-browser RSS feed reader that one links to on our sites instead of just dumping the RSS feed link. The more universal its use gets, the easier for non-geeks to get used to ‘subscribing’ to feeds.
  14. nitinkhanna says: #
    @colinwalker @vasta the alternative is that m.b makes a browser app that lets people subscribe to any feed. If someone feels like commenting, a popup comes that says, “you can make a free account on m.b to comment, which allows 20 free original posts per month, and paid after that”
    But is that fair to m.b?
  15. I know this isn’t what you’re after, but have you thought of adding email subscription? Some people (especially those who don’t know what RSS is) prefer that. I think it’s good to offer both.

    In the meantime, you could also add a short tutorial about how to use RSS on your subscribe page for those who want to learn.

  16. nitinkhanna says: #
    @colinwalker the in-browser solution can be very easy. We just need to agree on an in-browser app that we all can then direct traffic to. Losses? No sync, no mobile, some have fallen out of development, etc.
  17. nitinkhanna says: #
    @manton I see the rel subscription on Aaron’s site, but it seems very hacky. Perhaps it works perfectly with RSS readers? But like I said to Colin, it would be infinitely better if that button were to work with microblog, or an in-browser RSS reader.
  18. solari says: #
    @nitinkhanna @colinwalker @vasta In lieu of that, as an interim solution I’m wondering if the way with the least friction is to have a Feedly subscribe button that’ll automatically add the site to their feeds (and/or set up a new account via their web RSS reader). I prefer Feedbin but I suggest Feedly since it is free and seems to have the tools to make it easiest for users to use/subscribe to on the fly. (P.S. At the moment the Feedly subscribe button is reporting an error, I’ve reported it to Feedly as I know it’s worked earlier).
  19. nitinkhanna says: #
    @solari my problem with that is exactly as you mentioned. Should it be feedly or feedbin or some other? Why not have a page called “Follow me” with all these links on it? I removed everything like that from my WP blog because most people who know RSS have some way to quickly get to my feed. I know it’s a bit of a cop out.
  20. solari says: #
    @nitinkhanna I only suggested Feedly because of that easy to use button, it’s free, and it uses their Google/Facebook, etc. account (if preferred) to set up a new account on the fly and has decent web-based reader and apps. I’m thinking what is the least friction to get them in the door?
  21. simonmumbles says: #
    @nitinkhanna @solari It might be worth investigating an agreed-upon widely-used page template for indie blogs that both gives the reduced friction option and the option that involves more work (i.e. reading about RSS, seeing the links to the feeds). There could even be a link to a website that acts as the source of information for this page template; something like how Derek Sivers got the whole Now page idea moving.
  22. oyam says: #
    @nitinkhanna @colinwalker @manton I liked the feed:// protocol alias to http that some used while ago. It’s not semantically great, but it works. Any app that can read feeds can register a handler, so people with feeds are covered. JavaScript (not great, but works) can detect when there are no handlers and you can direct people to a page with explanation or whatever you want. The contr is are in hands of app developers, site owners, and end users, instead of the big boys (aapl, goog, Mozilla)

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