RSS Feeds and a New Perspective on User Experience

Last week, I received an email from a visitor to the site letting me know that my “Subscribe” link was broken. As a blogger, this was one of those “Code Red, OMGWTFBBQ” moments. I wanted to fix it quickly so all three dozen of you who subscribe to my RSS feed can get the next awesome piece of news I was going to drop, such as my story on budgeting and KitKats.

As I headed to my website to diagnose the problem, all seemed well. No issues or anything of that sort. I double-checked my site via a couple of feed readers. Everything was in order.

It turns out that the feed wasn’t broken at all. However, the user experience (UX) was.

First, the word “Subscribe” doesn’t necessarily mean “RSS Feed” to the average visitor (in this case, an email form was expected). Second, when clicking on the link without some sort of browser extension for feeds, most visitors are presented with a bunch of XML code.


I can certainly see how that would seem broken.

When you’ve been in the development world long enough, it’s easy to overlook these UX problems. It was easy for me to assume that my readers see things through the same lens that I do. That’s why it’s so important to continually reevaluate what we do as web developers.

Remembering my early days of learning web development, I recall messing around with styling XML. It was years ago, but I knew that it was possible. So, I went on a journey over the weekend. Ultimately, I created a custom design for my feed:

Screenshot of a styled RSS feed.

It took a bit of studying on how to use an .xsl file to transform my XML code into HTML. Then, I just needed to put a coat of paint over it with CSS.

But, that wasn’t enough. I also needed to add a message that explained what the heck a feed was to visitors who had never heard of the technology before. That was pretty easy to do by just plopping in a custom message in the .xsl file.

I learned something new. But, more than that, it forced me to evaluate something I haven’t given much thought to from the visitor’s perspective. It was certainly a productive weekend.

As others stumble upon my feed in the future, maybe we’ll have more converts to a technology that some have said has been dead for years.