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Why You Shouldn’t Truncate Your RSS Feed

Bloggers: Here's why you shouldn't truncate your RSS feed.

Bloggers: Here's why you shouldn't truncate your RSS feed.

I recently wrote about RSS readers (and my enthusiastic recommendation of Feedly). Today, I have some thoughts about the feeds those readers read. If you’re a blogger, you have a feed.

The other day, I tweeted this:

What prompted the tweet was my desire to add a newly discovered blog to Feedly and my disappointment that the blogger truncates her feed. Hey Kim, that’s a funny word, truncate. What the hell are you going on about? Well, friend, here’s what I’m going on about. The feed your blog produces is a machine-readable copy of your blog posts. I read most blogs in Feedly, rather than having a very huge list of blogs to visit daily to stalk new content. A blogger has quite a bit of control over what their feed consists of, and one of the options a blogger can control is exactly how much of their content gets pushed out in their feed. For example, a blogger can publish entire posts in their feed, allowing users of feed readers to read their blog without ever having to visit the actual blog site. A blogger can also choose to publish a truncated feed, which delivers only brief synopses or teasers; to get the whole post, feed-reader users have to click through to the blog site. I find that the debate between full-feed bloggers and truncated-feed bloggers tends to look a lot like the debate between people who hate digital-rights-management (DRM) restrictions on ebooks and people who think DRM is required to deter pirates. Predictably, then, I’m squarely rooted in the full-feed camp, just as (even as an author and publisher) I think DRM is awful and is the enemy of readers everywhere. Here’s the first reply I got to my tweet:

What Angelique is referring to is the practice of some aggregator sites – which run the spectrum from honestly-trying-to-do-good to the far more ubiquitous and annoying spam sites that are simply out to game search-engine results and rake in ad revenue – to use RSS feeds to re-post other bloggers’ content to their sites. They can do this because RSS feeds are, as they must be, publicly available. Since the content might be appearing on sites other than the original site, the original blogger has no way of knowing how much traffic their content actually receives, and whether people are commenting on or otherwise responding to their posts. Not to mention the part where most bloggers aren’t keen to have other people – many of whom are nasty spammers – pilfer their good content.

This may seem like a very logical and sound argument for truncating your RSS feed and thus limiting the ability of other people and spammers to steal your work.

I won’t let you get off that easy, though. Because here’s the other side of the argument: Like DRM, which severely and inappropriately limits the ways a reader who legitimately buys an ebook can actually read it, truncated feeds alienate the honest people who want to consume your content. How’s that?

Well, as a fan of your work – which I totally am, btw – I don’t want to read only half a paragraph of your writing in my feed reader. I want to read all of it. I think you’re creative and interesting or onto something creative and interesting. In other words, I’m your ideal reader. I want to know when you have something to say or something to show off or feel like posting photos of your cat; I want to follow along as you do your thing. I’m not stumbling onto your blog by happenstance after a Google search. I’m the reader you want. I’m the reader all your efforts to grab search-engine traffic are for. You grabbed me.

But when you truncate your RSS feed, you lose me. I don’t make time to click through to a dozen sites a day when my feed reader only shows me a snippet. I just unsubscribe from truncated feeds so those snippets don’t clutter my reader.

That’s a shame, because I love sharing the cool things I find in my reader. I love to respond to ideas here on my blog, and I routinely post links I enjoy to Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest. I’m not saying I’m anything special, I’m just saying I’d bet money that five people who find your blog through word of mouth will be more likely to stay on your blog and become more interested in what you say (and do and sell) than fifteen people who whiz by on their hunt for the perfect flower-arrangement tutorial.

As a blogger, I want my readers – that’s you! I love you – to read my blog in whatever way makes them (that’s also you!) happiest. I don’t want to make you jump through hoops. You are more than a click to me.

And, by the way, I’d feel this way if I were trying to make money from my blog, too. Sure, when people read blogs in their reader, the original site doesn’t get the traffic that’s so important for attracting advertisers. I get that. But I will always believe readers are more important than advertisers. This is not a chicken-and-egg thing. Even for professional bloggers, readers come first, advertising follows.

So it all comes down to thinking long and hard about your readers. If you want readers like me – ones who are your fans, who want to have conversations about your work, who are already or will quite likely someday be your customers even – please make it superduper easy for me to read your blog.

I can’t guarantee your traffic won’t take a bit of a hit if you switch to publishing your full feed. But I would bet the money I don’t make from blogging that you’ll be better situated to forge stronger, more meaningful, and maybe even more profitable bonds with your readers.

What say you? Truncate or don’t truncate?

Edited to add: In the comments, Isaac Watson raises a great point about blogs – often collaborative blogs or news sights – that post several updates a day. Full feeds from these sites can be overwhelming, and can be just too much. I agree with Isaac that in this type of case, a truncated feed is much appreciated – especially if the snippet includes a photo or two and enough text that I can easily determine whether I want to read the full post.

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Isaac B Watson

i agree that the average blogger shouldn’t truncate their RSS feed at all. The last thing you want to do is send your audience on a goose chase to find the full content!

The only instance where snippets have been useful to me is a case where the content is published so frequently that it would be overwhelming to publish the full post via RSS. I follow a fashion photography blog in particular that can post as many as 6 times a day, and when there’s an average of 6 photos per post, that’s a lot of content to wade through in an aggregator. So instead, they publish 1-2 images and a brief description of the photo shoot and who was involved in it, then link to the full post for the rest of the images. It makes it much easier to skim over those photos that i don’t find terribly interesting and click through to the ones I do. That said, I have a feeling that the reason the author does that is for the ad revenue.

At any rate, I can see situations where excerpts are permissible, but the average blogger should definitely publish everything via RSS.

Isaac B Watson

i agree that the average blogger shouldn’t truncate their RSS feed at all. The last thing you want to do is send your audience on a goose chase to find the full content!

The only instance where snippets have been useful to me is a case where the content is published so frequently that it would be overwhelming to publish the full post via RSS. I follow a fashion photography blog in particular that can post as many as 6 times a day, and when there’s an average of 6 photos per post, that’s a lot of content to wade through in an aggregator. So instead, they publish 1-2 images and a brief description of the photo shoot and who was involved in it, then link to the full post for the rest of the images. It makes it much easier to skim over those photos that i don’t find terribly interesting and click through to the ones I do. That said, I have a feeling that the reason the author does that is for the ad revenue.

At any rate, I can see situations where excerpts are permissible, but the average blogger should definitely publish everything via RSS.

jess

I won’t read the truncaters and I don’t truncate any of my feeds. So I’m with you.

jess

I won’t read the truncaters and I don’t truncate any of my feeds. So I’m with you.

Rodger

I only click through for some VERY specific blogs that I have an established history of reading. It’s a habit from before I read as many blogs, and before I was so busy. New blogs often get a pass when they truncate their feeds. Although, similarly annoying, is blog posts that are formatted terribly in RSS but look fine on their respective sites. I don’t know what that’s about, but it also gets me to give them the pass.

iHanna

I’m with you on this, as I often am, and when you write about these important things I click over from your feed in Feedly just to comment and say: Yay Kim! :-)

The only thing you forgot to mention is how important it is to subscribe to your own feed via your feed reader – so that you know if, how and when it’s updating and how your posts look to your readers. you want it too look good, right?!

Lindsey

After reading this I put my own blog into Feedly and discovered that it is being truncated .. which makes me sad because I didn’t know. I appreciate you bringing this topic to my attention and I immediately went to fix the problem. But after changing my settings I’m still seeing a truncated view in feedly and I’m not sure why. Any tips for using wordpress.com and fixing things?

Lindsey

You were right, I just had to wait until the next post. I didn’t even think about that, so thanks! The setting was under Settings -> Reading and it applies to posts you make after you change the settings.

FostersBeauties

You convinced me, Kim!

I was truncating my crafty biz blog in hopes that it would drive traffic and that traffic would see my pretty products in the sidebar and I’d make sales. That wasn’t happening yet anyway (I’m pretty new to crafty biz blogging as well as having a crafty biz) but if there’s anything getting in the way of people reading my posts, I don’t want to do that. So I just changed my settings so if/when my blog starts attracting more readers, they can read the full feed wherever/however they want. Thanks!

caitlinvb

THANK YOU!! Truncated feeds get deleted, ASAP. I really like Vienna as a feed reader – it allows me to read offline. (It will synch feedly feeds, too)

Margo

I find it ironic that your feed is truncated in Google reader and The Old Reader.

Beth

+ 1 million

Kirsten Oliphant

Love this post! I had mine truncated and people personally let me know they weren’t reading anymore, so I switched. It’s about readers vs page views.

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