Even More on RSS Truncation

Let me state at least once why RSS is different than the web pages. A lot of the truncation argument includes “but you can always read it at the site” as a stated or unstated assumption. What RSS and aggregation does for me is to allow me to manage what I have read and not read and want to go back to. I can’t do that with the web page. This is why the clipped feeds are such a pain in the ass. I have to go to a different page to read it then decide if I’m done with it, want to leave it in the new queue or flag it for interest later. It’s not the reading that is the issue, it’s the managing and keeping track. That’s the heart of it, so any arguments based on reading are really orthogonal to the part that is important to me. I prefer to be able to know if I’m interested in the article from the aggregator, not as the first step in a multi-step process. This is why I consider the feeds with an actual abstract to be the middle compromise. At least those offer enough information to know whether or not to pursue the article because they have an informative excerpt, rather than just the first N words or characters. I consider the clipping to be below acceptable for my uses.

I have begun dropping the truncated RSS feeds from my aggregator, including Chicago Localfeeds. As I do, I’m emailing everyone to ask them if they’d cconsider a full feed. I found a few discrepancies as I worked through this. Paul Melancon, for example, has two feeds – one labeled full and one labeled excerpted. The only problem – both are excerpted. In his case, I’m assuming this was a template oversight and I wrote him to make him aware of it. Some people might be doing it by design but I’m guessing at least a few are because of default templates that were never changed.

I actually left a comment in the discussion The Shifted Librarian’s post. One of the issues raised in there is that “RSS doesn’t have comments.” That statement is not correct as stated, because there is no reason why RSS can’t have comments. Mostly it just doesn’t because no one has set that up on their blogs. After reading that, I edited my RSS template so that every story in my RSS feed has a link to the writeback page for that post. I’m thinking about adding a plugin that would allow one to offer all the text of the comments as a feed as well. There are several ways this could be done. You could make each comment its own item in a feed, or have all the comments go along with the story in the main RSS feed. I think the latter might be cumbersome, because to see the comments would require getting the whole story and all previous comments every time.

This is what I keep trying to emphasize over and over – the arguments against full feeds are based on affordances that are easily changeable. To me, the only arguments for truncated feeds that bear any weight are really arguments for not having a feed at all. Some from The Shifted Librarian include fear of someone else republishing your words and concern that the format of the site is so important that offering the words minus the format is hurting your site. Jenny also mentioned getting people to your site because that is where your ads are served from. If those are your concerns, I think you should not have an RSS feed. Having one is offering what you have for arbitrary uses and it is not necessarily for everyone. To compromise by offering it but in an non-usable or barely usable form is just the worst compromise possible.

This is, I believe, the last post on the subject for a while. I’m beginning to bore even myself. However, if I aggregate you and you have a clipped feed you’ll be getting an emai
l from me shortly with me making my appeal.

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

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