RSS Feeds: Full Fat or Summaries?

I love RSS and I hate RSS.

It’s both one of the most useful tools I’ve ever used; it allows me to catch up with my favourite blogs, keep up with seldom-blogging friends and find inspiration for my own posts.

google_reader-1It’s also the bane of my life; I turn away for a day or two and Google Reader sits there, laughing at me with its smug “1000+” in the toolbar, reminding me just how far behind I’ve fallen on my reading.

Either way, it’s a way of consuming media that seems to have become routine so this morning, when I came to the realisation that I had just unsubscribed from my last summary-only RSS feed, I wondered if I was the only one to take such drastic action against those frustrating feeds, and wanted to understand why anyone would choose to publish them.

I wrote about this topic 2 years ago with little conclusion so I thought I’d investigate informally whether things have changed by asking my Twitter followers.

So what are their issues with the short summaries?

The results were enlightening but roughly reflected what I expected; Out of 15 responses, 12 people expressed a strong preference for full feeds, to the extent where summary feeds were either not subscribed to or unsubscribed from.

  • Don’t want to click
  • Don’t want to be forced through to a site to read something
  • Full feeds get more readers and engagement
  • When using Google Reader on iPhone, RSS summaries are annoying. Clicking through is a waste of time
  • I never subscribe to anyone with summary-only feeds, why encourage them?
  • “Publications” opt for summaries to drive traffic and ad revenue
  • Summary on mobile sucks, don’t subscribe and probably forget to visit again
  • Would rather see a full feed with ads, than a summary feed

One person seemed to stand up for the summary feed, saying that short post feeds are fine when reading basic news story while travelling. So that’s one for the summary feeds, but with the caveat that the summary must really summarise the story rather than simply be the first run-on sentence of a post where the author might not get to the point immediately.

The publishers’ point of view

Two publishers were kind enough to explain their side of the story; in both cases, it was a question of protecting their content against sploggers who previously stole their feeds on a regular basis. While summaries don’t fully solve the problem, it makes it more difficult for a spammer to copy their content.

No one piped up with regards to summary feeds as a method to gain more traffic to the site, and more ad impressions as a result. Either that isn’t the motivation of most summary-feed publishers, or they’re aware that it isn’t a popular view and avoided responding to my question.

Finding a solution

Finding a solution to these publishers’ problem is tricky; it’s difficult to identify who is subscribed to your RSS feed and what they’re using it for. Feedburner makes a good effort of reporting “uncommon uses” of your feed, but in my experience it has picked up the legitimate uses of my feed (where I’ve used it on another site I own) but missed most instances of splogs “borrowing” my content.

So if the flow can’t be stemmed, we need to make the flow smarter:

  • Add an automatic footer to a post in the RSS feed linking back to your site: Joost de Valk created a WordPress RSS footer plugin which takes care of the hard work for you.
  • Cross-link generously when writing your posts: Don’t go overboard and write purely for the purpose of linking back to your older content, as it’ll show in the quality of your posts. But when you do post, think of the relevant and useful content you could refer to, so that if your post is on someone else’s blog, there is still a reference to yours. This can be done within the content or as “related items” at the end of your post. Yes, some services or plugins can create related items automatically, but I don’t endorse those as I find the relevance to often be too poor. Take 5 minutes and do it manually!

These benefit you from an SEO point of view as well, so why not put them into action? Remember, however, that creating value on your site and building your personal brand so that people recognise you as YOU rather than a generic blog-post churner is the best way to create a loyal readership and make the sploggers’ efforts (almost) pointless.

I've got a dirty little RSS secret

Sign up for thatcanadiangirl RSS feedI’m always harping on about the importance of having a tight grip on stats to know what’s happening on your blog but… I have a secret: I’ve never tracked my own RSS feed stats.

I launched That Canadian Girl back when RSS wasn’t very popular and, while WordPress automatically produced a feed, I never bothered tracking stats around it.

Now, many years later, I’ve decided to add Feedburner to it. If you’re already reading this via RSS, it should – in theory – be business as usual, but should you spot any funny business, please let me know via the comments.

New reader? Why not subscribe to the feed now?

The Twitter backlash begins: Welcome to a world of pain and spam

A couple of days ago, Hugh quit Twitter to work on writing his book. Now I’m considering quitting Twitter, but nobody’s signed me up for a book.

The reason? Spam, spam, eggs, bacon and spam. Well, without the eggs or the bacon. The sheer volume of new followers I’m getting these days who are blatantly spammers is getting increasingly frustrating. Sure, I can block them one by one, or simply ignore them, but if Twitter could implement a “flag as spam” a la Blogspot, then we could help each other and avoid 10,000 other users getting the same spammy follower message.

Such a pain, Twitter spam takes over my inbox

To add to the frustration, a friend pointed out that spam followers could very well use your RSS feed to create random copy for spam emails or blog comments in the future. I haven’t come across it yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already happening.

I guess for now, the less drastic route for me to take will be to create a rule where all notifications of new followers will go straight into a mark-as-read folder. It won’t solve the problem that my feed could end up as spam material for some unscrupulous asshole out there, but it’ll have to do for now.

What this means is that if you start following me and you want to have a conversation, you’ll need to send me a message @vero for me to react and add you as well. Crappy, but it’s the best solution I can think of.

Anyone got a better idea?

Links of the week: Media, marketing & brand in today's world

In the past few days, I’ve read some genuinely interesting articles which I’ve been meaning to blog, but to avoid stale blog entries in my drafts, I’ll just share the links and let you read on.

Want more? Why not subscribe to my Shared Items in Google Reader?

Google Reader Shared Items: And what about the usability?

Everyone and their dog is complaining about Google Reader introducing the “friends’ shared items” functionality a few days ago, which enables users to share a selection of their feeds with friends. However, when introduced, Google automatically shared the existing “shared” feed, rather than letting users opt in. This caused an upheaval from people who, I suppose, had something to hide in their shared feed.

Google Reader Shared ItemsWhat has shocked me most with the crash landing arrival of this new feature is the poor usability of it. When Scoble suggested Google should add more granular control over privacy settings, he also asked readers to share feeds. I popped into my own Google Reader and looked for an easy way to find Robert’s feed and share my own with a few people. Stumped. Completely. There is no easy way to “request” a feed from someone you’d like to follow, just as there is no way to share yours with someone who isn’t already a Gmail contact.

It’s quite obvious that the Google team will improve on this as soon as they recover from their Christmas meals, but I’m honestly surprised that the feature was released as-is. Some thinking is needed on the ease with which one can share, unshare, specify what should be shared, who it should be shared with and how it should be shared.

Until then, if you’re looking for my feed, it’s right here – I’ve been on fire today and added loads to my shared items. I promise to be more reasonable with the number of stories shared in the future.