Partial vs full feeds

Fullfeeds.com website

Fullfeeds.com is “a petition against intentionally disabled feeds”:

Isn’t RSS about convenience? Wouldn’t you prefer to see entire texts in your feeds, rather than just summaries? Support the cause, sign the petition below.

While I’ve signed the petition, I’m not sure to what extent partial feeds are really deliberately used to drive subscribers to view the full post in its original context (and hence see the advertising), which would imply similar reasoning to splitting up articles to increase page views and forcing users to click through multiple ad pages to reach the file they want to download.

Certainly some bloggers will be using partial feeds for this reason, but equally, a lot of people who offer their feeds in a truncated format are perhaps doing so because their posts are longer/more involved and may seem ‘intimidating’ if displayed in full in a feed reader, especially if seen in a river of much shorter news items from other blogs – just as newspapers and magazines tend to have longer feature articles towards the middle and the second half, and shorter stories near the start.

There may also be plenty of bloggers who have simply not thought about the effect offering only partial feeds has. I know that I’m much less likely to read a post which is truncated when I come across it in Bloglines, simply because I can’t immediately see how long the post is, and hence how many minutes I’ll need to allocate in order to read and understand it fully (that makes it sound like I otherwise plan my time well, which is not true!).

So, although partial feeds can be an ‘architecture of control’ if used deliberately for forcing full views, I can’t believe that too many bloggers who actually use feed readers themselves would do it for that reason, because they must realise how annoying it can be.

Kevin Gamble and Stuart Brown have some interesting thoughts on this.

6 thoughts on “Partial vs full feeds”

  1. I think it’s easy to determine the difference.

    People who have explicit truncation of their feeds at points, often marked with phrases like “for more, read below the fold,” are probably the second ground you describe.

    People who have automatic truncation of feeds (e.g., after 255 characters, add an elipses) are probably trying to drive traffic to their site.

  2. I “partially” agree with you. Use of partial feeds to force users to view ads on the full site seems annoying but it also pays the bills. In addition, not knowing how long a post on the full site is can be frustrating, but so is having an overly long post in my feedreader. However, I don’t believe feed producers should be, in a way, “legislated” to construct their feed in any particular format. Let the feed consumer decide – if a user is annoyed with the feed, she can unsubscribe and if the producer loses subscribers, he can change the content.

    What I’d like to see are feeds where the first paragraph of a post is a summary (if not the entire content) which also gives information on how long the post is. My favorite feeds, in say science, technology and politics, all have short summaries where I can easily decide in the reader whether I want to continue to the site to read the full post or not.

  3. Given that this is a reinvented wheel, the architects here might do to learn from the predecessor, which was this thing called “Usenet”. Generally speaking, users of a “newsreader” (these days the term tends to mean a feed reader, or an app that does both like Thunderbird) would get the headers for a group from their “newsfeed” (see? Even the word “feed” isn’t original) which contained size information as well as a (hopefully meaningful, but often not) title and author info. You’d click on or otherwise select the ones of interest and it would pull the full article. (Into your newsreader, rather than your Web browser!) Of course, articles couldn’t have rich media at all at first, and later they could but it was annoying and only spammers used rich media anyway.

    The modern equivalent would be to make “truncated” feeds give a title, categorization tags, and maybe a summary paragraph, *and size information*. You could then pull the full article or go to the site for the full article if it looked interesting. And you’d be able to do so for all of the comments too, individually.

  4. Not all feeds are designed to spread the article-length content of blogs.

    One of my own feeds, for example, http://www.downes.ca/news/OLDaily.xml will at first glance resemble a partial feed.

    On closer examination, my feed turns out to be linking to longer posts from other sites. This sort of blog – sometimes called a link blog or a summary blog – is actually older in pedigree than the more modern blog, and in fact more resembles the original use of RSS – to provide content for what are now called webtops.

    You couldn’t fit a whole article on a webtop, and that would really defeat the purpose. The whole idea of a summary (as in ‘Rich Site Summary’) is to provide enough info to make a choice.

    Now of course there are commercial sites that use summaries simply to drive traffic. They also use links to drive traffic – that doesn’t make links bad. What needs to be examined is not the practice but the intent. If the intent is to provide a certain type of service – as mine is – then that should validate the technique.

    Indeed, while I’ve pretty much reconciled myself to the current state of blogging, it has always bothered me that the RSS produced by blogging engines – every last one of them – produces ‘link’ elements that point back to the original site, instead of to some third party topic of discussion.

    This virtually by itself ensured that blog publishing would be primarily egoist, which links to other sites something that would take extra effort and additional encoding, making it much less prevalent than would have otherwise been the case.

    Imagine what the web would have looked had the default in blog posts and RSS feeds been as it was originally used, to point to someone else’s site. Imagine the conversations and linkages that would have produced.

    Instead, the current system focuses on browsing RSS by source rather than by interest, with sites like my own the exception rather than the rule, and so the merging of content and ideas that could have happened has progressed at a much slower pace than it would have otherwise.

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone. There are clearly ways that post summaries, with useful information, can be a useful way to publish the feed, and perhaps I will try to offer something along those lines for this site.

    I was, of course, naïve to ‘sign’ the petition without thinking through the issue much further, but my irritation was really with very short truncation of feeds which in every case require the reader to click through just to understand what the post is about. You can’t always tell from the title and the first couple of lines, especially if the first couple of lines are a quote from another site, stripped of any ‘blockquote’ styling.

    Ideally, perhaps, different versions of the feed could be automatically created so that a reader has more choice when subscribing. There are probably quite obvious ways of doing this automatically; I just haven’t investigated it fully enough.

    Some very popular/influential bloggers (e.g. Jason Kottke) do primarily blog links to the original sites, with short/pithy commentary, as Stephen mentions, and the growth of automatically generated del.icio.us linkblogs (with commentary) as sidebars (e.g. here) shows that this technique may be growing again.

  6. Unless I missed it someplace, you’ve failed to mention one big reason some bloggers choose to offer only partial feeds. At least in the personal finance blogging community, there’s a huge epidemic of “feedscraping” or “feedtheft”. Bogus sites grab legitimate feeds and re-blog them as new content. I don’t feel threatened by these sites, but many of my colleagues do. We’ve had a lengthy ongoing debate about this subject, and some bloggers are upset about the perceived harm. THIS IS A VERY REAL CONCERN for some bloggers.

    On the other hand, I suspect most partial-feeders are simply trying to drive more traffic to their site. I will always offer full feeds of my sites.

    (p.s. Found my way here via PB at onfocus — I’ll be adding this to my feeds. Great site!)

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