More on Navigation Habits within Feed Readers

Yesterday I wrote about how I noticed a lot of folks using their feed readers as navigation tools to my site instead of using the navigation that I provide directly on the site. I feigned sadness at my loss of control, and I pretended that I was upset about it. Today I’m going to explain […]

Yesterday I wrote about how I noticed a lot of folks using their feed readers as navigation tools to my site instead of using the navigation that I provide directly on the site. I feigned sadness at my loss of control, and I pretended that I was upset about it. Today I’m going to explain why I’m not upset about this loss of control, and why I think the loss of control is a huge, huge shift in web design that will affect everything we do in the future.

“In the old days”, or BRSS (before RSS), people needed to visit a site in order to know if it was updated. They would click on their bookmarks religiously one after another and check to see what was new. This tedious process didn’t have to be done every day, both because sites weren’t updated every day but also because our information needs were not being fulfilled as much by bloggers as they were by other, larger news organizations. We could hit a small number of sites and be satisfied that we knew the latest information.

As people began sharing their experiences more and more and building their own blogs, those blogs grew in value to the point that we’re getting as much value from them (if not more) than we are traditional media. RSS plays directly into this, and allows us to keep track of hundreds of web sites in just one screen. Before RSS this was a manual process, now it is automated. This is an order of magnitude change.

I forsaw this (certainly with the help of others) to some extent in the “control” article, and the column that Richard and I are writing is going to delve deeper into this. However, I didn’t realize how complete or quickly the change would happen. That’s not to say that everyone is now using their feed reader for navigation, but those who are…are doing it completely. And their behavior has changed in a relatively short period of time. Very short. Several commenters yesterday made it clear that they have no qualms about this, and that they don’t pay attention to the so-called design of the site.

This is as it should be, and is impossible to be upset about because it’s reality. So, the chain of events is something like the following:

  1. There are many good blogs written by people with increasing focus on specific topics we find relevant
  2. There is too much good information to pay attention to
  3. RSS lets us design interfaces and navigation tools that show a really good snapshot of when sites are updated
  4. People use on-site navigation less than they used to

So, we’re replacing the old “search daily to discover” paradigm for the new “subscribe once and discover” paradigm. Also, by using their feed reader for navigation, people need to only understand one navigation tool, instead of many (every site). So, the lessons learned (at least by me) are the following:

  • Designers are definitely losing control of the user experience in terms of navigation
  • Users are gladly using feed readers to help them gain control of the deluge of information
  • No matter how much time or energy designers spend on navigation systems, it is not what users come to the site for: they’ve been interested in content from the beginning
  • People tend to do what is easiest for them, and we shouldn’t take it personally, we should embrace it

This paradigm clearly demonstrates the will of users. They do not pay very much attention to layout/navigation of a site, given the choice. Add to that the fact that many want full-text feeds, and the demonstration is complete. Finally, if we continue to lose control over how people find and read our information, we’ll need to focus more on the parts that we do control. Namely, the writing.

Published: June 9th, 2005

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