Reading RSS: Excerpts vs. the Full Content

A Short History of RSS

First there were blogs, maybe 10 of them. People liked blogs and some of those people started blogging themselves. Then there were thousands and eventually millions. When there were only 10 blogs, you could easily visit 10 sites a day. Now that you’re hooked on a thousand blogs, you can’t waste half of your work day sifting through 1,000 websites, waiting for them to load, etc. Hence RSS was born, which delivered an easy way to let your readers do so without actually visiting your site.

Some people, readers and publishers alike, dislike RSS readers because they take away a site’s design, thereby eliminating some of the atmosphere of the site. But when it comes down to it, most blogs are written works and if a blog’s writing can’t stand on it’s own, no amount of good design is going to save that. There will always be people who prefer to visit a website and read new entries, but more and more people are migrating to using Google Reader and company.

Those of us who do notice something: some publishers only provide you with the excerpt of a blog. Sometimes this is a custom written summation of the post, other times it’s just the first few sentences. I think that how a publisher delivers their content, either just an excerpt or the full monty, shows how much they grasp the modernity of the Internet.

For example, Make.com, a website focused on people who like to tinker, provides the full content of it’s posts with their RSS feed, while Popular Science only provides the first paragraph. The reasoning for only providing the excerpt is typically to drive traffic back to your website. More traffic equals higher ad revenue, theoretically anyway.

What it actually says though, is this: We’ll tell you how to get your information. Which is, of course, the reason that nobody gives a damn about newspapers anymore and why television is following the newspaper’s path of destruction. Now that we have the Internet, we are empowered to digest information the way we choose to do so, not the way the publisher forces us.

When a blog provides its RSS feed in full content format, it’s showing that the publishers realize that people want to get their daily info on their own terms. And if you’re worried about ad revenue, simply switch from the “traffic is king” model to the “number of RSS subscribers is king” mode of thinking. You can easily place ads in your RSS feeds as well.

While this seems like a simple versus match: content vs. excerpts, what it really shows is which organizations are able to grasp the concept that now that we don’t have the limited input of simply newspapers, television and radio, the people are once again empowered to drive the media, not the big producers.

Imagine if, when TV was first getting started, certain stations only broadcast to movie theaters and others came directly to your home. Those which you could watch from the comfort of your living room would surely become more popular than those you needed to drive into town to watch on the big screen, even if the latter had better content and a bigger, glitzier screen. As long as publishers hold onto the conventions of old media they will be doomed to be left behind by those organizations who can see the larger picture. And that picture is simple.

The audience is in charge now, you are only as good to your audience as you are being good to your audience.

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