NYT Thinks \”RSS\” is an Awkward Acronym

It’s been a while since I mentioned the whole nongeeky-nickname-for-RSS flap. It’s not dead yet! Here’s the latest salvo.

In his June 23 New York Times piece, What’s in a Product Name? columnist David Pogue observed:

“Some good technologies don’t even stand for something that people can agree on. RSS is a terrible name for a great technology; it can stand for either Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, and neither really tells you that it means subscribing to a Web site so you don’t have to check it for updates.”

This wasn’t the last word on the matter…

Today, my sister Lynn Humphrey tipped me off that my name popped up in the latest issue of Circuits, an online-only newsletter by NYT columnist David Pogue. His June 30 Circuits piece, “Awkward Acronyms,” says:

“Last week, I wrote about my frustration with the way the technology industry comes up with confusing, if not user-hostile, names for new technologies, like EV-DO and RSS. I pointed out that these are exactly the sorts of names NOT to use if you want consumers to feel that your stuff is approachable and friendly.”

Pogue then published selected reader responses to that piece, including this one (author undisclosed):

“Web writing consultant Amy Gahran at Contentious.com has come up with a pretty good name for RSS: webfeed. Seems to describe the technology pretty well. You subscribe to a Web site using RSS, and you receive a ‘feed’ from the ‘Web’ site.”

Cool. (Hey, if someone’s not linking to, at least giving your URL helps somewhat.) If you’re new to CONTENTIOUS, here’s some background on my involvement with the RSS nickname controversy. I even held a contest to get people involved in selecting a more user-friendly nickname – and I was stunned at the amount of flack and vitriol I received from the geek community over that. Touchy, touchy!

(What’s a feed?)


In fact, the generic nicknames “webfeed” (and “feed,” which I personally have come to prefer because it’s both simpler and more accurate) have been getting very popular over the last year or two.

Just search Technorati for “webfeed” on any given day. It’s definitely caught on. And today, a Google search for “webfeed” returns about 174,000 results.

Sure, the “webfeed” moniker is not nearly as popular as “RSS” – yet. Still, I think its steadily increasing frequency of usage over time demonstrates that this nickname works well for a lot of people.

Good communication is all about options; it’s never one-size-fits-all. Why force people to use inscrutable geek-speak terms? Why entertain the delusion that geek-speak is normal, anyway? I’m not saying geek-speak is bad. It works well for its intended audience: technophiles. But outside of that surprisingly limited sphere of humanity, geeky terms and acronyms generally just annoy people.

Don’t believe me? Then talk it over with David Pogue via the Circuits feedback page.

4 thoughts on NYT Thinks \”RSS\” is an Awkward Acronym

Comments are closed.

  1. I would tend to agree (even though I also use RSS — and worse, show an XML button as so many do that! I will change this when I get some time though!)

    RSS is not the only format to receive a webfeed (e.g. ATOM). Hence, webfeed is more activity or user focused, where as RSS is just one technology to provide the web feed. Hence, I think web feed is therefore a better term that should be used. Perhaps you can create a little orange webfeed button 🙂 Maybe that will help it take off!