Full RSS Feeds, Please

I flat out dislike it when people offer RSS feeds on their weblogs or sites and then the actual content is a few words and some ellipses. There are three ways you can go on the feeds: full feeds, abstracted feeds where in place of the full content they offer some sensible summary of what the post will be, and the first N words. I really want everyone to offer the first, will grudgingly accept the second, and am getting increasingly annoyed by the third. I’m preparing a letter stating this, and I’m going to mail it to everyone in my aggregator who does this.

Here’s an example. I aggregate Mark Evanier’s News from ME. This is what I see for a recent post of his:

I happen to be a skeptic about things like E.S.P. and talking to the dead and flying saucers and such. I’ve never believed in the paranormal, and this view was further solidified when I worked for a time on a…

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t do that much for me. Yes, I can go to his site and read the rest of thisthis but that pretty much undoes the value of RSS. I can always go to his site any time. RSS is about being able to provide the information in a neutral way and allowing the people at the other end of the pipe to do what they will with it. A while back in a discussion on Electrolite, I asked why Patrick had the full feed for Electrolite and Teresa has the excerpted feed for Making Light. His answer was:

Making Light’s feed is the “15-20 word excerpted kind” because Teresa prefers it that way. Her concern is that even a full-text feed doesn’t include the prompt to comment, and she wants her readers to all be (at least potentially) part of the conversation. So she wants them to come to her actual weblog, with a real web browser.

This seems to be a fairly common reason cited for using the excerpted feed. I find it kind of unconvincing. Another way of restating it is “I’m offering you an RSS feed but because I really don’t want you using it, I’m making unusable enough so that you have to come to the web page instead.” If the concern is on the access to comments, it would be (or should be on any blogging system with minimal control of the template) easy enough to include at the bottom of every RSS post a link to the comment section for that post. Regardless, it seems like a weird and unsatisfying compromise to offer the feed but excerpt it so ruthlessly.

When you don’t offer the full feed, Feedster and other blog indexing tools can’t find it. People can’t use your RSS feed to offline reading, they can’t have it saved to their PDAs to peruse on the bus. If someone has an RSS to email service, they can’t read your full post. In essence, what you are saying is that you have decided that the web page is important enough that it is the only way you’ll allow people to read your site. This is inconsistent with the philosophy of providing RSS, which is “here is my content, do with it what you shall”.

There are lots of good and cool things that happen when the information flows freely and I’m sure more will be happening in the future. When you only allow a little of it to trickle out, you aren’t a part of that. At best your feed is only a notification mechanism – I can know when you have posted something new, but not anything more than a rudimentary notion of what it is. Come on, pals, let’s do the full feeds. At the very least, if you have some serious technical reason for providing the excerpted ones, do both. Have a “low” and “high” feed, the way many sites do. I’m begging you, if you are going to commit, commit. If not, don’t. Standing in the middle does no one any good.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father.