Readers Want The Full RSS Monty

    August 14, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

We can all agree, I think, that for things we like, full is better than partial. This goes for nudity, chocolate donuts, and cleanliness. But we’re really talking about readership here, and text feeds, and the ongoing riff between reader and publisher regarding subscriber entitlement.

Publishers, who tend to favor partial RSS feeds and work them like broadcast news teasers, want readers to click through and visit the website. If increasing page views is the goal, then this makes intuitive sense.

But one important distinction: readers hate them. They want the full Monty.

So we have a rather classic debate between publishers ensuring their business model and content consumers who neither care nor appreciate the cost of the content they are consuming. The consumer, knowing they have a certain amount of power over the providers, are naturally, unabashedly, justifiably selfish,

And why not? So’s the other side, right? You sell it, I buy it, that’s the way it works.

It’s not an indictment, then, of how the model works, or of media-consumer relationships, that we need to examine. Instead, web content producers, as usual, have to consider the consumer and their business model with a rather precarious sense of balance – after all, the consumer is not responsible for it, nor should she be. The consumer is only responsible for judging and responding, and she is a temperamental mistress.

This relationship was most recently explored when the New York Times acquired the popular Freakonomics blog, an extension of the popular book of the same title. The Freakonomics reader has been a loyal one and has enjoyed, up until the big sale, full RSS feeds.

The NYT promptly switched to partial feeds in an effort to increase page views. Assumedly, unlike traditional print, subscriber numbers just weren’t cutting it (or perhaps are more difficult to manipulate, but that’s a whole other topic).

And now, as might be expected, Freakonomics subscribers are upset and are threatening to unsubscribe if the NYT is going to destroy what made RSS feeds beneficial to the end-user in the first place.

Globe and Mail tech writer Matthew Ingram, writes, "The bottom line is this: if I wanted to click through to the website, then I would just go to the damn website in the first place. Partial feeds defeat almost the entire purpose of reading RSS feeds in the first place."

He points to a commentator on the Freakonomics blog that argues the defeats-the-purpose point, while noting that partial feeds come off as "rude" and "greedy." In addition, it means fewer readers in the long run, as subscribers judge two lines of text and decide on whether it is worth their time to gamble with the "click-and-wait" game.

TechDirt CEO Mike Masnick takes the argument to the next level at the TechDirt blog, saying that though it sounds counterintuitive, full feeds actually increase page views:

It means it’s that much more likely that someone reads the full piece and actually understands what’s being said — which makes it much, much, much more likely that they’ll then forward it on to someone else, or blog about it themselves, or post it to Digg or Reddit or Slashdot or Fark or any other such thing — and that generates more traffic and interest and page views from new readers, who we hope subscribe to the RSS feed and become regular readers as well.