They are putting RSS/Atom search integrated right in with their web search. This is good. But… they’re displaying RSS feeds as regular search results, without modification. That means that when you click on a RSS feed result, you are taken to (surprise) the RSS feed, which, most of the time, is not in a human-readable format. Hello usability? This is acceptable for a major engine to put out for average web users?? Additionally, the ‘cache’ link for RSS feed results displays a somewhat more human-readable display, but it could definitely be improved.
Virtually all, if not all RSS feeds today are representations of existing web pages. It would make a little more sense to point to those, and provide an additional link to the actual RSS feed. This is essentially what all the major RSS search engines are smart enough to do, including Feedster, Blogdigger, and Bloglines.
Actually those engines are all smarter still, since they’re indexing individual RSS items rather than whole RSS feeds as if they were a single document. That’s a huge benefit of RSS; that the individual items have been separated, and usually come with important metadata, like the date. MSN doesn’t seem to make use of this at all, although admittedly their implementation is new.
It does appear that Yahoo has got some of this right, linking to web pages (and sometimes the web pages of the individual items). However, the same does not apply to their search API, which does use RSS feed URLs as the main link for each search result, and it does not provide the web page alternative. Which leads me to the news today of Yahoo Weather in RSS. They’re even including some excellent data in there, but, they’ve defined a new namespace for some of this data, which points to http://xml.weather.yahoo.com/ns/rss/1.0, which returns a 404 now. Also it’d be nice if they labeled their namespace ‘weather,’ rather than ‘yweather.’ And I strongly suspect that there are existing weather vocabularies they may have been able to use instead.
Anyway, back to MSN Search, they’ve introduced two new syntaxes, feed:, to specify to look for RSS feeds, and hasfeed: to specify that the results are web pages that have RSS feeds. That seems okay, but the way to use the syntax is odd. For example feed: site:bbc.co.uk. It has been semi-standard for a while to use syntax like syntax:foo, as in the site: keyword used, however the new syntax seems to be syntax: by itself. Confusing. Let’s just assume that this is temporary, until there’s a web-based interface for choosing to find RSS feeds.