RSS Ads Revisited

Yesterday, Dave Winer had an excellent post about RSS ads. Rather than include an excerpt here, I’ll ask that you read it and then come back here (I’ll wait).

Like Dave, I also do a lot of skimming when reading RSS. I’ll quickly scan the headlines, then read the first sentence or two when I find something of interest. If it keeps my interest longer than that, I figure it’s worth a click, so I don’t mind clicking through to the site to read the rest of the story. Anything that gets in the way of that – even visually – could easily make me choose not to click. In this situation, RSS ads could get in the way – which means they’d lower the revenue earned by these sites.

But there is at least one big caveat here: offline reading. I’ve heard many, many reports from customers who really like FeedDemon’s offline reading mode, and I use this feature myself whenever I travel. Before getting on a plane, I’ll often tell FeedDemon to download all the latest items in my subsriptions, then when I’m on the plane I’ll put FeedDemon into offline mode and read everything that was retrieved. Others use FeedDemon for offline reading on subways and long commutes – basically, in any situation where there’s no internet connection available.

This is where summary feeds fail for a lot of people. If you post only excerpts and expect readers to click through to your site, you’re not serving those in your audience who wish to read your articles offline. RSS readers could pre-fetch links so that your web site is available to them offline, but when you consider the number of feeds many people read, that would involve an awful lot of unnecessary bandwidth consumption (not to mention space on your hard drive).

Perhaps one solution is to offer two feeds: one with excerpts but no ads, and one with the full articles and also ads. I’m not usually one to recommend having multiple feeds (quite frankly, I don’t understand why so many bloggers have separate links for RSS, Atom and RDF feeds), but in this situation it might make sense.

9 thoughts on “RSS Ads Revisited

  1. Dave’s post is a good one, and I basically agree with the sentiments, but the example of the BBC isn’t so great. The BBC site is publicly funded and doesn’t carry any advertising at all, so the idea of RSS ads doesn’t apply.

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  2. This sounds like a classic content negotiation problem. Techincally, all that’s necessary is a header indicating a preference for full or summarized contents. The ‘Accept’ header can handle the format.

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  3. A header is one solution, but that obviously requires something that many bloggers have no control over. Have you seen the accept header used for this purpose “in the wild” yet?

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  4. Nick, the accept header is used to indicate the preferred media type. That would be choosing RSS, RDF, or Atom. This works. Your browser probably sends one with every request. In particular, have a look at what Mozilla sends.
    Here’s Apache’s implementation:
    http://httpd.apache.org/docs/content-negotiation.html
    A new header would probably be required to indicate a preference for full or partial content. It seems to me that this feature is most needed on high traffic commercial sites that have full control over their HTTP servers. We could even make up a response header to indicate the server supports the feature.

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  5. I always prefer summaries that drive me to the site. FD is fantastic as an RSS reader, but I rarely use the newspaper feature. I prefer to see the full article, with any needed graphics in a full sized browser. I find it too hard to read stories using a newspaper view. Sure I could make the browser window bigger, but then there’s less room for the headlines.
    Why not have a setting to download feeds “and links”? That way users could select that before they go offline. It would take a while to download everything, but I suspect most FD users have broadband and will accept the tradeoff for the ability to read offline. Then you are not at the mercy of the feed creator. (I subscribe to plenty of feeds that contain no summary at all, just a headline)
    Maybe it could somehow integrate with FeedStation. Now that I think about it, I would think a small number of podcasts would be more data than even several hundred web pages. You could schedule the article downloads the same way you schedule the podcast downloads.
    I think that would actually be a great way to make FD stand out from other RSS readers.

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  6. If I published a summary feed and a full feed, my summary could include a link to the full feed, and visa versa.
    So when your going for offline mode, FeedDemon would be smart enough to download the full feed. Simple.
    Better still if you wanted to start reading the full feed instead of the summary feed in online mode you could toggle between them.
    I don’t really understand all the different formats, but I don’t think this idea is rocket science and could have a decent impact.
    Let me know what you think.

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  7. A little (less|more) Detail: please

    Adding a header to let your aggregator negotiate just how much content you want (and thus whether or not you need the ads that pay for the content)? Could work.

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