RSS: another poor tech name going mainstream

RSS: another poor tech name going mainstream

Summary: "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." -David Pogue, NY TimesNY Times columnist David Pogue bashes the poor tech naming habits that have given us terms like RSS, EV-DO, Wi-Fi, U.

TOPICS: Browser
"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."

-David Pogue, NY Times

NY Times columnist David Pogue bashes the poor tech naming habits that have given us terms like RSS, EV-DO, Wi-Fi, U.S.B., and GSM to use in everyday life:

Doesn't the tech industry realize that thinking up catchy, self-explanatory names would ultimately benefit it in the same way? They'd sell more of whatever it was, because they wouldn't scare off consumers who think they're being kept out of the high-tech club by a bunch of arrogant engineers. The technology would catch on quicker, too. The new product would be easier to describe, easier to use and easier to buy — which, for the companies, means easier to sell.

He is not alone. David Coursey wrote last week in response to Microsoft's RSS announcement:

I hope the RSS name will go away and become something even simpler, like a "subscribe" feature in RSS-enabled apps and on RSS-formatted data. Users shouldn't have to remember what the letters stand for or what syndication means, they just need better access to information, and RSS as Microsoft envisions it is a huge step forward.

So what could be a better name? Simply "subscribe" as Coursey suggests?

Topic: Browser

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  • If I knew RSS meant subscribe! I would've use it before

    What's in a word? Normal people can understand from 300 to 700 words, if you want to put a new word in their array of known words, you have to educate them a lot (it takes time).

    I know more than that (both in french en english) and I swear I just couldn't figure out easily what RSS really meant. I guess I just didn't bother that much anyway (working hard and having really few time to read websites, I go to only a few sites)

    If I was a communication specialist for microsoft, I would find a way to put it really easy for the masses. Easy for the people who think that the computer is the monitor. Easy for the people that think a hard disk is a hockey puck. Easy for the people using only 2 apps (MSN messenger and IE)

    Each time you lower the difficulties to use it, you can increase dramaticaly the number who actually use the product.

    Subscribe, I would use it, but people could mismatch it with subscribing to receive e-mail
    Auto Update would be good
    Auto Update this site probably better but too long
    Info Update put the information first

    Anything in that direction could be good. Throw a brainstorming to find a knew one.

    The french guy from Canada
    • You want less information?

      Seriously, if you don't know what RSS means, then this news story might not have been aimed at you. Microsoft didn't invent RSS, therefore didn't name RSS. People more familiar with technology know what RSS is, so if Microsoft had called it anything besides RSS, this would have confused people who already know what RSS is, and Microsoft would have been accused of trying to control of a technology that someone else invented ("There they go again!").
      RSS is the technology, and by the time an end product actually ships with the implementation of RSS that this product talks about, it probably will have another, ambiguous name that doesn't threaten luddites.
  • Saving keystrokes at the expense of clarity

    and willful obscurity are two of the most widespread sins of the contemporary computer industry.

    PCMCIA? People Can't Memorise Computer Industry Acronyms.
  • is it really THAT difficult?

    I know that people, in general, are not a bunch of rocket scientists, but I think we can make simple associations.

    red light --> stop

    acute cardiac arrhythmia --> bad heart. Don't know what's bad, but bad heart.

    RSS --> website that updates for me

    See? Was that so hard?

    If it was hard for you, I am personally willing to keep track of any of your credit card numbers, passwords, or security codes for you. Please email them to

    Then again, simpler names would make it easy for the painfully dumb to buy your product, and that's who unscrupulous sellers want to sell to . . .
    • Nobody understands the inarticulate

      And acronyms are a inarticulate because they obscure rather than reveal meaning and because they are inherently ambiguous.

      What does ASP stand for?

      Application Service Provider
      Active Server Pages
      and of course Abendteuerspielplatz (the German for adventure playground).

      I wonder who the real dumb people are here I guess the people who are unable to express themselves clearly. Do I make myself clear enough?
      • Waah! I need to be spoon fed. Waaah!

        "acronyms are a inarticulate" - I'm beginning to understand the problems some of you are having.

        You're right - life is hard.
        • You understand very little indeed

          If I were for example to say DVB or TSV you would of course immediately understand what I mean?

          Or do I need to spoonfeed you?
          • I could simply ask you for one...

            I wouldn't know off the top of my head, but there is nothing stopping me from looking it up, and using the context to determine which DVB you mean (or simply asking you).
            Since ZDNet is a technology site (and that is the only context you provided), I would first likely guess that it meand Digital Video Broadcasting. But if that's not correct, and if it MATTERS, we can work together on clarification. Does TSV mean Tieteellisten seurain valtuuskunta? It does to some people. What does it mean to you?
          • But even in context acronyms are still ambiguous

            I have already given two examples of acronyms that are ambiguous in the computing context (ASP and JSP). There are, I am sure, a lot more. (As in the old joke "but IT does stand for ivory tower, doesn't it?").

            Generally, when someone uses a lot of acronyms my assumption that they are simply lazy and can't be bothered to explain themselves clearly. Alternatively they are deliberately trying to obsure the issue or impress in some very trivial way.
        • To put it another way

          If I were to say EDV, RSPB, DSC; by your reasoning if you don't understand what I mean immediately this means you are an idiot.

          By my reasoning it means I am not expressing myself clearly.

          If you want me to continue to think you are an idiot I am quite willing to do this, or if you like I could admit I am at fault and you are actually an intelligent person. It's your choice.
          • that's not what I meant . . .

            What I meant is this: people should be able to make simple associations once they are told of the relationship.

            You were not born knowing that a red light means "stop." Someone told you this. After that person told you, you should be able to make the association on your own.

            To use another example, if you told me (and this is hypothetical) that LPRQM is a new way of plowing that increases peanut yield, I should know what it means if see "LPRQM capable!" on the sales sticker on a tractor later on.

            Apparently, this is too difficult for some people.
          • Dont make false assumtions

            Well, you know red is known in the nature to mean poison, That's the reason why anywhere in the world we use red sign to stop people. Green does in fact means it's cool because we have use trees and plants for ages and thus we think green = ok.

            For normal people normal words are good and not normal words does not exist.

            (I do think everybody even trying to come to this website is knowleadgable enough to understand most computer acronym)

            I knew RSS meant Really Simple Syndication but was I suppose to know from the start that It mean website that update automatically? In french Syndicate mean Teamster, much to do with worker organisation. So I made the first false assumption that RSS meant a simple way to put up a website.

            Syndication = website update was not really straitforward for me and probably for many. And I'm no dummy.

            The French guy from Canada
          • Acronyms obscure rather than clarify

            I read a review of a book about JSP on Amazon where the buyer complained that they had meant to buy a book about Java Server Pages rather than Jackson Structured Programming (he ought to be careful, he might learn something useful for change!).

            I think the general rule should be, if you use an acronym in a document you should clarify somewhere in the document what the acronym stands for.

            If of course your goal is to communicate clearly rather than to baffle and obscure the issues. A telecoms consultant a while back showed with great pride his database of telecoms and IT acronyms on his PDA. When I suggested that everything might perhaps be a little easier if people stopped using acronyms and stated clearly what they meant his response was, "we need the obscurity to maintain the mystery of our profession".
          • Finite known words requires them anyways

            The problem here is that there is a finite number of known, meaningful, words in any given language, yet there is not a finite cap on the number of new innovatins that may need to be named. If RSS were to be named "Subscribe" it would either preclude any other service being named "Subcribe" or would merely join several dozen other related services known as "Subscribe" leading to an even more confused mess than there is now.

            If we didn't use acronyms, we wouldn't be able to talk about anything, simply because no one would know which of the dozens of "Subcribe" features we were actually talking about, without a detailed description of what it did as well. Trust me, the saving far outweigh the costs of merely looking up acronyms.

            Harry Voyager
            Harry Voyager
    • Apparently

      [i]"RSS --> website that updates for me"[/i]

      No, it isn't. RSS is simply a file that your RSS reader downloads at a frequency you define. It is essentially the same as a news group, except that all the posts are made by one person. It is stock standard XML, pretty much just a small sub-set of XHTML.

      There is nothing particularly special about RSS. Go back to the original internet, before scripting, CSS, forms, pop-ups, etc. and you have RSS. It's whole point was to make life really, really simple - just like HTML once was.

      But suddenly everyone wants to extend RSS to make it a 'better user experience' - yetch. Pretty soon RSS will be as bloated as normal web pages and it will lose its appeal.
      Fred Fredrickson
  • Sorry, guess techs aren't great marketers...

    ...or skilled at spewing out non-sensical buzz words. Could RSS and a slew of other acronyms be made more intelligible, absolutely. But to blame it on 'arrogant engineers' is almost offensive.

    I'd almost prefer the acronyms to the disgusting marketing tripe that tends to replace it once there is a 'rich business model' behind it. Look for RSS to become "Infogation!" or something equally moronic.

    P.S. If some marketing slug actually wants to use that, I expect royalties ;)
    • And I'm copyrighting....

      To increase interest in RSS, I propose renaming it... "Nude Angelina Jolie".
  • PCMCIA actually means...

    PCMCIA actually means...
  • PCMCIA: People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms!

    PCMCIA: People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms!
    • Do we really need to worry

      The people that can't understand these acronyms are the people that call up tech support and ask "Is the internet down?" These are the same people that open up emails of J-lo nude or files that are called your_report.doc.pif

      These people don't have to worry nor should they. People like this can buy their PoS dells and leave the industry terms to the more enlightened.