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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