Full-Content vs Summaries in RSS Feeds

Last week subscribers to The Atlantic freaked out when it appeared the magazine had removed full-content RSS feeds, forcing visitors to view their articles at the website. It turned out to be a false alarm but the incident stoked debate among publishers, website administrators and bloggers over the merits of full-content RSS feeds versus providing a summary and forcing traffic to the website for the full content.

John Gruber from Daring Fireball makes an excellent point about this issue:

“The precious commodity that we, as publishers, have to offer advertisers is the attention of our readers… A reader asking for a full-content RSS feed is a reader who wants to pay more attention to what you publish. There have to be ways to thrive financially from that.”

Debate on this issue stems from a misunderstanding of true measure of success in online advertising. Page views are generally the gold standard: the primary metric used to gauge readership and interest on websites. RSS feeds circumvent this metric by keeping the traffic in the reader thus generating less advertising revenue for the publishers.

RSS, however, is an important medium that will continue to grow. Merlin Mann from kung fu grippe points out:

If you’re hobbling the emerging medium in order to artificially prop up the flat-lined medium, your company is running the wrong way with extreme efficiency. Period.

Great point. This debate will continue to rage and no single solution will work for every website. Keep up with the debate by subscribing to our very own full-content RSS feed and join the debate yourself by posting your thoughts in the comments.

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