Partial Versus Full RSS Feeds

Posted: September 04, 2006 Comments(38)

I think that RSS is one of the best things to happen to the Web. With so many sites in our bookmarks, it would take quite a bit of time to go through and check whether or not our favorite sites have been updated. RSS allows the site to tell us when it’s changed, which in my opinion is the ideal solution. What’s even greater is that the content is also provided with this notification, so we don’t even have to open our browser to read the update! Except on this site.

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I recently made the decision to only offer partial content in my RSS feeds. Unfortunately it takes away from one of the great benefits of RSS; being able to read the content in any way you please without missing out on anything. As it turns out, the best feature also turned into the worst feature for myself and many others.

Bad Use of Syndication

Soon enough, it was discovered that using RSS was a great way to obtain an abundance of constantly updated content for your new spam project. Import a number of feeds using a plugin or script and you’ll have quality content regularly updated on your site without doing a bit of work. Once you add your AdSense snippet, you’ll be raking in the cash for doing no work at all. Personally, I’m not a fan of such a technique.

This idea isn’t really all that new, and lots of authors deal with this every day. They’re constantly trying to contact site owners to get their content removed or a copyright line added. When that doesn’t work they spend time trying to track down the site host in hopes of getting the site pulled. That doesn’t sound like too much fun for me. The only solution I could come up with for the time being was to offer partial feeds. While it only offers some of the content, it’s enough to let any readers I might have know what the article is about. If they think they’re interested in the article, their feed reader should offer a direct link to the article so they can get the full story.

Duplicate Content Penalty: Myth or Reality?

Another reason I don’t want my content posted to any of these fly by night ‘feed farm’ spam sites is the negative SEO effect it might have. There has been a lot of talk regarding whether or not a duplicate content penalty even exists. From what I’ve read, it exists in certain circumstances, one of which would be a ‘feed farm’ spam site. Search engines won’t think that your content is simply being mirrored, because it’s sitting with content from a dozen other sites, verbatim. Your content is being matched word for word, and placed next to countless other articles reposted in the same fashion. I’m not positive as to whether or not this penalty exists, but I don’t want to play with fire.

What if SEO isn’t a Big Deal to Me

Some authors don’t really care all that much about SEO for their site, but they do care about receiving credit where it’s due. If their content is being syndicated somewhere else, they just want credit for it. I can definitely relate with this, but all the trouble trying to contact the site owner, or their host, or both, just doesn’t seem like a way I’d like to spend my time. I don’t know about anyone else, but the site upon which I read an article usually outweighs any small copyright line placed at the beginning or end as far as an author is concerned. To me it’s kind of like hearing a popular song on the radio, then riding in the car with your grandparents and hearing a very similar song come on their favorite oldies station. At first you think someone ripped off that song you heard the other day, when in reality it’s the other way around. Given, there wasn’t a copyright notice at the end of either song, I still see the effect personally.

What do You Think of Partial Feeds?

How do you feel about offering partial feeds? Is it giving your reader the short end of the stick? As an author should you suck it up and deal with spam campaigns? I like to think that my content is somewhat unique and I’d like to receive proper credit for what I write. Is that a terrible thing?


Paul Stamatiou has also opened the floor to a discussion on partial versus full RSS feeds and I’ve been following the comments. Just to clear a few things up that seem to be a bit cloudy. When I wrote about partial feeds, I didn’t mean truncated feeds. It makes a difference if a summary paragraph or two is written about an article as opposed to taking the first few sentences and chopping off the content mid-sentence. The latter would be much less useful in my opinion, whereas a well written summary paragraph could actually give your reader the opportunity to decide whether or not the article would be interesting. Lots of people have large numbers of feeds to keep track of, some even in the hundreds. Do you think a partial feed (not a truncated feed) would help them read what they wanted that much quicker?

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  1. Well, this is a controversial topic. I think public news channels, such as the BBC should provide full-content feeds, to allow users to read it in their own environment.

    But as for things like this site, with content you’ve researched yourself and created with hard-graft, it’s difficult to give it away. First of all there is the possibility to ad-revenue loss due to less views/clicks, and if you’re not bothered about that, like you mentioned, others might make money on your content.

    I think a brief summary paragraph could be shown, then a link back to the main article. Ideally, the site aggregating this content should do this (like I do on Multipack members profiles, so average users can read the full-content, but this isn’t going to happen.

    For a package I’ve been working on, and the recent college website I’ve done, I’ve gone down the route of limiting the content in the feed. I doubt clients would understand, nor want people reading their content off the site, let alone aggregating it fully on other (profit-making) websites.

  2. Partial feeds defeats the convenience of RSS. When I access feeds on my mobile phone, I would like to think that I can simply read all of my favorite content from a single source rather than having to fire up the useless browser. I think as authors, we owe it to provide readers with the full syndicated experience. Deal with the occasional content scrapers on the side.

  3. @Derek: I really hadn’t thought about the PDA/Mobile side of things and you bring up a really great point. Using RSS on a phone or PDA really brings attention to the essential use of RSS: simplicity. Having to fire up a browser on a phone really doesn’t make all that much sense, especially taking into consideration the awful browser support we have to deal with. Thanks a lot for posting your opinion as it calls attention to a much needed area of this subject. Perhaps I need to reconsider my rushed decision…

  4. I’m so glad you wrote this. I’ve been going back and forth over it for a year with people complaining each time I went to partial feeds, but then found a few people re-publishing me, so I just couldn’t do it anymore.

    But there’s another facet to this which you didn’t mention. As a designer, my bread and water comes from my work, so my website, the visual itself, is my best chance to impress a potential client. When I’ve offered full feeds I have a small handful of happier readers, but those readers are mostly other design-minded folks, so they’re not really clients. What can happen and may be, based on what I’m seeing coming from my stats, is that people are typically not visiting my site at all. It’s great that they can read my stuff in a feed reader, but to stay in business there’s a need to have people actually come to the site and see what else is going on.

    So I offer excerpts and quotes from posts and articles. I offer a thumbnail of my photographs. I offer a taste of what they could have if they took the time to visit my site. I suppose I look at it like serving dinner to friends. I expect you to come to my house. I’m not going to cook you dinner and deliver it to your house. It defeats the purpose of that friendly conversation and relationship that is so necessary between a website owner and his/her users. Unless all you want is my food, which is kind of mooching, right?

  5. It really can be a toss up. It depends on the type of content. For something like MBN, I would prefer full feeds. Great content shouldn’t go to waste. Like you, I often worry about my feed being abused. Thankfully Feedburner offers their little peace of mind feature which tracks suspicious usage.

  6. @Natalie and Derek: Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your thoughts! As we can read, there is a lot more to this issue than I included in my writeup. You both bring up really great points in your posts. Natalie’s site really depends on people checking out her work by reading her content in the intended method: within her site. Derek brings up a great point in that it really doesn’t matter whether or not I have readers checking out my articles in a feedreader or otherwise. What I try to have here, however, is a reaction to the articles via the commenting. In my opinion a reader is much less likely to read the comments or comment themselves if they’re just reading it in their aggregator.

    I really like Natalie’s analogy about cooking. It’s my hope that a reader visits not only for what I might have to say about something, but for the reactions of those around me whose opinions I value. You can’t get that by reading the content alone — you’d have to subscribe to two feeds and flip back and forth. I say this without completely knowing, but as the site owner, I’m probably the only one subscribed to the comments feed of MBN. I suppose I could determine a way to combine the two — but that would be forcing comment content on readers who might not even want it.

    There are lots of other people in the industry that could completely disagree with what I have to say — and I want that to be as public as possible. More often than not, as in this situation, subjects or ideas are brought up that are completely left out of what’s included in the main RSS feed, I’d really like to avoid that as much as possible. Many of the articles posted here have been completely enriched by reader comments, and missing out on that would cut some readers short.

    I think Natalie’s solution in offering excerpts and scaled down images is a positive solution – especially for her. It’s her way to get the best of both worlds and entice a potential reader to check out her site to get the full scoop. But where does that leave everyone else with their RSS? I know it’s intended purpose is for Really Simple Syndication, but is it against the ’rules’ to use it in a way that betters your interest?

    Derek mentioned FeedBurners capability of looking out for suspicious feed usage, but I’m really not a fan of FeedBurner in that it requires me to depend on a third party to provide my content. I’m in no control of FeedBurner and can only hope that my feed is delivered as quickly as it would be when it comes from my own server. I know the chances are slim, but that tied with the FeedBurner branding of my feed is somewhat disconcerning to me, personally. While lots of people completely love the idea, it’s just not for me.

  7. @trovster: I’ve got to apologize, your comment was held in moderation due to the links I assume, but I’m glad it’s there to see now. Your initial reaction regarding the subject matter is exactly how others feel, which makes complete sense. I do feel a certain attachment to the content I create and content scrapers make me feel like I have to defend it. I think a summary paragraph is a positive solution and a better choice than including only the first few lines — I plan on changing my feed as soon as I can to do just that.

  8. You know, Textpattern has a feature which I haven’t used because it seemed intrusive, but it could be valuable if it were common and people expected it. In Textpattern you can set the feed to show the current number of comments next to the post title. You can even go so far as to have the feed updated each time a new comment is added.

    I can see this being really annoying, the updating part, but I’ve considered putting the comment count there just to get people to join a discussion they might never know was happening. It would be nice to somehow filter comments into the feed post without intruding by updating each time, maybe just append the post quietly so that when you get to that post in your feed reader you can see the recent comments below it. I don’t htink that would be too much. It would simply be an appendix which people could ignore if they wanted to. And maybe it would give commenters more feeling of accountability in what they say, and how they say it, to know their comments were being sent across feedreaders as well as the original website. Maybe. 😉

  9. @Natalie: I should really get around to learning about TXP. I’m a WordPress user by default and haven’t had the chance to mess with TXP yet. I shouldn’t say that, because the ‘chance’ is always there — I haven’t given myself the time to try it out.

    Updating the feed every time, like you said, would probably get a bit annoying, but the idea of appending any updates is promising. Working out the functionality, however, might be a bit daunting. Then to determine how a reader would be able to check out any additions to the conversation since the feed wasn’t really ‘updated’. Unfortunately it looks like a Catch 22, huh? It would definitely give the comments more of a spotlight, however. The idea alone provokes some thought… thanks for including it.

  10. @Jon: No worries. Unfortunately I do not use ‘summaries’ instead, I use a limited number of words from the article. I doubt clients would bother writing summaries especailly if they were just for the feeds themselves.

    Most of the sites I’m adding this information to are small sites, which clients and possibly their user-base do not know of web feeds. So limiting the content keeps those in the know coming to the site, with no extra time spent by the client themselves.

    I personally could never be bothered to write summaries for articles, and will have to think long and hard about how I am going to publish my RSS on my new site…

  11. You know, trovster, I have Textpattern set up (and other programs could do it too I’m sure) to use my excerpt field as the description for the meta. It only takes a second to type up a quick one sentence/paragraph summary like “Expert Zoologist Natalie Jost talks about monkeys on city streets and their influence on basket weaving in the 21st century.” Not only would something like that grab your attention but it gets used by the meta which helps search engines and even Ma.gnolia picks it up as the description for links when you mark a site. And, heck, making a separate summary gives the writer a chance to have fun with their topic and say something they might not have said or wanted to say in the article itself.

  12. @Natalie: I understand the use for the excerpt and it would be appropriate for larger sites or people who want to blog (write a lot!). The sites I’m building are aimed at small businesses, so getting them to type news is hard enough (they see a finished website finished, and usually don’t bother updating much), let alone an executive summary as well.

    Like I say, I take the certain amount of words, and use that in the feed. This also appears in the meta-description on the page. Also, I don’t use TextPattern for these sites, it’s a self-built package, but adding in another field wouldn’t be too difficult, I suppose.

  13. Partial vs Full RSS Feeds…

    Jon from MondayByNoon has some lively conversation on his latest post which weighs the pros and cons of using full and partial RSS feeds for syndication. In a nutshell, full feeds are awesome for the user in terms of reading content and not having to …

  14. honestly if you switch to partial feeds I will probablyend up unsubscribing after awhile.

    I am currently subscribed to over 200 RSS feeds which makes it really easy to delete one that annoys me (by not giving me all the content).

    To take the cooking analogy – it’s not that I’m expecting you to bring food over to my house. But if you’re trying to convince me that I should eat your food but I have 200 other people that are willing to cook great fod AND bring it to my house… well excuse me for being a lazy ass but there’s no way I’m getting out of my seat to come chase down your food when I’m getting free delivery elsewhere. =) I often open posts to the real website – when it looks as though there could be lively discussion, when it is a very informative post that I would like to bookmark, when it contains links and such that I want to investigate further, etc.

    As I’m reading my 200 feeds those that change over to partial feeds I begin to slowly lose interest in and, as I no longer read all the content and keep up to date with them, I begin to forget why I subscribed to them in the first place.

    Actually I used to read natalie jost’s posts too and as I saw her name my memory was somehwat jogged like “oh yah, I don’t think I’ve read her lately” and went to check and I guess at some point I deleted the feed because it had gone to partials. ( no offense natalie, if you switch back to full feed somsetime let me know =P )

    anyways, that’s my 2 cents.

    and Paul Stamatiou = hilarious.

  15. Jesse, I totally appreciate your response. I’m smiling as I’m responding now because I get both sides – I really do. I guess where I was going with the food analogy was to make the point that it’s not about the food but the relationship. Most of the feeds in my reader are from people I would have coffee with, given the opportunity, not just people who feed my need for information.

    I’m just that kind of reader though, I guess. I get personal with people. I hear what they say and I want to know more about who they are, so I visit their site. I don’t think it should be all on their head to convince me to be loyal to them. I’m either connected to who they are or I’m not. You clearly are not connected to me, but may have found some interest in something I wrote awhile back. I’m totally okay with that. In fact, I would much more enjoy 50 people reading my blog who thought of me as a friend that the 378 perfect strangers who don’t care about me but just want to get my full feeds. I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for people who want more than just a bunch of words in a feed reader.

    I’m not interested in competing with other chefs for your attention. I’ll just be me and see who responds. I’m quite happy with a small group of friends chowing down on my killer enchiladas. 😉

  16. haha nice. =)

    Actually, although there is a decent amountof my feeds that are informational… probably more than half are the type that you are referring to – coffee conversational.

    Unfortunately I’m a freak and can’t control my limits on such and continue to add more and more of these type of blogs. =P

    My point is, it make it difficult to stay at this coffee shop level when I get partial feeds because I have so many subscribed. I am able to keep on so many blogs because they are all easily accessible in one program and takes nothing more then a tap of the space bar to skip from oneblog to the next.

    With partial feeds I rarely have the time to just casually read someone’s latest posts because it requires a decision to open and load it in my browser… and what if I’ve been super busy and haven’t been able to check my RSS Feeds in a few days, I log on and so-and-so blog writer has written 8 new posts.
    With full feed I can read them all real quick… whereas if someone has partial feeds I end up reading the short snippet and then make a decision on whether I want to read it or not. This leads to me usual not loading up a page to read the latest little personal blog snippets about a cute anecdote about a puppy or their current experiences of netflix. Even though it is these little stories that give certain blogs an appeal.

    I dunno maybe I just want to have my cake and eat it too… it just seems to me that there’s no real loss to keeping your feeds full unless you are trying to push ads of some sort… and if that is the case why not just include the ads in your feed?

  17. @Jesse: I can absolutely see that side of things, and you aren’t the only one who feels that way. To me it seems like disowning a site based on its methods of populating RSS is a bit harsh, but on the same token I hear where you’re coming from. With having that many sites you want to keep up on, a feed reader is the perfect solution, and opening dozens upon dozens of tabs to catch up on todays reads doesn’t make much sense to me either. The last thing I want to lose would be any reader. For the time being I’ll have to try and make my partial content interesting enough for a potential reader to make that extra click. It’s my personal hope that I don’t lose a reader in you if I decide to stick with partial feeds.

    @Everyone: This is by far the best conversation thread an article has ever generated and I’d like to thank you for taking a few minutes to put some serious thought into your responses. They’re all very intelligent and I want to make sure everyone knows that I’m appreciative.

  18. Yeah, the whole feed farm thing isn’t too fun. I’ve actually found a couple mirrors of certain pages on my site – quite humorous if you ask me.

    I think your decision is quite smart and could end up being a great preventative measure as this site gets larger.

  19. Very interesting discussion here.

    I certainly understand your choice to serve partial feeds, and feel that it’s probably in your best interests. I can however, see how some of the RSS users might be unhappy.

    Without any knowledge of RSS readers, I can’t help but wonder if there is a way to potentially serve partial feeds to most people, and serve the full feeds to some loyal and trusted readers/commenters.

    Maybe something as simple as sending a username/password or secret key along with the url. Then send out the partial or full feed based on the query string values.

    With your great content and unique topics, I’d think most people would open up their browsers if need be. However, as you’ve stated earlier, you don’t want to lose any reader (even one). I think having the option to serve full feeds to selected readers would help to keep them reading.

  20. Mike, there is the capability already to serve up two different feeds altogether – one partial, one full – but not too many people use both from what I’ve seen. I’ve considered it, but I’m a visual designer more than a techie one, so I had a hard time putting aside the time to figure that one out. 😉

    As a side note, if a website’s content is good enough, I truly believe people wouldn’t snub a site over the author’s choice of feeds, so if the author HAS to have full feeds, it might be a reason to take a closer look at the quality of his/her content.

  21. Jon: I was wondering when you would be faced with the issue of ‘feed farm’ sites duplicating your content for quick cash. One of my personal websites has the same problem. I actually disabled trackbacks on my posts because it made my stomach hurt to watch how many random people stole my opinions and passed them off as their own with nothing but a 1 pixel linkback.

    I like the idea of partial RSS feeds for a few reasons. I believe that an RSS feed is there to inform you of new content so you’re not refreshing the same webpage every 15 minutes, not to provide the new content for you like full RSS feeds do.

    The other plus that comes with a ‘partial’ is one that’s already been mentioned in the comments here. Some people depend on their websites as a constant source of income and a full feed will deprive you of that; whether it’s because someone can read all of your content in Thunderbird/Feedburner/Etc or because a ‘feed farm’ site can just provide it duplicated is irrelevant.

    Jesse: I feel your pain, my daily RSS checklist grows by about 2 sites every day. I can’t stop myself!

  22. Great comments. There is a lot to this topic. Jon, I would like to pick your brain. We are coming out with a new service related to feeds and would appreciate any input!

  23. […] The number of intelligent responses to the original article really helped me to take everyones views into account. There were a lot of people who wrote about how they use RSS and how partial content can effect that. The fact of the matter is that everyone can use RSS in a different way, and full content helps each person use the content in any way. I thought the quality of comments in response to the article was great. Many times irrelevant comments will be posted in response to various content, and they provide absolutely no value. Sometimes it’s hard to sift through the garbage comments and get to anything worthwhile. The reactions to that article were invaluable not only for myself, but for others contemplating partial feeds. […]

  24. […] Jack of All Blogs used to be fun when he slagged off everyone, even though I didn’t get half of the inside jokes. Now he’s recycling shopworn articles about whether to publish full or excerpted RSS feeds — see here and here and here and here and even here, where (in August 2005!) it’s called the “age-old debate”. – Feeds, site, excerpts or full — dull. Next!   […]

  25. I don’t do partial feeds because I read RSS on my mobile phone and I’m not going to go to a web page that will use a ton of bandwidth and won’t even display right.

  26. @Bongo: I’m sure you’re not alone there. There are many people that feel the same exact way as you.

  27. I’m getting full feeds in my feedreader (netvibes). What’s up?

    I’ve been sending excerpts from my blog since day one, I asked my readers *twice* if they would like to have the full posts. Strangely enough, nobody answered (when I normally get 4-20 comments on each post!). Might be that my most of my readers are not very technical – and I haven’t written about web feeds just yet. (Although, I, myself use the feeds to see when sites has been updated.)

  28. […] Partial Versus Full RSS Feeds was a bit of a summation surrounding the pros and cons of partial or full content feeds for your site. The conversation after the article is what really stands out in my mind. There were lengthy, well thought out opinions given, and readers really had a great talk about RSS. […]

  29. […] I am considering using a wordpress plugin that would help me track my feeds. This plugin only offers full text RSS feeds. I’ve been a little wary of full text because I’ve heard about problems with people scraping content and then you end up with duplicate content problems. There is a further discussion of this problem here and here. […]

  30. […] I am considering using a wordpress plugin that would help me track my feeds. This plugin only offers full text RSS feeds. I’ve been a little wary of full text because I’ve heard about problems with people scraping content. There is a further discussion of this problem here and here. […]

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