The Problem of Syndication

Lo many moons ago Sillyness only served its RSS feeds as excerpts.  My thinking behind this was that I did not want the majority of my traffic to become RSS readers (programs) as opposed to people.

For most site owners this would be a no-brainer, and I must confess that one side of me agrees, readers are readers and traffic is traffic.  Why should it matter the avenue by which your site visitors are able to consume your content?

It is a good question, and personally I do think it matters.

Weblog Schizophrenia

It is a fact of life that we as webloggers have to face.  We must live in the worlds of both visual design and content delivery.  The problem is that these worlds serve different masters.  As content providers we want to embrace technologies like RSS and Atom, they allow us to easily disseminate our message to thousands daily, ease of use and consumable flexibility are the order of the day.  Through syndication we give the reader the power to choose in what way the will consume our content.

But this technology also allows our readers to bypass our design.  As designers we slave over every aspect of our visual layouts, the way that fonts and colors interact with the whitespace on our page, even line-height and spacing are labored over.

In this world exist phrases like "look and feel" and "total immersion"; beauty, form and factor are the order of the day.  A visitor to my site who uses an RSS reader never sees any of this, so are they really consuming my content in the form that it was meant to be consumed?

Sometimes, just sometimes, design informs content

It's true, if crafted correctly your content is magnified by your design, the two exist in a synergistic relationship that depends on the content and design working together to create something that either one on its own could not.

I have heard arguments for syndication, and I have heard some against.  We cannot be luddites here and cry for the death of syndication, the technology has too many positive points and does add value to the web.

But by the same token we should not, must not, abandon those who strive to create something beautiful on the web, as opposed to something merely consumable.

Separation anxiety

I think the idea that you can separate content and design without detriment to the content is artificial, and potentially damaging to the face of the web.  After all when everyone reads blogs through RSS, all blogs will just be a published RSS feed and nothing more.

Now it must be said that I am a huge proponent of content, and putting your content out there in the face of your audience.  I believe quality content is what makes a site worth visiting and revisiting... but so is design.  And when you combine the two you get sites like Binary Bonsai, Hicks Design Journal or Joshuaink.

You frequent these sites because of what you read, and see.  Not one of the sites I mentioned would be as popular if they had quality content, but sub-par design or vice-versa.  It is precisely a prodigious combination of quality content and design that lifts them above the rest of us and keeps them there.

But I fear that they too will see an increase of RSS readers, and a decrease in actual visits just as I have.  No amount of quality design can overcome ease of use and convenience.

So my fellow designers, what can be done?

That is the burning question for me at the moment.  Currently I can think of only one solution, go back to excerpts in our RSS feeds.  Give them a taste of the goods, but make them come to the candy store to get the rest.

I do believe in the usefulness of RSS, but I also believe in the impact of design on content, and that my friends, I will fight for until I lose all my readers and must close up this space for good.

So if you are reading this through an RSS reader, prepare to make with the "clicky, clicky" on the more link very, very soon.  Or of course you could decide to find your daily does of sillyness somewhere else, but you wouldn't do that... would you?