Full-Text Feeds: A Choice, Not a Requirement

Today, uber-blogger Robert Scoble once again is flailing bloggers (or any online publisher) who chooses not to publish the full text of their postings via feed. See: “Blog Herald doesn’t understand why full-text feeds work

Personally, I don’t offer full-text feeds for any of my blogs. I’ve considered this choice carefully, and I believe for my purposes (and my audiences) it’s probably the right decision at this time.

Here’s how I explained to Scoble my reasons for not offering full-text feeds…

In a comment to Robert Scoble’s posting, I said:


Hi, Robert.

I respect your perspective, but I’d suggest that your personal preference for full-text feed is just that – one person’s preference; not a sound basis for blanket advice to online publishers.

In my case, I’ve chosen not to offer a full-text feed for Contentious and The Right Conversation for several reasons. These are:

  1. Partial feeds (and e-mail alerts based on those feeds) are the only way I can get clickthrough information about which of my articles are most popular – one of my most valuable tools for planning and refining my content strategy.

  2. I often write at a length which is unwieldy for common feed reader tools and services. I don’t think telling people to “get a better feed reader” is very constructive for building a relationship with your audience.

  3. t already gets stolen and plagiarized often. I do consider that a problem, and I believe a full-text feed would only exacerbate that problem.

  4. purpose of my blogs is to market my professional services. I choose not to cram every blog posting (or feed item) with marketing messages, but I do need to make that marketing connection. If people have no reason to visit my site, I don’t get that benefit.

I realize you probably disagree with some or all of these considerations, and that’s fine. Still it seems to me that your arguments in favor of all online publishers offering full-text feeds is based solely in your preference.

Personally, I think this consideration can vary widely by publication, goal, and target audience.

Thanks,

– Amy Gahran


…That said, every choice is a tradeoff. I know my choice not to offer a full-text feed offers possible frustrations to some readers:

  • People who read blogs via PDAs, cell phones, or other mobile devices; or who download content and then disconnect from the net to read.
  • People who simply prefer to read content in their feed reader, regardless of length
  • People who think a single click to continue reading an article is too much trouble.
  • People who object to content that is published for anything less than purely altruistic, noncommercial reasons.

OK, I know I may sound snarky about those last two groups, but I know those people exist and they are entitled to their preferences.

Personally, I always strive to offer valuable content in the summary excerpt (which goes out by feed and e-mail) for every post I write – either actual information, or “food for thought.” Therefore, I believe my summary feeds are valuable content in their own right.

But until it’s obvious to me that most of my target audiences are relying solely on mobile devices or feed readers to access my blogs, I’m sticking with my partial-text feeds. Even though I know Robert Scoble, and some others, don’t like it. It has never been my goal to try to serve or please everyone.

What’s your perspective on this issue?

15 thoughts on Full-Text Feeds: A Choice, Not a Requirement

  1. I’ll throw in a vote for full text items in the feed… I feel strongly enough about it to click through and comment, even. 🙂

    Alternatively, what about offering a true summary or description in the feed? Or what about offering different feeds for different readers? I still think your best promotion will be giving your readers what they want… or at least the choice, as you suggest in your post title.

  2. What worries me is the amount of Internet energy someone like Scoble manages to shift. As if any of what he had to say was REALLY that important in life. Like British plawright David Hare once said in ‘My Zinc Bed’: “like Rome, Microsoft will also fall” which is actually similar to what my gran used to say, albeit at her humble level: “don’t matter how well-to-do them folks think they are, they’ll all end up 12 feet under like the rest of us”.

  3. That’s a good point, Mark. I know some people prefer full-text feeds. And I’m not completely comfortable with depriving people of the choice of full-text vs. summary feeds.

    That said, it is very important to me to get the clickthrough information about which stories people want to read. My concern is that if I offered a full-text feed, most people would opt for it because it sounds like they’re getting more — and indeed they would be. However, I’d be losing a critical tool and motivation for running this blog in the process.

    Ultimately, to keep this blog operating, I think it’s more important to preserve my clickthrough information, even though that means I cannot honor every individual’s preference.

    Until I have reason to believe that most of my target audience either requires or strongly prefers full-text feeds, I don’t think I’ll change.

    However, I appreciate you speaking up for your preference.

    – Amy Gahran

  4. Isn’t there another agenda here?

    The “business objective” of this site, whether spoken or unspoken, is
    Feed clicks = page impressions = Google ads = Ad clicks = revenue

    The “user objective” is convenient access to content.

    That is the balance.

  5. DJ, I see what you’re saying, but it’s time for a reality-check.

    Just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard is the suggestion that my main motivation for Contentious is the Adsense revenue.

    Yeah, right. That covers only the bare hosting cost for the site. I wouldn’t consider it “profit” by any means.

    I offer this blog in order to first connect with people to share information and insights, from which all sides realize many benefits. I also have used this site to promote my professional services (although The Right Conversation is taking over that role as I shift my career to focus on conversational media).

    Finally, I have always had links that appear on my home page (that is, in the summary/intro portion of any post) open in a new window because I usually include these to show something I’m about to discuss further. So yes, I want people to see what I’m talking about and be able to keep reading.

    Nothing nefarious or underhanded here. Not my style.

    – Amy Gahran

  6. Very good points, Amy. I have decided to test Scoble’s assertion and see what change happens in my stats. I changed my feed to full text today. I have my doubts, however, that I’ll see an upswing in links and an increase in revenue, but I’m game enough to try it out for a few weeks. I think Scoble, as an A-lister, simply works in a different world than I do. He also posts much terser blogs than I do. My blogging style is more similar to yours in that regard. At any rate, we will see if he’s just blowing smoke again.

  7. It’s about conversation. If I subscribe to a blog and want full feeds, I can ask. It starts a dialog. It helps us all deliver what our audience wants. While I enjoy Scoble’s work and thoughts, I can’t agree with a blanket definition of right vs. wrong. Let things evolve and understand that “one size fits all” is perhaps the biggest problem with “traditional” media outlets.

  8. This whole debate is a bit daft because it’s really just pointing out the shortcomings of the RSS aggregator / reader tools we’re using. Look at how Apple’s Safari browser shows RSS feeds and you’ll see what I mean: you can determine how much of the feed you want to see. I prefer summary feeds or partial feeds, personally, because I don’t use a tool that lets me shrink down the ridiculously long full feed articles (publications like InfoWorld are particularly annoying because their 4-5 screen columns are reproduced in their entirety on the RSS feed, but I really only want to see the first paragraph of ’em).

    I predict that this entire debate will vanish as we gain better tools, personally.

  9. Amy, thanks for giving me more reasons to stick with partial feeds. I’ve got the partial (angel?) on one shoulder and the full (diablo?) on the other, and your comments have made the choice easier for me.

    Question: Do you think a blog network should keep all of its feeds uniform, or might it be wise (and would it be possible?) to offer partial feeds on some network sites and full feeds on others, depending on the nature of each site? (There’s this blog network I happen to know … 😉 )

  10. I come down on the full-text side of the argument. For me, the whole point of the “aggregator” is to get web content coming to me. If I have to go out to the site to get it, it kinda defeats the purpose of the feed in the first place. Nine times out of ten, if a feed is partial, I DON’T go to the site; I skip the rest of the article. My time is limited, I track about 900 feeds, and I just can’t invest the time it takes to visit individual sites — that’s why I’m using a reader in the first place. It is, indeed, a matter of personal perference, and if those sending partial feeds don’t mind that some percentage of their readers simply won’t bother to read the whole post, more power to ’em. By the way, I DID read this entire post from Contentious — but none of the others.

  11. As usual, good points and I agree. There are many reasons to choose one or the other and, with the technology availabe, it is not that difficult to offer both to the subscriber, which reminds me that I should do just that.

    If the web is about connectiviey shouldn’t we all strive to make the end user as comfotable as possible by giving them the most comfortable option available? I do read blogs on my PDA. I do like the abreviated versions on that device. On my PC, however, I like the full feeds.

    Granted, many of us bloggers, myself included, would like to generate revenue via ads but RSS (Feed) ads are now here and an option. I feel, MHO, that giving more options to the reader is the best route for conversation, readership and connectivety.

    Keep writing… I shall keep reading.

  12. At least chemistry’s better, My time is limited, I track about 900 feeds, and I just canâ??t invest the time it takes to visit individual sites â?? thatâ??s why Iâ??m using a reader in the first place. It is, indeed, a matter of personal perference, and if those sending partial feeds donâ??t mind that some percentage of their readers simply wonâ??t bother to read the whole post, more power to â??em.

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