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Full feeds, or not full feeds?

The debate on how much belongs in an RSS feed surfaces again.

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Transcript

Full Feeds or Not Full Feeds? That’s a good question

This is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at askleo.info.

A discussion on a mailing list I’m on recently turned to the question of whether RSS feeds should contain full content or instead contain partial content with a link to the full item on a web page.

In fact, it’s a question I’ve see revisited, and re-argued, several times in the last couple of years, in a couple of different venues.

The problem is that like so many things, there is no simple, single, answer. Even though many RSS subscribers will claim that their desire for full content, or their desire for partial content, is the One True Way.

The big argument in favor of RSS feeds containing full content is simple … in fact the argument itself is simplicity. Once the feed is downloaded, you have everything you need to consume the content. No additional clicks, other than perhaps “page down” are needed, and the content can be read at leisure, whether connected to the internet or not.

The argument for partial feeds is slightly more complex, but similarly compelling: a partial feed is quicker to digest and from that to decide whether or not the entire content is interesting. People who subscribe to hundreds of feeds often prefer this approach as being easier to triage the massive incoming flow of information.

In reality, the publisher of the feed owns the decision, and more often than not, it boils down to simple economics. In a nutshell, the RSS feed exists as a mechanism to draw more readers to a web site, where that traffic can be monetized. If the full content is placed in the feed, besides being somewhat easier to plagiarize, there’s no incentive to visit the site, and the publisher has no way to pay the bills. Ads in RSS, and even in podcasts, do exist, but they have a long way to go before being able to provide substantial support to a commercial venture.

So if you can be altruistic, if you can afford to pass up the revenue, or perhaps are simply not in a revenue generating mode, then go for it. If you can, provide both feeds: full and partial content, and let your visitors choose what they like.

But for those of us who want to pay the bills and feed the kids, deriving income from our efforts makes the decision fairly easy, albeit not always popular.

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2 comments on “Full feeds, or not full feeds?”

  1. I just wanted to say that subscribers to a web site could get a full feed for a very small fee. Most people likely wouldn’t find it worth it and thus do the site, but those of us who frequently read feeds on out handheld devices (mine is a Tungsten T3 running QuickNews) aren’t in a position to be constantly connected, so paying a small fee for the ability to have everything I need right there seems to me to be the best way to do it and well in the tradition of the Internet. You can get stuff for free and you can get what you want.

    Reply
  2. RE full feed vs not full feed…

    Might I suggest that only the short version is sent in the RSS feed, and the local RSS application have an option to traverse the source link so it can cache the desired article, (by default I would suggest that this this is turned off). In this manner it is the RSS application on the client side and the client themself who determines whether or not the full article is locally cached.

    Reply

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