Sunday, March 14, 2010

How much do you truncate your RSS feeds?

With the Gawker Media RSS feeds suddenly entering truncated form, a few sparks of debate have flown around. I just have to say it is quite amazing how the smallest things can cause such a debate. I mean it's the difference between reading the full text in an RSS reader or the actual website. However, there is a valid debate here, and I think there is a missing point of view that needs to be heard.

Some of the arguments against truncation are that the readers are now being treated as dollar signs rather than actual people. Instead of appreciating the fact that people are reading your feed, you are forcing them to come to your site so they can click adds, etc. Furthermore, those who argue against truncation generally site efficiency as a concern. I personally can agree that I could do without having to open ten or twenty tabs while browsing my feeds, wait for each one to load, and then read them. The worst part is when a site takes a while to load and I find out I did not even care about the topic of the article anyway! Having Google Reader load all of my content almost instantly is a lot easier and less time-consuming. Despite this, there are those who point out that a lot of people do not read full articles, but rather skim over them, making truncated feeds simply more efficient.

Despite the mounting evidence against truncation, there are some arguments for it. First and foremost: money. Yes, you should not treat your readers like dollar signs and give truncated RSS feeds just so they will view your advertisements. However, just because you want to actually get some money in return for your writing does not mean you cannot have one on one conversations with your readers and view your subscribers as actual people. Besides, I doubt the average reader (that means not those who examine the motivations of media companies) would think they are being treated like dollar signs; the average reader just wants to, well, read. Furthermore, sometimes bringing somebody to your site can leave a better impression than the same old-same old Google Reader environment, which sometimes makes article more boring to read. (Try it. Open up an article in a colorful and inviting website, and then view the RSS feed. Which one would you want to read more?)

Both sides have very compelling arguments, but there is one obvious solution missing here: compromise. One example would be improved truncation. If I ever truncated my RSS feeds, I would probably write a brief yet descriptive summary that gives all the key points. It's informational and short. Currently, most truncated RSS feeds are either literally truncated, meaning it takes the first few sentences of the article and cuts it off, or are just the title and a short description. Both do not provide the information somebody is looking for in an article. By giving a summary that answers the reader's interest, they are given the gist and can safely move on if they are not that interested, while other readers who want the intimate details can open the web page. It is a middle ground between every reader having to open the original site, which is time consuming and inefficient, and no readers having to open the original site, which clutters RSS feeders and makes the article difficult to read for uninterested users.

Another more obvious compromise would be to let the users decide. Just post two feeds, one full and one truncated. I am sure that nobody could possible argue that somebody else's proclivity toward one or the other is "wrong" in the traditional sense. Because when it comes down to the point, truncated or full is partly a matter of opinion. Well, whether it's for more money or more readers, the issue is not so important that bloggers should immediately forget what they are writing and spend time on deciding over  full vs. truncated RSS feeds, but it seems whenever small debates like this pop up, nobody suggest compromise. It is either all in and all out, and this strategy can be dangerous for more important issues.

(By the way, if I am not able to post tomorrow, it is due to the same reason I could not post yesterday: a major storm is brewing in NYC and blackouts are amok. Luckily I was online enough to get this post out.)

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