RSS Advertising and FeedDemon

Dave Winer writes:

“Advertising in RSS is just starting now, for all practical purposes. If we wanted to, as an industry, reject the idea, we could, by asking the people who create the software to add a feature that strips out all ads. Make it default to on. Then, that would force the advertisers, if they want to speak to us, to do so respectfully, by our choice. Create feeds of commercial information that we might be interested in, and if we are, we’ll subscribe. If not, we won’t.”

Like many of us, I hate seeing advertisements everywhere I go. The problem isn’t just that ads can be annoying: it’s also that advertisers affect the content we see, and I don’t wish to give them that power yet again.

So, the question is, should FeedDemon strip ads? I’ve wrestled with this quite a bit, and I’ve seriously considered making it possible to apply your own filters to what you see in FeedDemon, so that you could filter out ads by choice. These filters could be shared with other FeedDemon users, much like newspaper styles are – and hey, wouldn’t it be nice if these filters could be used by any RSS aggregator, and not just FeedDemon?

But despite my personal dislike for some forms of advertising, in the end I’ve decided that FeedDemon should not strip ads, at least not by default. I don’t wish to deprive income from those who rely on ad revenue – that in itself would shut out voices we might wish to hear. Plus, ads may give some people enough incentive to offer full-text feeds instead of excerpts, since a big reason people use excerpts is to drive traffic to their site where readers can view their ads. I’d prefer full-text feeds with ads over excerpts without them (and so would Richard MacManus).

I do understand what Dave Winer is saying – he wants advertisers to come to us with separate feeds that we choose to subscribe to because they offer useful, relevant information, and that’s a nice idea (and I expect it will happen, too). But this doesn’t necessarily translate into revenue for those who write blogs, which is why Google ads in feeds are so attractive. And there’s nothing wrong with advertising in and of itself – it’s simply that too many advertisers rely on being annoying and intrusive, and really, that’s where we need to be vigilant.

The RSS ads I’ve seen so far are fairly tame and non-intrusive, but advertising is all about getting your attention, so we know where this is headed. Luckily, RSS readers like FeedDemon already strip much of the stuff that could be used for intrusive ads (popups, ActiveX, scripting, etc.), so really annoying ads aren’t as likely to appear in your RSS reader as they are in your browser. And I guarantee you that every developer working on an RSS reader will be on the lookout for advertisers that discover exploits that enable them to intrude, and we will keep working to prevent that.

25 thoughts on “RSS Advertising and FeedDemon

  1. From what I understand you are flat-chat already. I’ve only just come back to FeedDemon after a lengthy affair with Bloglines (which I still love ‘cos I can access feeds from any ‘puter with a browser).
    And wow! What change from the first betas of FeedDemon (I am a license holder of course) – one question however – how do I change the “appearance”? (ie: skin).
    Cheers!

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  2. Couldn’t you (or me/other FD users) write some simple CSS to a style to block ads? My first thought was to block (hide) images in the news items…does that sound plausible? I may give that a try soon.

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  3. Hiding images wouldn’t work, since many feeds (including my own) have images which relate to the content. You could probably use CSS to hide specific ad sources, but I don’t think this would work long-term. Really, the ads would need to be stripped by FeedDemon before being added to the newspaper.

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  4. Options are always good in my book, but I agree with Nick’s position – FeedDemon should not strip ads, at least not by default. However, providing the user with an option to do so sounds okay to me.

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  5. I’m only an occasional newsreader user, so I only use Sage on Firefox, and using AdBlock is sufficient to remove all adverts that people have tried to sneak into their feeds.

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  6. I don’t see this as a big issue, if a particular feed starts pumping out too many ads or content I’m not interested in then I can simply unsubscribe.
    Unlike a lot of advertising I hold the power here, it’s my decision whether to subscribe to a feed or not.

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  7. >I’d prefer full-text feeds with ads over excerpts without them
    Personally, I’d prefer the exact opposite. Write a good excerpt (or even a good headline) and drive me to your site where I can see the ad. Unless the story is very, very short, I never read the whole story from FD’s newspapers.

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  8. I just wrote about this in my blog, but thought I’d post it here as well. What about an “advanced” version of FeedDemon that has an option to strip those ads (and maybe a few more extra features) for people like me who’d actually pay more to get rid of the ads.

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  9. If you support using Firefox as the browser, you can strip them out via some of the ad filtering extensions. Perhaps later versions of IE will have things like this as well. At that point you punt on the issue and let the browsers and users deal with it. I’m not a supporter of advertising embedded in feeds, but I can see that people need to make money. Still, the blog wasn’t intended as a direct marketing channel I think. Its a way to garner interest and build a following, all things which lead to increased sales possibly.
    Case in point, part of the attraction to Feed Demon was your blog and reading your perspectives as a micro-ISV. Having “buy Feed Demon” banners in your posts wouldn’t have converted me to a paying customer. Its the post quality that helped do that. A good blog conveys a human side to what could otherwise be perceived as yet another company/corporation. A lot of sucessful small companies are driven significantly by the owner’s ability to communicate and connect with customers, not *just* the raw and talent.

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  10. Agreed 100%. I think the end user is capable of making his own decisions. If you don’t like a TV station with commercials, then you change the channel. If you don’t like an RSS feed with commercials, then you unsub.

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  11. Is there a violation of the publisher’s copyright if you strip out ads? Isn’t this the same issue as Google’s AutoLink (only this time, the table is turned)?

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  12. I’m not well-versed enough in copyright law to say whether stipping ads is a violation, but you can bet it would result in some lawsuits. And yes, there are similarities between this and the AutoLink controversy – in both cases, links are being altered without the publisher’s consent.

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  13. I’ll join in on this since I am a FeedDemon user who tested using Amazon ads in FeedBurner for a week or so.
    I only do full-post feeds, so I figured that was the trade-off. I set ads to only appear if a post was over a certain length. This seems to keep most people happy.
    I also posted that I was using FeedBurner as soon as I started, with the explicit mention that I was testing using ads for a future site and didn’t care if people ignored the ads or used Greasemonkey to get rid of them etc.
    For my blog site, the ads ended up being irrelevant for the most part, and I just heard that religious books had started turning up (I’m not a religious blogger by a long shot). For the moment, my ads have been turned off.
    The publishers that get upset will be those that attract audiences that both use aggregators and click on ads. Most Adsense publishers receive their income from people who find their site through searches, not feeds, so this is a developing debate, to be sure.

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  14. Nick Bradbury on RSS ads

    Nick Bradbury, creator of FeedDemon – which happens to be the best RSS aggregator available, IMO – responds to Winer’s call that all aggregators squash RSS advertising.
    But despite my personal dislike for some forms of advertising, in the end I’ve d…

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  15. You will incur hellish wrath if FeedDemon automatically strips ads from feeds. The feeds are provided by publishers. If you modify their feeds, they will certainly claim copyright infringement. Can that claim stick? Possibly, but I don’t want to say why I think it might (why give away the candy store).
    But why not let users apply any Perl-compatible regular expression filters they want?

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  16. Advertising in RSS

    RSS Feeds themselves cause my computer to lock up 5 minutes out of every hour. It would seem that ads in RSS feeds would seem to just make that worse.

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