Skip Navigation

More for the NewsWire

Earlier this week Steven Frank made his bizarre RSS/HTML usage patterns known to the world, along with the complaint that “when you separate the words from the design, all blogs start to muddy together”. Brent Simmons was quick to respond, putting forth the idea of author–defined style sheets for RSS feeds… something that didn’t go down too well with, well, everyone. Personally, I have to side with the ‘againsts’ on this one; the power and appeal of RSS is in its simplicity. That, and there’s too much opportunity for the publisher to abuse the feed through CSS.

It would take literally zero effort to style an RSS feed with a background image so huge that all the bandwidth–saving advantages of syndication were moot. Likewise, a simple width statement could turn any blog into vertical–scrolling hell. So how do we deal with the visual monotony of RSS feeds without compromising the simplicity and user–friendliness inherent in the format? Brent wants to know.

Favicons have been suggested, something I agree would be quite nice, but has little effect on the appearance of the words in the feed. Also, given my habit (and many other peoples’, I’m sure) of grouping subscriptions into categorized folders, the favicons would soon be out of sight. Logos (or photos) have also been suggested, following in the footsteps of the favicon, but then there’s the matter of implementation; where in the hell does this logo go? FOAF is a great idea and an ‘Author Info’ panel would be great to see implemented, but as Mark Pilgrim has already discussed, there’s a wee problem in linking to your FOAF profile from your RSS feed. The solution to this ‘facelessness’ issue, I’ve decided, requires a simpler approach.

In adopting Safari’s WebCore to render HTML, Brent opened up a world of possibilities; allowing us to apply custom CSS to NetNewsWire by exploiting the .newsItemTitle and .newsItemDescription classes. All we need is one more class, wrapping the news items in a <div> whose class matches the site’s URI. Entries wrapped in <div class="inessential-com"></div> could be restyled through the user’s custom style sheet; easy as pie. It takes the power of per–feed styling out of the hands of the author and puts it in the user’s control. Authors could still publish style sheets for their RSS feed, but it would be up to the user to decide if they want them.

Of course, there are the usual bugs to iron out of this idea. LiveJournal users, for example, would all fall under the .livejournal-com class, making them impossible to style individually. And, unfortunately, slashes can’t be used in CSS selectors, so it’s difficult to be more specific with the site’s URI. An id could be introduced referencing the author’s name to ease the suffering of LiveJournal users worldwide (and Mozillazine bloggers, for that matter), while allowing extra flexibility for group–edited journals. You could style .sixapart-com #anil completely differently to .sixapart-com #mena if you so desired, or you could set one style for .sixapart-com and have it apply to all authors.