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opml, icons, and the nooked rss directory


A couple of months ago I was looking for options for identifying OPML output while going through the design stage of the Nooked RSS Directory.

The question was: if the white-on-orange XML icon is a common way to identify RSS feeds, what's the equivalent for OPML?

One answer was to use the same icon, which is in fact generic, to represent OPML as well. This solution, however, can be used when you have either one type of output or the other, but not both at the same time. Another possibility was to use one of the many different icons that turn up in a Google Image search for opml. Another option was of course to create an entirely new icon. The problem was to come up with something that a) wouldn't be unfamiliar to users, b) would be unobtrusive and c) would maintain the value of the XML icon for the RSS feed.

On one hand, the line was crossed long ago when different applications overloaded the XML icon, and even its Look and Feel, while changing its contents (Yahoo! for example has modified the original icon here and they also have a similar-looking icon with "RSS" instead of "XML" to subscribe to Yahoo! Groups, example -- there are many others, I'm not singling out Yahoo! in particular). On the other hand, there's no need to create even more confusion. Dave has advocated the use of the XML icon for the appropriate XML output for a page (be that RSS, OPML, etc), and, maintaining the value of the icon by avoiding changing its contents while keeping the look and feel intact. After some thought, I concluded that in this case the second approach made more sense: barring a particular design or business need (for which there are many good examples, but that weren't a factor in this case) simplicity was the best option. Additionally, avoiding possible user confusion that would result from a non-standard icon is definitely a good thing.

So what I ended up doing was to maintain the common XML icon to point to an RSS feed (the most accepted use of it by far) and to link to the OPML using a simple text link, enough to be unobtrusive while remaining usable for those that know what they're looking for (after all, not everyone knows what "OPML" is). As it turned out this was a fourth option: have no icon at all.

For example, check out the directory's Arts & Humanities page. The same page can be viewed as OPML and as RSS. (The link to the OPML view is still there, to the right --- Nooked replaced the link that directs to the RSS view with a small ad after I delivered the app, so essentially imagine that the white-on-orange XML icon is where the Nooked ad is).

Interestingly, this solution was also pretty good in terms of matching the functionality needs that we had (unobtrusive and at the same time easy to identify for experienced users).

Related: there's some cool stuff that can be done by using the OPML output as a start, for example, reading the OPML of feeds listed in a category and presenting a full RSS data view of them (different from showing the entries of the directory in RSS, which the directory does) with little coding. Then the loop could go on by creating OPML views of the category feeds, and so on... interesting possibilities for meta-aggregation and possibly other kinds of data processing/analysis.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 18 2005 at 8:45 AM

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