Blog Readers Confused by RSS, Trackbacks, Comments, etc.

Posted on July 12, 2005

Catalyst Group Design has released its findings from a usability study on Well Spent, one of BusinessWeek's five new blogs. Catalyst said this blog was used because it was good example a new "mainstream" type of media blog. Here are some of the highlights from the study:

  • No participant understood the mechanisms associated with RSS/subscribing to a blog -- not even the minority familiar with the term RSS.
  • Few participants even recognized that they were on an actual blog -- and once they did, had a very different reaction to the information presented.
  • A minority of participants understood how to navigate within the blog itself -- with most being confused by areas for recent posts, categories, trackbacks and even the comments and archives functions.
  • So, no one understood what RSS is or how to subscribe to a blog. If you take a close look at the Well Spent blog you will see that it does not have any Add to My Yahoo!, NewsGator, Bloglines or similar buttons -- just an XML button on the left side of the page with links to several RSS feeds. Maybe if they had one of these RSS aggregator buttons more respondents would have managed to subscribe to the blogs' feed. BusinessWeek does have a link to an "About RSS" page that the people could have visited. In addition to the RSS feed confusion hardly anyone even knew they were reading a blog and only a minority were able to navigate the blog itself. That's not good. Fortunately, the study did find that people were excited by the blog format:
    Catalyst's conclusions: broad comprehension is fairly far away - and better design and terminology are essential. All those tested were optimistic about blogs following the test, with many expressing interest or enthusiasm for what had been a new experience. However, few felt that the presentation of functionality and navigation was intuitive, and many wondered why more effort had not been put into education.
    So, while some people manage to navigate blogs fairly easily there is obviously still confusion among the larger non-geek population that will be needed to be fixed in order to drive blogs and RSS deeper into the mainstream. Blogspotting's Stephen Baker says there is a a pot of gold out there for the company or people who figure out how to effectively communicate blogs and RSS to the general population.'s Heather Green notes in another post that the study was very tiny and included just nine people. That's an extremely small number but it still seems like the study highlighted the RSS confusion concerns that many blogs and articles have been discussing recently.

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