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Frequently asked questions about the feed icon usage guidelines

This FAQ attempts to answer a variety of questions that might be asked about the feed icon usage guidelines.

Feed icon basics

What is the feed icon?

The feed icon was created originally for use with the Live Bookmarks feature of the Mozilla Firefox browser. In that context the presence of the icon in association with a displayed web page indicates that information contained in the page is also available in the form of a web feed using the RSS or Atom web syndication formats.

The Mozilla Foundation subsequently proposed having the icon be used universally in connection with feed-enabled applications or online services, blogs, news sites, and in general any web site offering information via open web syndication formats.

Where can I get versions of the feed icon?

The canonical icon is available in a 14x14-pixel version and a 28x28-pixel version. You can also get high-resolution and variant versions through the web site.

Am I required to follow the proposed feed icon usage guidelines?

No. The proposed usage guidelines are not legally binding in any way. However we hope that users of the icon will honor the guidelines in the spirit in which they were intended.

What’s the role of the wider community in all of this?

As noted above the proposed usage guidelines for the feed icon are not legally binding, and in general we don’t think that use of the icon should be regulated using trademark law and related mechanisms. Instead we propose relying on community oversight and enforcement of the guidelines using non-legal means.

Community members are also invited to assist in determining the proper interpretation of the guidelines in particular situations, and evolving the guidelines and the icon itself to accomodate future uses not yet envisioned.

Reasons and rationales

Why publish any usage guidelines at all?

Because as we’ve previously discussed, the Mozilla Foundation felt it was important that the icon mean something to people, particularly to end users who are just getting acquainted with the whole concept of web syndication and might see the icon as a relatively reliable guide by which to discover web feeds and ways to manipulate them. Taking a totally laissez faire approach might cause those users’ expectations to be completely violated, for example by frequently encountering information in web syndication formats that were proprietary and could not be processed by most feed-enabled applications.

Why do the proposed usage guidelines restrict use of the icon to open formats? Won’t that stifle innovation in future applications of web syndication formats?

We don’t believe so. We believe our proposed approach is consistent with encouraging innovation, for the following reasons:

  • The usage guidelines as proposed do not have a restrictive definition of the formats and protocols with which the icon may be used. In particular, the guidelines do not restrict use of the icon to the present-day RSS or Atom formats; in addition, the guidelines do not rule out the use of protocols other than HTTP to deliver web feeds.

  • The usage guidelines as proposed do not rule out techniques like using proprietary media types for content items within a web feed published using an open web syndication format. Granted, if taken to an extreme such practices would lessen the usefulness of having open formats, but that’s a question for the broader community to consider in interpreting and evolving the guidelines.

  • Finally, the guidelines are not legally binding. If you believe that the goal of innovation requires your defining and using partly or completely proprietary web syndication formats then you’re free both to do so and to use the icon in connection with those formats. However if you’ve previously publicly committed to comply with the guidelines then it’s up to you to justify to the broader community why you felt it necessary to act differently.

Why do the proposed guidelines require that formats used in association with the icon be implementable by free and open source software developers?

Because the icon was originally created for use with free and open source software (FOSS), and because FOSS developers form a major part of the community promoting the use of web feeds for new and interesting applications. We don’t want there to be web syndication formats for which the icon is used but which we can’t implement (e.g., due to patent or other restrictions), and we believe other FOSS developers would agree.

Why do the proposed guidelines require that formats used in association with the icon be developed and/or maintained using an open process?

Because ultimately it’s the broad community implementing and using web syndication formats that creates the value associated with the icon, and we don’t believe it’s fair to that community to use the icon in association with formats over which that community has no influence.

Interpreting the guidelines

I don’t like orange; can I use the feed icon in a different color?

As noted in the guidelines, we don’t intend to discourage alternative uses and representations of the icon that conform to the overall spirit of the guidelines, including using a different color for the icon in cases where you think it’s appropriate (e.g., to match the overall color scheme for your web site).

However at the same time we believe that the color of the icon is an important visual cue for people, and that arbitrarily changing the color could disrupt that cue and could confuse users. (Just as, for example, changing the standard colors used for road signs could confuse drivers.) We therefore recommend not changing the color of the icon when it’s used in the context of feed readers and related products and services.

Can I use the icon in association with web feeds that are subscription-only and/or fee-based?

Yes. The proposed requirement to use the icon in association only with open formats doesn’t imply that the content carried by the format must be made generally available.

Can I use the icon in association with web feeds that include content that might itself be in proprietary formats and not necessarily anticipated in the format specification (e.g., for podcasting or photocasting)?

In principle yes, although particular instances of such practices may merit individual consideration. Open web syndication formats can be designed to allow for arbitrary content; for example, the atom:content element in Atom can be used for media types other than text and (X)HTML. Such open formats can also be designed to be extended in various ways, e.g., through Atom’s Simple Extension and Structured Extension elements.

In some cases the additional media types and extension elements may be defined by open formats, and in some cases they may not be, In some cases the additional items may need to be interpreted by the application processing the feed, and in other cases they may not be (e.g., an audio or video media type might simply handed off to a third-party media player).

Ultimately it’s up to the community to decide how far use of the icon should strech to cover edge cases involving the use of proprietary formats in certain contexts. For example, using the icon in association with a web feed including content items in proprietary formats arguably would not violate the spirit of the proposed usage guidelines. On the other hand, it would arguably violate the spirit of the guidelines to use the icon in association with a feed format that extended Atom in proprietary ways outside those allowed by Atom’s defined extension mechanisms. Other cases might be more ambiguous.

What about cases where the entity making use of the icon doesn’t necessarily control the format of what’s being referenced by it (for example, a web portal that uses the icon to identify web feeds made available by third parties)?

In general individuals and organizations should be held responsible for their own actions, but can’t necessarily be held responsible for the actions of others. If a site states or implies that its web feeds are in open web syndication formats but this is not in fact the case, the fault lies with the site offering the feeds, not with others who might mistakenly or inadvertantly use the feed icon in association with the original site’s feeds.

How can I report possible violations of the proposed usage guidelines?

That’s really up to you. If you think someone’s misusing the icon you can blog about it, post a note in an appropriate online forum (including the public newsgroup or the corresponding mailing list), or notify anyone else whom you think might have an interest in the matter.

How will violations of the proposed guidelines be punished?

As previously discussed the proposed feed icon usage guidelines are not legally binding, so no legal recourse is available against those who might violate the guidelines. However community members are certainly free to take other actions, such as directly complaining to the violator (e.g., to a corporation’s senior managers), publicizing the violations to other community members, the press, and the public at large, boycotting the violator’s products and services, and so on.