IE7: Built for Feeds

SAN FRANCISCO — The beta introduction of Internet Explorer 7 was a seminal moment in the development of business blogging, according to the organizer of a conference on the topic.

At the Business Blogging Summit, Steve Broback said that the ease of subscribing to and reading RSS feeds in IE7 will encourage consumer adoption, thereby making blogs and feeds an important tool for business communications.

“Feeds are like a TiVo for the Internet,” said Dean Hachamovitch, head of Microsoft’s IE7 team. “With RSS, subscribe replaces browse and search.”

The new browser version, released in beta Aug. 3, makes it easy to find, preview and subscribe to feeds in the RSS or Atom formats. A ‘feeds’ button lets users determine whether a site offers such content. Clicking on the site’s various feed buttons shows a preview of how the feed would look in the main browser window.

A search bar is integrated into the preview, so that users can identify how keywords and concepts are used within that content. Users subscribe to feeds by clicking their favorites button. Feed subscriptions are automatically placed in a special section within the favorites list.

Hachamovitch pointed out that RSS subscriptions go into a common content store, where they can be accessed by other readers, aggregators and applications, so that consumers will be able to easily move their favorites to alternative applications.

In a demonstration of the beta software, he showed how someone could search within MSN Shopping for products, refine the search and then save the search as a subscription in order to get updates when prices drop or new products become available.

“IE7 enables a very easy experience for everybody to have subscriptions,” Hachamovitch said. “This notion of subscribe will become part of the mainstream browser.”

Microsoft created a list extension to the RSS format, which it has publicly released under a Creative Commons license. Hachamovitch said already is using the list extensions for its Wish List feature.

Blog creators can define both categories and sort criteria. For example, a real estate agent offering new house listings via RSS could define the categories as one-, two- three- or four-bedroom house; the sorting criteria could be price, square footage and time on the market.

The list function is important for feeds in which only part of the information changes, Hachamovitch said. Without the list extension, a prospective home buyer would get what looked like a new item every time the price on the house changed, which is confusing.

There’s been infighting among RSS insiders, with bloggers accusing Microsoft of arbitrarily renaming the format from “RSS” to “feeds.” Robert Scoble, the Microsoft executive who oversees Microsoft’s blogging program, pointed out in his blog that aggregators, blogging platforms and search services use a variety of terms for content in that format.

If use of RSS and Atom feeds is going to go mainstream,” Hachamovitch said, “It’s good to give people a word that has some meaning — like ‘feeds.'”

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