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Strategic insights
News Feed with Style

Written by on May 15, 2004

After writing "News Feeds, the Future of Newsletters", I realized that there was one thing missing - branding.

Styled Feed in NetNewsWireNewsletter and branding are for many companies' two things you cannot take apart. And, it is not just for newsletters. Many companies only send excerpts in their news feeds - some only send a link. They are doing this because they want people to visit their site and because to show people their brand and visual style. Current news feeds take both of these things away - showing only a non-styled page.

So I started experimenting and found it is quite possible to style news feeds.

Example News feed

I have only tested this in NewsGator, NetNewsWire and Bloglines. Bloglines does not support styling, but just as with XHTML/CSS and NS4, the unstyled version should look just fine.

How it works

It is very simple, instead of just adding the pure content I have added a head and body tag to every single post. Within this head we have a stylesheet. The "description" field is basically made into a full webpage (it even includes a DOCTYPE).

One thing I found is that newsreaders have very different default font sizes. NetNewsWire's default size is about 0.8em while NewsGator's default size is the same as Internet Explorer's. In order to get consistent font sizes you need to set a default font size, in pixels - body {font-size: 11px;}

Be very careful what you do!

To be honest this article worries me and it took me several hours of indecisiveness before I finally published it. If we introduce style into news readers, we are introducing all the bad things about styling. Things like text with low contrast, tiny text, the use of images for layout instead of content etc.

It also allows us to take all the usability problems we have on the web - and bring into the news feed world. I have already introduced a few new problems with my two examples - one is the inconsistent way I have placed the links back to the website.

So be very careful about what you do. Styling can enhance and improve content. It can also break it. Just because we can do something does not mean we should and I would hate to see newsreaders become hard to read and user-hostile.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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