I had promised myself I wouldn’t get involved in this debate but it seems every day I see more and more people giving credence to bad ideas and misconceptions. The debate I am talking about is one click subscriptions to RSS feeds which Dave Winer recently called the Yahoo! problem. Specifically Dave Winer wrote
Yahoo sends emails to bloggers with RSS feeds saying, hey if you put this icon on your weblog you’ll get more subscribers. It’s true you will. Then Feedster says the same thing, and Bloglines, etc etc. Hey I did it too, back when Radio was pretty much the only show in town, you can see the icon to the right, if you click on it, it tries to open a page on your machine so you can subscribe to it. I could probably take the icon down by now, most Radio users probably are subscribed to Scripting News, since it is one of the defaults. But it’s there for old time sake, for now.
Anyway, all those logos, when will it end? I can’t imagine that Microsoft is far behind, and then someday soon CNN is going to figure out that they can have their own branded aggregator for their own users (call me if you want my help, I have some ideas about this) and then MSNBC will follow, and Fox, etc. Sheez even Best Buy and Circuit City will probably have a “Click here to subscribe to this in our aggregator” button before too long.
That’s the problem.
Currently I have four such one click subscription buttons on my homepage; , , , and . Personally, I don’t see this as a problem since I expect market forces and common sense to come into play here. But let’s see what Dave Winer proposes as a solution.
Ask the leading vendors, for example, Bloglines, Yahoo, FeedDemon, Google, Microsoft, and publishers, AP, CNN, Reuters, NY Times, Boing Boing, etc to contribute financially to the project, and to agree to participate once it’s up and running.
Hire Bryan Bell to design a really cool icon that says “Click here to subscribe to this site” without any brand names. The icon is linked to a server that has a confirmation dialog, adds a link to the user’s OPML file, which is then available to the aggregator he or she uses. No trick here, the technology is tried and true. We did it in 2003 with feeds.scripting.com.
This ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ boggled my mind. So every time someone wants to subscribe to an RSS feed it should go through a centralized server? The privacy implications of this alone are significant let alone the creation of a central point of failure. In fact Dave Winer recently posted a link that highlights a problem with centralized services related to RSS.
Besides my issues with the ‘solution’ I have quite a few problems with the so-called ‘Yahoo problem’ as defined. The first problem is that it only affects web based aggregators that don’t have a client application installed on the user’s desktop. Desktop aggregators already have a de facto one-click subscription mechanism via the feed URI scheme which is supported by at least a dozen of the most popular aggregators across multiple platforms including the next version of Apple’s web browser Safari. Recently both Brent Simmons (in his post feed: protocol) and Nick Bradbury (in his post Really Simple Subscription) reiterated this fact. In fact, all four services whose buttons I have on my personal blog can utilize the feed URI scheme as a subscription mechanism since all four services have desktop applications they can piggyback this functionality onto. Yahoo and MSN have toolbars, Newsgator has their desktop aggregator and Bloglines has its notifier.
The second problem I have with this is that it aims to stifle an expression of competition in the market place. If the Yahoo! aggregator becomes popular enough that every website puts a button for it beside a link to their RSS feed then they deserve kudos for spreading their reach since it is unlikely that this would happen without some value being provided by their service. I don’t think Yahoo! should be attacked for their success nor should their success be termed some sort of ‘problem’ for the RSS world to fix.
As I mentioned earlier in my post I was going to ignore this re-re-reiteration of the one click subscription debate until I saw rational folks like Tim Bray in his post One-Click subscription actually discussing the centralized RSS subscription repository idea without giving it the incredulity it deserves. Of course, I also see some upturned eyebrows at this proposal from folks like Bill de hÓra in his post A registry for one click subscription, anyone?