RSS feeds: Leader or not?

I break most of my blog posts, here and on scienceblogs.com, into a pre and post section with the pre-section being what shows up on RSS feeds and the rest below the fold. Some people find this annoying, but I find the opposite annoying. I don’t use my RSS feeder to read other people’s blogs. I much prefer to read those blogs on their own terms. I want to see the blogger’s choice of typeface and styling, layout, etc. etc. and I want to know what else is visible on that blog post’s page, i.e., on side bars and such. This is because, as a blogger, I know that people who bother to write for the internet also often have other tings going on, other things they want to show us. Like fer instance, James Hrynyshyn at Class M has a widget on his left sidebar that shows us the “remaining allowable emmissions in tonnes of carbon from fossil fuel use etc.etc.” and I like to keep track of that. (The current countdown reaches zero on October 8th, 2043). And there are other things like that.

I examine a lot more blog posts than I read. If I open a post in the RSS reader that I use, I want to see enough to know what the post is about but not enough to even fill my computer’s screen, so it is one less step to navigate to the next post (depending on what navigation tool I’m using). In other words, I like to use the RSS feeder like those old chapter headings used in many 19th century books, which gave you a bunch of information underneath the chapter heading about what was coming up in that chapter (some TOC’s of the day did the same thing, a tradition revived in recent years in textbooks).

I suppose that it is because I like RSS summaries better than having RSS’s provide the entire post that I write most of my own blog posts this way. Some people tell me that they will never, ever read my blog and that I am a bad person because I do this. I am considered “guilty” of doing something ungood, and I’m told by some that they routinely unsubscribe from bloggers who do this. Some of my fellow bloggers never split posts for RSS feeds and claim that this is the only moral way to blog, and act all holier-than-thou about it. My fellow bloggers who do split their posts are usually silent on the issue because post-splitting is stigmatized as the wrong thing to do, and because it does have a mercenary aspect to it; In theory, we who get paid by the hit get something if you actually show up on our sites, but not if you merely read a copy of our work delivered to you by a third party. A split RSS feed is like a marquee; you get to see the name of the movie or maybe a poster or a trailer for free but if you want to watch the whole thing you’ve got to pay. For a movie, that’s between five and ten bucks where I live, but for a blog post it is a mere mouse click. A blog post that is a short announcement of something else (a pointer to another post or an upcoming event, for instance) should be all “above the fold” but a longer written work is the author’s intellectual property and there are numerous ways to deliver such property. Requiring someone to open the book to read the novel is not an immoral or unethical act.

The mercenary nature of splitting a post along with the grumbling of the annoyed, I think, causes many of those who do this to simply remain silent when the conversation is happening, but I find that silence annoying as well because in fact, there are those of us who strongly prefer the split method in no small part becuase that is how we use our RSS feeds. Everybody has a set of preferences as to how they want the Internet to be, and sometimes individuals make their little part of the internet the way they want it. If one presents the attitude that one is expressing oneself by doing this, then other people may grumble silently and even walk way unhappy, and usually people leave you alone. But, if others have already expresses a disdain for a certain practice then an individual blogger or webmaster does not really have much purchase in the game, and it is hard to claim freedom of expression or artistic license.

The point is, what we do, what we can and can not say that we like, what we are expected to dislike, is a function of culture and received knowledge (or, really, received attitude) more than it is rational. For instance, there is a good argument that the typeface “Comic Sans” is an excellent typeface for certain uses. It seems to go well with presentations for children, for instance. But other than its use in a cynical context, the people who have decided what your attitude should be have decided that you can never use it. In fact, you can’t even use it in a cynical context because people often notice the typeface before they notice the cynicism, and most people who are ready to condemn you as a human being based on a typeface choice are rarely able to take back their hatred once they’ve unleashed it.

There are also profound differences in the choices we have. Over at Scienceblogs.com, we are about to have a major redesign of the site. When that happens, I think I’ll be losing my left sidebar. I put a lot of important stuff in my left sidebar, including badges linking to various networks or causes. I may have to live in a world, in a few weeks, where I have to tell people “no, sorry, I can’t be part of that network anymore because you require a badge and my blog can’t have badges.” Some people will storm off and hate me until the day they die. Others will not notice. Eventually it may be that nobody uses these badges anymore because some other way of doing whatever the badges do emerges and spreads. Oh, and in case you have not noticed, left sidebars are becoming increasingly rare. It turns out that current models suggest that ad-clickiness of a web site is enhanced with all content on the left and all the ads above, on the right, within the stream of text/comments, and in that annoying popup that is currently sitting behind this very window waiting for you.

I personally disdain white or light text on a black or dark background. Yet, one of the blogs I write for does this. It is not a choice I make. Do I hate myself for writing a blog that is annoying for myself to read? (There are technological fixes for this problem, and I use those, by the way.) At one of the blog networks I contribute to, the blog post is split automatically for me, I have no choice. At another we are encouraged by management to split posts so that our front pages look a certain way and we all get more views. At another, there is no rule and the bloggers are split between “I split for the cash” and “Splitting is immoral, might as well step on the baby kittens” and “What is this splitting thing you speak of?” and everything in between. Then there is me: “I split because I like it, and I want everyone else to do it” which, I know, holds no cachet whatsoever with the anti-splitters because they have already received their culturally determined stance on the morality of splitting and that’s the end of it for those poor souls. And, yes, for me it is also true that “I split most posts because I want you to come to my blog and read them …. I want you to click on my page, I want you to see my sidebars, I want you to see the pointies to before and after posts and visit them as well. My motivation for writing this post is in part to get you to join me here.”

There is another level at which choice is limited. Some of us don’t care if our blogs make any money for them. Some people even claim that they don’t care if anyone even reads their blog (which I find hard to believe). Some of us got laid off and live in a house with not enough room so we sleep on the living room floor and would appreciate the fucking clicks so we can keep the interest on our loans paid off, thank you very much. One could argue forever about choice, but if one is going to do that, your argument will not have much meaning unless everyone else can also examine all of your choices, because you are certainly not doing it right from the point of view of someone else, maybe many others!

I want RSS summaries, not whole posts, unless the posts are short. I want my blog’s home page to have title/text, title/text, title/text for several posts with little paging-down, and I want you to read most of my blog posts at my site, not on your reader, because a) I made it all nice for you and b) I want your damn click. And, I can exercise that choice because it is my intellectual property, and you can vote one way or another with your “feet.” It is just a bit annoying to me that the rhetoric related to this issue describes the situation in only one way, with little or no reference to the full context and all the relevant factors.

I guess it is polite of RSS to take only what our posts suggest for them; Technologically that is not required. Technologically, you can scrape the whole blog post if you like. But, there is a copyright issue here. Scraping past an RSS summary and taking the rest of the post is sort of like being sent a PDF file of a free chapter of a book otherwise available for sale, but you have software that searches the host’s site for the rest of the book and takes that too. Your access to my blog via third party technology, interfaced with your wants and needs and my intellectual property, certainly makes an interesting nexus.

That is all, thank you very much.

—– the fold —-

Seriously, you didn’t think I was going to put something below the fold on this post, did you?

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10 Responses to RSS feeds: Leader or not?

  1. Physicalist says:

    I prefer intro with click-through with long posts. Whenever Ethan at Starts with a Bang posts something, I’m spending 10 minutes scrolling down through dozens of pictures in my RSS reader. I always assume that the click-through is better for the bloggers pocket book too.

  2. Keith says:

    I did not know that an RSS feed did not count as a page view for you.

    In any case, I use Feeddler which has an option to view the post as a web page. I do this specifically so that I do not have to worry about split posts, which I do find annoying.

    My guess is that this does count as a page view for you, as I am pulling the entire thing.

  3. C Veje says:

    If your feed reader doesn’t allow you to show only the first bit of a long post, or just the titles if that’s what you’d like, isn’t that a lack of features in your software rather than a problem with what any particular blog author is doing or not doing?

    Ideally I imagine any ads should be shown in the RSS readers too. If that’s not the case is it not a problem with the way RSS itself and/or individual readers work, then?

    I personally like to get the full text so I don’t have to click through, and the shorter the snippet I get the less likely I am to click to get the full thing, or even read the snippet. I skip many of your posts, even the ones that I think look interesting. I know I’m lazy that way, but there are so many things competing for our time and attention. I imagine many do the same.

    How many views of your ads does that cost you, do you lose more views by cutting as you do or by giving people the full post in the RSS? I don’t pretend to have a clue about the answer to that, but perhaps it’s an idea worth investigating.

  4. Greg Laden says:

    All very interesting questions. I’m not sure I know enough of the details of the technology to answer some of these. One of the points I want to make here is simply that most of what I see written in various places is all about “I don’t like RSS feeds this or that way, it’s annoying, if I don’t like how a blogger handles this I’ll go somewhere else.” (which is fine) and I just want to add to that “I have a way I do my blogs, I have reasons for that, and those are valid as well.”

    When someone visits my site and views my post, they are doing what I’ve asked them to do, and in return they are getting what I’m offering them (something I’ve written). In return for that, I get a page view count on one of my blogs. On another blog, I only get something in return if someone clicks on an ad. On another regular blog that I do, I get nothing but the admiration of dozens of readers. I have done contract writing for, say, the Smithsonian, and for that I get a fixed fee per post. All of these are entirely different models, and the decisions made by me (whether to put something below the fold or not, for instance) or a decisions by a reader (only reading blogs that feed whole posts to RSS, or using ad block, for instance) interact in complex ways.

    When it comes down to it, I provide a number of different things (“products” if you will) in the form of blog posts and they are provided in various different ways. Scienceblogs RSS does not have ads, while Freethoughtblogs.com RSS feeds do, for example. For me, I get no remuneration from 10,000 birds, page view-based pay from Sciencblogs, and ad-click based pay from Freethoughtblogs.

    People who will not bother ever reading my blogs because they don’t like the way I provide the RSS feed can’t have liked my blog very much to begin with and were not likely to be regular readers anyway. ON the other hand, I do prefer to not piss off my readers with stupid technology shit. If I’m going to piss you off I’d prefer it be over something important, like making claim about whether or not a particular football play was a fraudulent act of violence or some silly thing about gun control. But, I see something missing in the overt rhetoric on the topic. We are told that split-posts on RSS feeds are evil and that this is a sufficient breech of protocol for someone to hate on a blogger, and that is the whole story. What we are not being told is that there is more to the story; my writing is my intellectual property, and I’m offering it to you here on a blog with certain context and conditions. These are not firewalled sites, this is not in print in some newspaper or magazine, but is essentially free and easy to access. If you want to have a robot or machine make it even easier and scrape it off and print it in some other medium so that you can read it out of context, you are actually kinda ripping me off.

    Having said that, if you do this at Freethoughtblogs, I think we send you ads anyway, so there! Ha! If you do it on Scienceblogs, you are ripping me off NOW, but when the site redesign is unveiled in several weeks from now, that could all change. Maybe there’ll be popups all over your computer! Which maybe you were asking for because you were using ad block!

    Or, maybe you are using ad block because there are too many popups all over your computer.

  5. F says:

    We are told that split-posts on RSS feeds are evil and that this is a sufficient breech of protocol for someone to hate on a blogger, and that is the whole story.

    Well, pardon me, but fuckke that noise. No one is entitled to consume content exactly and only how they want via use of other parties’ tools and content. (Code your own and bear the fallout or shut up.) Because someone doesn’t want to provide 100% content in a feed for any reason whatsoever, it doesn’t make them wrong. Long before people stop complaining about it, however, RSS will be a quaint antique, as will the contemporary blog and web page format. Not that I personally find such innovation to be actual progress.

    My opinion, like many others, is based mostly on what one is accustomed to from using one’s favorite spots on the intarnets, and when one was introduced to said net. (Actually, my opinion is much more objective than that. :P )

  6. Burk says:

    I started to send you a note a few weeks ago to mention how annoying I find the split feed, but thought better of it. It is, after all, your blog, and I didn’t want to sound like a whiner. Since you asked, though….

    I use Flipboard to read your RSS feed on my iPad. I usually don’t mind clicking through, except when the content of your post is just a link or an embedded video, which often won’t play on my iPad. If you made a habit of putting those short posts entirely above the fold, I’d be happier.

    BTW, yours is the only FTB feed (of the five or six I read) that does not pass ads through. Ed Brayton’s and PZ’s feeds, e.g., always seem to have ads. I don’t know whether that’s a function of the split feed, or whether you get paid on ads served, but I certainly don’t mind seeing the ads in the feed.

  7. Greg Laden says:

    I wonder about the ads on split vs not split ads.

    I will happily change my practices as you suggecpst.

    Btw, I sometimes put the video below the fold because it does no beave properly. I usually mention that, but perhaps not always.

    Good suggestiond

  8. nick says:

    Personal preference is for whole posts, as I prefer to read in google reader. But I will continue to read regardless of what you choose to adopt.

  9. lc says:

    Just recently started reading blogs regularly – thanks to the Kindle fire – and had no idea there were so many technical niceties involved. Taking no position except that individual bloggers and readers should feel free to follow their own instincts.

  10. Myoo says:

    I don’t really use RSS feeds, because I never learned how to use them properly. I generally have no problem with split posts, although here on the freethought blogs there doesn’t seem to be any indication whether a post is split or not, so I have to open a bunch of posts that turn out not to have folds, and that’s annoying.