Tue 30 May
The world of XML syndication is still a soup of acronyms and counter-intuitive terminology — RSS, Atom, XML, feeds, aggregation, ’casts, etc. — but at the very least, we’re inching towards visual standardization in how we represent it iconographically. Microsoft, in an uncharacteristic but laudable show of cooperativeness, agreed late last year to adopt Firefox’s orange RSS/XML icon — a rounded little square with featuring what might be best described as ISO-style broadcast waves — for its Internet Explorer 7 browser.
I like this icon, but it has its shortcomings: First, it too neatly sidesteps the issue of what flavor of XML feed it’s representing, which would require, in some instances, that it be accompanied by a text label. No standards or guidelines exist for such text labels, as far as I know. And second, even with a text label, it can be fairly diminutive on a page, causing it to get overlooked easily.
At the Times, we’ve been playing with a modified form of this iconography for possible use on certain pages where we need to present a multiplicity of XML feeds, like this one. Right now we have kind of a mess of buttons — one from iTunes, another from My Yahoo, and one rendered in a generic ‘badge’ style, circa 2002.
That last one happens to be the object of my continued annoyance, if not outright scorn. I’ve never been a particularly big fan of this rather pervasive button style, and so I’m keen to replace it with the new Firefox/Internet Explorer 7 standard. Nothing’s been decided yet, though, as this older style does have its proponents.
If we’re going to make this switch, we’ll need to address the two problems that I mentioned above: labeling and visual prominence. One of the very talented designers in my group came up with what I think is an excellent extension of that icon, which changes the chiclet-like bug into a full-width, capsule-like button.
Personally, I’m very fond of it, as I think it does a good job of staying true to the original visual language while addressing our particular needs, too. But I’m also a little leery of prematurely creating a new variant on an emerging standard, especially in an arena like syndication, where there’s already no shortage of confusing variants on emerging standards. What do you think?