Usage guidelines for the feed icon

Earlier I posted about a proposed Mozilla Foundation approach to promoting use of the "feed icon" (also known as the "RSS icon"):

28 by 28 pixel web feeds icon 14 by
14 pixel web feed icon

As part of that approach I proposed having the Foundation (or some other organization) publish a set of usage guidelines for the feed icon as used in association with open web syndication formats such as RSS and Atom. This document contains a first draft of such proposed guidelines the (hopefully final) draft of the guidelines.

These guidelines are published and maintained by the Mozilla Foundation as a service to

  • the community of individuals and organizations wishing to use the feed icon in connection with their own products and services and

  • members of the general public who use those products and services and rely on the standard meaning of the feed icon as indicating the use of open web syndication formats.

See also the feed icon guidelines FAQ.

Using the feed icon

The feed icon is freely available for general use in connection with web feeds using open web syndication formats, without the need to enter into a trademark license agreement or similar legal arrangement. Note that these guidelines are not legally binding.

However if you

  • create and distribute software or hardware for the purposes of reading or manipulating web feeds;

  • provide an online service for equivalent purposes; or

  • provide or offer any other related goods or services relating to web feeds (e.g., consulting or systems integration services)

and you wish to use this icon in connection with such goods or services then we request that you (or your authorized representative) make a public statement signifying your commitment to comply with these guidelines.

The following sections constitute the proposed guidelines.

Usage guidelines

The feed icon should be used to indicate the presence of information provided via web syndication in an open format, including in particular the widely-used RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, and Atom 1.0 formats.

By "web syndication" we mean a process in which content items from a web site or other source (e.g., news stories or blog posts or summaries thereof) are made available for other sites or applications to use, typically using an XML-based document format transferred using the HTTP protocol.

By "open format" we mean a format that is

  • defined by a published specification
  • free of legal restrictions on use, especially restrictions that would prevent the format from being implemented by free and open source software
  • developed and/or maintained through an open process

The canonical use of the feed icon is on a web page containing information (such as blog posts, news articles, and so on) that is also available via web syndication, with the icon linking to a URL for the web feed.

The feed icon may be used in other contexts that involve discovery, retrieval, reading, creation, or manipulation of information in open web syndication formats. For example, the icon may be used as (or incorporated as part of) a menu icon or toolbar icon invoking particular features of an application or online service that are related to open web syndication formats.

The feed icon (or confusingly-similar variants of it) should not be used in the following contexts:

  • in relation to information that is not made available in open web syndication formats;

  • as, or incorporated as part of, an application icon, a web site logo (including a favicon), or in any other way that would imply to a casual observer that the feed icon was exclusively or primarily associated with a particular application or web site; or

  • as, or incorporated as part of, a trademark or service mark associated with a particular individual, organization, product, or service, or in any other way that would imply to a casual observer that the feed icon was exclusively or primarily associated with a particular individual, organization, product, or service.

Note that these guidelines are not intended to preclude in any way making fair use of the feed icon, including using the icon in connection with blog posts, news stories, magazine articles, books, television programs, movies, or other works discussing open web syndication formats or applications or web sites supporting such formats.

Visual guidelines

The feed icon should be displayed in its entirety on either a solid light or dark background (avoid mid-tone or strongly colored backgrounds). The feed icon should not be displayed in parts, with color variations, or with other elements superimposed on top of the icon.

The feed icon should not be displayed on screen at a size smaller than 16 pixels by 16 pixels. The feed icon should not be displayed in print at a size smaller than 3/8 inches (10mm) tall, except in screenshots of applications or web sites or other contexts where the feed icon is a minor visual element.

The feed icon should be displayed at a size that is both large enough to render it legible to its intended users and compatible with the size of any related text elements.

The feed icon may be displayed at larger sizes as appropriate to the context of its use. The feed icon may be displayed using the colors black and white rather than orange in contexts where color reproduction is not possible. The feed icon may be used with the colors of the icon inverted (e.g., white used instead of orange and vice versa), as long as there is adequate contrast between the background and foreground colors.

When used as an element in a user interface (e.g., as a toolbar button) the feed icon should be displayed in a manner consistent with related UI elements and any applicable user interface standards (e.g., for the underlying operating system and/or window system).

The feed icon should not be displayed in modified forms inconsistent with the above guidelines or in ways that visually compromise the icon. In particular, the icon should not be displayed

  • in a color other than orange (or black where the use of orange is not possible)
  • with the colors of the icon inverted (e.g., white used instead of orange and vice versa)
  • in a different orientation (i.e., rotated or flipped relative to the standard orientation)
  • with the "rounded square" element of the icon replaced by a circle, triangle, or any shape other than that used on the original background
  • with the corners of the "rounded square" element of the icon made sharp rather than rounded.
  • with a drop shadow or any other type of border different than that used in the original icon

Note that the above guidelines regarding size and color are not intended to restrict the ways in which the feed icon might be represented by assistive technologies designed for use by people with impaired vision. (Such technologies include software to magnify the contents of the screen and/or change screen colors, contrast, and brightness; alternative stylesheets for web sites; and the like.)

Note also that these guidelines are not intended to discourage other uses of the feed icon that conform to the overall spirit of these guidelines. Such cases include using different colors for the icon where appropriate (e.g., in matching a site theme) or using the icon in combination with other icons of a compatible style and nature (e.g., to identify the type of feed being offered). However in the interests of providing a consistent experience for users we suggest that providers of feed readers and related goods and services make minimum use of such alternative representations of the icon.

(At this point the guidelines would include some figures highlighting some common mistakes to avoid when displaying the feed icon. However as I'm not very skilled in graphic design I've omitted these from this draft.)

UPDATE: I modified the guidelines to reflect various comments received about the first draft. The major changes were to remove the arbitrary restrictions on the minimum size of the icon and not be dogmatic about the use of inverted colors or different colors for the icon. Thanks go to all the people who contributed comments and suggestions. Special thanks go to Matt Brett for creating and maintaining the feedicons.com web site and for providing the versions of the icon that I'm linking to.

Comments

yeah wrote at 2006-06-14 16:35:

i like moz version rather than feedicon.com in anycase, it's just an icon. question doesn't have a proper feed reader yet - live bookmarks doesn't cut it. "win one battle, but lose the war"

Ian wrote at 2006-06-15 04:31:

Yeah I really dislike live bookmarks. I think IE7 is going the right way with feeds being centralized in one place, a bit like Sage in Firefox (which is what I use).

Louis C. wrote at 2006-06-15 17:45:

"The feed icon should not be displayed on screen at a size smaller than 16 pixels by 16 pixels. The feed icon should not be displayed in print at a size smaller than 3/8 inches (10mm) tall, except in screenshots of applications or web sites or other contexts where the feed icon is a minor visual element." The small icon at the top of the page is 14x14

Frank Hecker wrote at 2006-06-15 18:32:

You're right, the small icon is 14x14. Or rather it was 14x14; I've now fixed it as noted below.

Apparently I picked up an incorrect copy of the icon. I should have copied the icon from <http://www.mozilla.org/images/livemarks16.png>; that one is indeed 16x16, and I've replaced the original icon with a copy of this correct one. My apologies for the mix-up.

Also, at least one person has suggested that the minimum allowed size be reduced to 12x12 to better match the font sizes used in some typical web sites. I'm not averse to that; others' thoughts on this are welcome.

kL wrote at 2006-06-15 18:51:

I find minimal size too restrictive. 12x12 icon from feedicons.com seems to be readable and fits in line of text.

Orange color draws too much attention and won't fit many color themes. I'm afraid that given choice orange or nothing, many webmasters will not adopt this icon.

I wish at least blue or green variant was allowed (again, see feedicons.com)

Frank Hecker wrote at 2006-06-15 19:15:

As I wrote earlier, I'm not averse to changing the guidelines to make 12x12 the minimum. Thus far I've had two people express that opinion, but I'd like to hear from at least a few more people, especially anyone who disagrees.

On the issue of icon color, there may be two different answers for two different groups. The first group is comprised mainly of people supplying feed-enabled applications (e.g., news aggregators, whether stand-alone or integrated into other apps) or operating equivalent online services (e.g., web-based aggregators). For these types of applications I think it's more important to have a standard color, to help orient new users.

People just using the icon on their own web sites (e.g., bloggers and others) comprise a different group. In practice those folks are going to have more variation in web site color schemes, icon types, and so on; that's just a fact of life. Also in general more people are going to be using the feed-enabled applications (desktop or web-based) than are using pretty much any given web site except for the major ones. So I think one can justify putting a lower priority on standardizing the icon color for web sites, and allowing more flexibility in icon color.

However, it's not clear to me what the best way is to actually implement this flexibility in practice. We could change the actual guidelines to allow more colors, but that might imply we think it's OK to use different colors in all cases, which is not necessarily the case. The other possibility is just to leave the guidelines as is, but informally acknowledge that in practice web sites can and will ignore the guidelines in this area, and no one's going to try to stop them.

I'm not decided either way on this question, and would welcome further comments. Would it be better to encode some flexibility in the guidelines themselves, or to just not worry about certain types of violations of the guidelines by certain groups of people?

kL wrote at 2006-06-15 18:53:

One more thing - is drop shadow allowed in addition to regular icon's border? If not, that would exclude use of this icon for websites or appliacations (OSX?) where drop shadow is standard for icons/buttons.

Frank Hecker wrote at 2006-06-15 19:20:

Regarding the use of drop shadows, I see your point about allowing drop shadows in contexts where use of dropped shadows with icons is standard, and I could see modifying the guidelines to accordingly. At this point I'd prefer to not just drop the prohibition on drop shadows, but rather to modify that prohibition to acknowledge the context of use and allow some flexibility.

Any comments on this approach? Can anyone suggest appropriate language for a revision to the guidelines in this area?

Travis Seitler wrote at 2006-06-15 21:55:

"Any comments on this approach? Can anyone suggest appropriate language for a revision to the guidelines in this area?"

How about something like this: "Slight modification for interface integration is smart! Screwing with our icon 'just because' is dumb. Don't be dumb." You know, something to that effect...

Frank Hecker wrote at 2006-06-15 22:46:

Thanks for the suggestion on language re drop shadows, etc. (Although me being me I'll probably revise it to something a bit less colorful :-)

Piotr Petrus wrote at 2006-06-16 08:04:

On my blog I use 12x12px dark gray feedicon icons. They are very readable (it was just a saturation) also. I'd never use 16x16px there - this is far too much to be placed near so small captions.

IMO Mozilla should stick to Feedicons.com project because this is the most powerful icon propaganda in the world. And shape of that icons are just simple - this 16x16px icon here differs from 32x32px which is better IMHO. 16x16 is too artistic.

Frank Hecker wrote at 2006-06-16 09:01:

Note that I'm already referring people to the feedicons.com site as a source of icons, and I've been in contact with Matt Brett (creator of the site) about how we can work together.

However I don't really understand what you mean by your comment about the shapes of the icons being too simple. Are you referring to the icons I linked to, or to particular icons on feedicons.com? I also don't understand your comment that "16x16 is too artistic." Could you clarify what you mean?

Travis Seitler wrote at 2006-06-16 12:19:

Aw, Frank! I'm shocked -- why would you tone that down?! (lol)

Riddle wrote at 2006-06-17 01:37:

Frank, just compare Feedicon and Actual Fx's icon.

Shape - that white echo of course. And Fx's icon orange rounded square has shadow. Feedicons are just simple, look at them please.

Phil Ringnalda wrote at 2006-06-21 02:21:

Before we decide that inverting the colors is out the window, we should probably consult with our own visual team, who did exactly that for the icon that replaces the dropmarker for live bookmarks in Pinstripe. browser/themes/pinstripe/browser/bookmarks/livemark-folder.png is 9x9 orange on transparent (which we then display on a sort of mid-tone gray).

Frank Hecker wrote at 2006-06-21 10:18:

Phil, that's exactly why these are draft guidelines, not final ones. At the time I produced this draft I wasn't aware of any existing visual guidelines that anyone had produced with regard to the feed icon, so I did the best I could to come up with a reasonable draft. I'm certainly open to revising the guidelines to allow for inverted colors in certain contexts. What in your opinion would be a suitable revised guideline? Perhaps something like the following?

"The icon *may* be used with the colors of the icon inverted (e.g., white used instead of orange and vice versa), as long as the background color is white or a gray light enough to maintain adequate contrast between the background and foreground colors."

Incidentally, Flock also uses an inverted-color feed icon in their "My News" sidebar. They also use a light gray background rather than white.

Daniel Boerner wrote at 2006-06-23 18:54:

Is there a corresponding standard as to what the alt attribute value should be when this image is used in XHTML?

Frank Hecker wrote at 2006-06-23 19:29:

I haven't thought about what the alt attribute value should be for the icon. Can you suggest one?

Quick off-the-cuff thought: Since the icon has an actual meaning (i.e., it's not just a decorative device) and that meaning is context-dependent (e.g., it means one thing on John's web site and another thing on Jane's site, referring to each of their feeds respectively), should the alt value reflect that in some way?

Szajd wrote at 2006-07-07 11:05:

Well, the alt text should certainly say something, as a help for people using screen readers (blind people for example). I don't know what it should say ('Feed icon', 'Subscribe', 'RSS feed', etc.), but the guidelines should point out, that it's totally allowed to translate this string to the language of the Web page.

I think, this should be a recommendation within the guidelines, with an extra sentence (or link to an article) explaining why one should use alt text, if someone doesn't know how useful it can be.

Randy Charles Morin wrote at 2006-07-08 19:59:

OK, this is getting ridiculous. Can you guys please give up on controlling this? Reading this, the FeedValidator is not in compliance (colors). Moz has built up a lot of Karma. I assume you've decided to piss some of that away?

Terry Ng wrote at 2006-10-04 17:45:

Great icon, but I'm leaning towards customized versions to match the design of sites.

Trackbacks

Somewhat Frank mentioned this post in "Mozilla Lays Down The Feed Icon Law":

The Mozilla Foundation which brought us the Firefox browser in addition to the fairly new orange feed icon, shown to the right and discussed previously on Somewhat Frank, has decided to create guidelines for the use of the feed icon.

Desktop Team mentioned this post in "It's Friday again! (well, in Asia)":

First of all I am pleased to say that we will reintroduce the orange feed icon after fruitful talks with Mozilla :)<br/><br/>Mozilla Foundation are also in the process of writing new [url=http://www.hecker.org/mozilla/feed-icon-guide ...

Nie tylko o Operze… mentioned this post in "Nowa Opera testowa buildy 8493/3445/342":

Na wstępie informuję, iż ponownie została zaimplementowana pomarańczowa ikonka kanałów informacyjnych jako owoc pomy›lnych rozmów pomiędzy OS a Mozillą.<br/><br/>Fundacja Mozilla aktualnie przygotowuje nowe [URL=http://www.hecker.org ...

My RSS 管理人 ブログ mentioned this post in "オレンジのRSSアイコンを利用す‹場合のガイドライン(草案)":

気づけば Opera が Mozilla の同意を得て RSS アイコンを復活さ› リンク先に RSSアイコンを利用のガイドライン(草案) が掲載されていました。 まだ草案なので正式なものではありま›ん。 が、流れを考え‹と、この草案以上に厳しい制約がつくことは無いと思います。 ‹いつまんで要点を挙げ‹と次の通りです。 ・RSSアイコンを利用す‹場合の制約 RSS/Atomフィードと関連付け‹ため...

sunburntkamel mentioned this post in "guidelines for the feed icon":

i&#39;ve been working on my redesign (yes, my aspirations are loftier than just this header). i checked in on matt brett&#39;s feedicons.com to see if it had rebooted (to see if anyone else had made a minimal version), and found out that Frank Hecker...

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