The Economics of RSS

I rarely write about blogging itself – I take it for granted – but Felix Salmon, one of the real proponents of the medium, has a new post on RSS feeds and why they matter. First you should read his original post,* which argues that information providers (such as blogs) should provide full RSS feeds (including the full content of the article), like we do here, rather than truncated feeds (showing just the first few lines), which most but not all ad-supported web sites do. His argument is that the success of a blog depends on getting other bloggers and journalists to link to it, and those bloggers and journalists are far more likely to read your blog if you publish a full RSS feed. I believe his argument, but as he says in the new post, it would be nice to see some empirical research to know if we are wrong.

Like Felix, I read blogs through my RSS reader – Google Reader – and I basically never click through to read the full post if all I get is a truncated feed. So if a blog doesn’t publish a full feed, I am only likely to read a post if it is recommended or excerpted in a blog that does, such as Calculated Risk, Economist’s View, Marginal Revolution, etc. (I do scan a few online newspapers the old-fashioned way – on their web sites.)

Of course, I’m just one blogger, and if the really big guys like Paul Krugman and Andrew Sullivan are happy with truncated feeds, then Felix and I could be wrong. If anyone knows of any empirical research out there, please let us know.

* Yes, that post is by Felix, not by Ryan Avent, who replaced him at Portfolio earlier this year. In an impressive display of technical incompetence, Portfolio has not figured out how to show that some posts have one author and other posts have another offer. I know that they are going through hard times, but this can’t be that difficult.

By James Kwak

12 thoughts on “The Economics of RSS

  1. There is a business model for embedding advertisements in an RSS feed. (Not a customer, just an observer.) Not sure how well it works, but I am with you and Felix: I simply do not subscribe to truncated RSS feeds, and I read almost no blogs directly.

    As for Krugman and Sullivan, are we sure they are happy with their truncated feeds? That might be a decision by their respective publications.

  2. I prefer the truncated feeds so I can click through and read the post on the actual site, but I understand people’s reasons for wanting the full feed. Sites should offer people the option between the two.

  3. If you use a web browser like iRider, you can have all the speed/convenience of RSS while viewing full web pages. Every morning I open all the blogs I read then flip through them instantly.

  4. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has a very popular blog and I think about an year ago he stopped blogging as regularly as he did earlier.

    His reasoning, as far as I can remember was that more and more people were getting his content on their RSS Readers and so ad revenue was only a trickle.

    And then he said that if people liked 9 of his 10 posts and didn’t like one, then they said that they were not going to buy his books or stuff. So, he ended up losing customers also.
    The latter reason is somewhat intriguing because I see this happening all the time. If people find just one post that they disagree with, they somehow decide that they are not going to read anymore. I think even James had a post, which had extreme reactions and I read at least one comment in which the person said he or she is going to unsubscribe. From the looks of it, the person was a long time follower, so I wonder what is it that makes people decide that just because of this one thing we don’t like this guy. This is obviously much more harmful to people who are trying to make money off their blogs.

    I don’t think there is a clear business model for blogs but I think people who are selling stuff and generally stay away from controversy do well. Others get famous and that’s a kick in itself, but I wonder if they really make any money.

  5. Portfolio shut down some time ago, so I doubt they care about fixing the issue now.

  6. I get your updates through Twitter which combines your feed with other sites I want to read more or less whenever they update.

    I prefer if a site has a good summary rather than including the full post, because my other way of reading RSS is in a River of News aggregator which streams thousands of articles a day in front of my eyes. Sites that include full text are much less than optimal, they take a lot of time to skip over. And in this mode, I only want to consider a story for a second or two, because I have so much to get through. I skim the feeds the same way I used to skim a print paper.

    Here’s the Twitter stream that Baseline is part of:

    I really dislike ads in feeds, I see that as putting ads in ads. I strip the ads before my user sees them.

  7. I never warmed to RSS, but am quite happy with Twitter– which has become my “newsboy”. I follow about a dozen news delivery sources, and find Twitter’s handling of the information OK (of course, it would be nice to have more than 140 characters to play with).

    If Twitter doesn’t address this matter of greater message size, then some one else will–one of these days.

  8. Never warmed to RSS myself, but I don’t see Twitter as a competitor to RSS, it is not. For many, full feeds are distinctly advantageous. If you consider that Amazon and Apple arrived at the conclusion, ‘the fewer clicks the better’ and accept that RSS readers allow you to check on a host of web properties in a single effort, the full RSS feed is an all out trough in this behavior. Partial feeds either cause you to ignore the post or as the content owners hope, drive you to their actual site for the purposes of being counted and offered up to their advertisers.

    I read Felix’s article as well as the Techcruch site. Felix mentions that he would like to have empirical data, but links a Techcrunch article where RSS is dead because no one Steve knows still uses it. That is less than empirical, but Felix somehow accepts this I guess because Steve said it. Is Twitter more organized than RSS Readers. Not yet. Does it even have the capacity to offer up entire articles as we are saying today needs to be the case. Not as I have seen, so how could Twitter possibly replace RSS, which through capable readers like Google has clear and credible advantages.

    I am concerned by what I see at Mashable which actually had an article a few weeks ago that Twitter might actually be able to replace Google, and Techcrunch to a lesser degree; that tend more towards pronouncements than journalism. Felix should have read through the comments to Steve’s post, Steve 1 and a whole lot against they way I see it.

    Twitter and RSS are perhaps complementary but in no way compete. There are people that read everything and cereal boxes, myself included. Others read only because they have to. Yet others refuse to read, even when they’re signing things and there are still more that believe headlines tell the whole story, so why read the actual article or even watch a broadcast for that matter.

    To be completely undisturbed when reading RSS aggregators are the way to go. To establish at a glance what merits one’s attention, again, not Twitter. Still knowing this advertisers are lazy. Go to YouTube and see how many digital video cameras, USB mics and better compression algorithms ads are present. I’d think if ever there were a place you could sell these things, it would be YouTube. Apparently I’m alone in this.

    Twitter is great conceptually, but has almost no other features and so requires an army of ancillary website to augment it shortcomings. Still I like it and if I want to see if my friend is walking her dogs, what my aunt is cooking for dinner and what my favorite blogger is up to while browsing other headlines, I turn to Twitter. On the other hand, when I am working which is always, I only care about the news and other things that actually matter. Translation, I stick with RSS and stay off of Twitter.

  9. Don’t know of any studies but I do know my own habits.

    I used Bloglines for an RSS reader. For the most active blogs I prefer the truncated display so that I can quickly scan through without having to slog it through stuff I’m not interested in. But for the less frequently updated blogs, I believe it’s to their advantage to go ahead and display the full post. If there’s less than a couple dozen posts a week, then the material tends to be more niche and the subscriber isn’t forced to weed through a lot of stuff they aren’t interested in.

  10. OK, I have never commented due to a typo (“author” vs. “offer”), but when it is done in a sentence railing about technical incompetence, well, I just couldn’t resist:

    “In an impressive display of technical incompetence, Portfolio has not figured out how to show that some posts have one author and other posts have another offer”.

    Anyway, I would rather see the full post in the context of the hosting website. I wish RSS readers would properly prefetch the full web page so that the view would be instantaneous (FeedDemon, at least, cannot do this). If my connection seems slow, I am grateful for full text in the feed. Otherwise it is a “don’t care” for me.

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