The Microsoft.com Communities Team have been busy developing an RSS (and Atom) based Feed Directory.

So what is it?

Well, let's think of this way. Microsoft.com is one HUGE site. For all intents and purposes the site can be considered as a multitude / network of hundreds of sites with common UI(s) and platform(s). I can't remember how many 'pages' of content there are but it's safe to say we're talking millions (the MSDN Library alone is gigantic).

So, with all this content, how can customers locate what is of interest and then get updated as and when that stuff gets updated? RSS right? Well, RSS is good once you've located the content you want to subscribe to, but you need to find the feeds first - and trawling through the millions of pages for the RSS you're looking for isn't really...practical. The search works ok, but it's not feed orientated. So, this is where the Microsoft Feeds Directory comes in.

Say you're looking for feeds relating to Media Center. You can browse the directory structure or search the store. In the search scenario you could enter 'Media Center' into the search box. then you'd get this:

You can then subscribe to the feeds that are recommended. Which is cool.  Now, as Dave Morehouse (the Feed Directory PM) points out, this is an early release and the team is looking for feedback:

"The bits officially went live on April 20, 2006 on the Community Labs cluster. The directory can be viewed at http://labs.communities.microsoft.com/rss/default.aspx

And we want feedback! Tell us what you like/don't like so we can work on improving this resource for visitors to MSCOM who want/need Microsoft RSS feeds. Either comment here or comment directly in the directory using the "Provide Feedback" link."

It's the first time I've seen the directory and really like where the team are going with this. I consider this a significant step towards providing a set of APIs for third parties into Microsoft.com's content store and platform (something I'd really want to see, but that's another story). Some ideas you might suggest and you might like to see* in future releases of the Feed Directory:

  • Leverage the MSN Search 'Advanced Features' UI. Today I can search for "Media Center" (with quotes) to home-in on the results I'm looking for, but most Microsoft.com users won't know how to do that without the UI that surfaces the features
  • Along the lines of the Working Network's OPML-o-mater, I'd love to be able to build a selection of feeds in a session that I like the look of and save the collection as an OPML file so I can whack into my RSS / Feed reader (to start off a simple file to save to desktop would be great - more advanced are things like 'Add to MyMSN' (or Live and other My services) or even generate Microsoft.com url address to point to for reading lists and on-the-fly mixed-burns)
  • I'd like to subscribe to the search results as a feed so I can get individual items / posts / articles into a single feed (à la search.msdn.com/search or Icerocket)
  • My final suggestion is to do with the categorization of the blogs that turn up within the results. Currently, MSDN / TechNet bloggers register their site on an internal directory with a pre-defined taxonomy. So for example, I could register my site as 'Media Center' and 'C#' site.  The problem is that this doesn't really work - some bloggers (quite a lot I've found) register against these categories but rarely post about them (nothing malicious - they feel they they 'might' post on these topics so registering against these means that they'll turn up in searches where categories are used to provide results - as they are on the Feed Directoy). So the results beyond the first few results do not necessarily reflect relevancy. This is similar to the Technorati Blog Finder problem I've written about previously. This may not be a technology problem but more of a categorization behavior issue. That said, using an approach of tagging at the post level and ignoring the blog categories altogether might solve this. Anyway, I'm rambling here...sorry.
  • My final, final suggestion is to provide a programmatic interface for third parties ;-)

I'm sure the team has thought of all of the above and got some (if not all these) these features on their plan (I don't know), but just letting them know what I'd you might like to see :-)

* ;-)

Anyway....tell Dave and the team what you think.

-

Tags: , , ,