What Should You Feed Your Guests?

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Like a lot of people, I rarely visit blogs anymore. Anybody I want to read I add to Bloglines. Almost all of them offer full feeds — in fact, a site has to be really good for me to subscribe to an excerpt-only feed. The web site, in these cases, is irrelevant: It’s the content I’m after. About the only time I visit someone’s actual web site is when they announce a redesign.

It occurred to me, as I was testing a client’s site in 10 different OS/browser combinations, that perhaps feeds are an acceptable replacement for cross-browser compatibility. There are plenty of quality feedreaders out there. Chances are, a person could find one they liked. If I’m publishing all my content in a format that can be presented any way the user likes, is there really anything else I need to do? Is there any reason not to design my site solely to my browser of choice, and let anyone who can’t handle it subscribe to my feed?

I’m not sure I’ve even convinced myself of this argument, but I think it’s an interesting possibility created by the blogging/feeds phenomenon. One could even take this a step farther and publish a blog that was only a feed. A good writer could pull this off — with trackbacks and off-site commenting, they could even build a community. All without an actual web site.

Ultimately, it comes back to the same question that has always plagued web designers: Who’s responsible? Where does our responsibility to provide good design and usability end, and the user’s responsibility to learn and adapt begin?

The answer seems to always be the same: it depends. It depends on the blogger and the audience. If you find most of your visitors are reading your feed, then maybe you don’t need to worry about what your site looks like in IE. Maybe, you don’t need to worry about what your site looks like at all.

Then again, maybe it’s time for another redesign. That always brings you lots of visitors.