Should I Test This?

From the start, Searchblog has had a full text feed. I took my cue from my pals at Boing Boing – I believed in fully portable content, and I also believed in portable business models. But it's been two years since I started FM, and I have to say,…

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From the start, Searchblog has had a full text feed. I took my cue from my pals at Boing Boing – I believed in fully portable content, and I also believed in portable business models. But it’s been two years since I started FM, and I have to say, the most important and valuable business model for a site like Searchblog remains bringing your attention to my site, where I can introduce you to marketers who buy ads there.

I know that folks, particularly our partners Feedburner, argue that feeds themselves should be monetizable (Lord, what a word). But the reality is, they are not nearly as valuable to a publisher, at present, as visitors to the site are. “We’ve seen no evidence that excerpts on their own drive higher clickthroughs,” Feedburner posted recently.

Well, I’d like to test that assertion.

Now, I’m a practical guy. So, I figure, are most of you. I’m thinking of shifting my feed from full text to excerpts, for a week or a month, and seeing how pissed, or not, all of you get, and seeing if traffic increases to the site over time. There’s nearly 70,000 of you now who read this feed. Some of you read excerpts because you’re in crippled readers (ahem, MyYahoo). But many others read, like I do, in full text readers. I’m not switching sides here. I’m just curious.

Consider the comments section your chance to tell me what you think….

PS – I’m also very open to other approaches, like adding sponsors to the feed myself – the sponsors who buy on the site, that is.

After all, they want to reach you…not me!

Author: John Battelle

A founder of NewCo (current CEO), sovrn (Chair), Federated Media, Web 2 Summit, The Industry Standard, Wired. Author, investor, board member (Acxiom, Sovrn, NewCo), bike rider, yoga practitioner.

81 thoughts on “Should I Test This?”

  1. Surely I’m more valuable to your advertisers when I read full-text through Google Reader than I am if I stop reading you altogether. Not that I’d want to. But the reality is that blogs that don’t put full feeds in my reader just don’t get read. I have several partial feed subscriptions (ClickZ, Businessweek come to mind) and I almost never click through to their cites.

  2. Surely I’m more valuable to your advertisers when I read full-text through Google Reader than I am if I stop reading you altogether. Not that I’d want to. But the reality is that blogs that don’t put full feeds in my reader just don’t get read. I have several partial feed subscriptions (ClickZ, Businessweek come to mind) and I almost never click through to their sites.

  3. Add me to the chorus of requests to keep the full feed. There’s already ads in your feed. There was one for Sun Microsystems with this post, in fact. Who adds those to the feed? Feedburner? You?

  4. Why doesn’t some company (Feedburner?) give better ways for including ads into feeds? There are no real technical reasons why every ad that is seen on the side of a page can’t be rendered in a feed.

    (True, you can’t do it dynamically via javascript as it’s done now, but you could certainly serve dynamically-created images with links.)

    That said, please don’t drop the full text feed. I’ll probably just stop reading until they come back.

  5. The whole point of RSS feeds is to cater to the user, right? Let them read it when they want using whichever browser/reader they want. So, to turn around and offer a RSS Lite seems counterintuitive. Seeing that you already offer a full text and excerpts feed, why don’t you tell us which one gets more subscribers and that’ll pretty much tell you where we all stand on this one.

  6. John, please don’t switch to excerpts! I understand the desire to monetize your content, but think about what you’re doing – you’re worsening your user’s experience to make a few extra dollars. Full feeds are the best option, by far, for those of us who subscribe to multiple feeds.

    Think about this in business terms – full feeds work the best for the reader. Instead of taking that away and reverting to the old method (I know, it seems silly to say that) of monetizing blogs, wait for a better way to monetize feeds.

  7. I think excerpts are vastly preferable to ads in my newsreader. It’s easy enough to scan excerpts and, if I want to read a whole post, to go to the site and feed my eyeballs to your sponsors. Most of my feeds are excerpts now anyway, and I don’t mind a bit.

  8. Having an abbreviated rss feed is just annoying. I would much rather have some image or text-based ads at the bottom of the feed than have to click through everything that looks interesting. I usually end up dropping shortened feeds from my reader.

  9. I’m torn. While a news reader allows me to skim/consume NEARLY 1,000 articles per day — which I wouldn’t do if I had to parse every single page on which a new article resides — the context of the article matters to me and I don’t get anything around the article (like previous blog posts or recommended reading) that comes with seeing the post/article in its context.

    Design matters. Differentiation matters. Context matters. Beauty matters. None of that is in a feed. In the same way that newspapers and magazines aren’t Courier font on a white background single spaced, page layout, graphics and the look-n-feel often gives meaning to the content lost in a textual RSS feed.

    I’ve thought alot about what would happen if there was “rich RSS”. A publisher could opt to deliver a rich feed that would have an enhanced look-n-feel, design, color and so forth. I know, I know…it would add payload and sort of defeat the RSS cleanliness and efficiency, but maybe it would enhance the experience and allow ad insertion.

  10. Your feed-readers have been getting everything from you, FOR FREE, for quite some time. So it’s no surprise they’re up in arms. Of course there’s going to be a chorus of “no” if you switch over.

    But you know what? Your blog is still valuable. People may threaten, and they may even unsubscribe, but so long as your blog is still valuable, they will be back, one way or another. They’ll gripe and moan, as they come to your site to read anyway.

    Myself, I come to your blog every day to see the updates – my feed reader is my Google homepage, and while it may be getting full text, I’m not used to that. Frankly, I prefer to read blogs at the source – sometimes there are pictures that won’t come through, sometimes the feeds are excerpts, sometimes there are related links I find useful.

    Plus, the blog has its own CSS that doesn’t (I think) come through a feed reader. Reading it styled the way the author set up is like reading a book in its original cover; reading it in a feed reader is like reading an article by looking at the snippet in a SERP.

    The ads, generally, end up in my “blind spot”. I notice them once in a while, but generally ignore them anyway.

    I do use a feed-aggregator, to see headlines of blog posts, but I don’t read from a feed reader. I don’t want a sanitized, text-only experience with a blog. You’ve got it all together your way for whatever reasons, and I have no problem abiding by that, and coming to your blog to read the posts.

    In summary: if the excerpt is a summary, and not just the first 40 words or so, I see no reason the feed should be much less valuable than before. Especially for me.

    So I say, do it. You’re a business man. Give away something for free, forever? Perhaps yes, perhaps no.

    Go ahead and burninate the full-text feed. It will have no effect on my readership of your blog – the value of the posting & commenting does that. Keep that value, and I’ll keep coming.

  11. In my mind, you have already tainted the experiment because people know that it is just an experiment and therefore won’t have a genuine reaction. You will also get a lot of people that make idle threats to leave, but you won’t know for sure if they really will because they know that full feeds will be turned on again.

  12. Your feed-readers have been getting everything from you, FOR FREE, for quite some time. So it’s no surprise they’re up in arms. Of course there’s going to be a chorus of “no” if you switch over.

    But you know what? Your blog is still valuable. People may threaten, and they may even unsubscribe, but so long as your blog is still valuable, they will be back, one way or another. They’ll gripe and moan, as they come to your site to read anyway.

    Myself, I come to your blog every day to see the updates – my feed reader is my Google homepage, and while it may be getting full text, I’m not used to that. Frankly, I prefer to read blogs at the source – sometimes there are pictures that won’t come through, sometimes the feeds are excerpts, sometimes there are related links I find useful.

    Plus, the blog has its own CSS that doesn’t (I think) come through a feed reader. Reading it styled the way the author set up is like reading a book in its original cover; reading it in a feed reader is like reading an article by looking at the snippet in a SERP.

    The ads, generally, end up in my “blind spot”. I notice them once in a while, but generally ignore them anyway.

    I do use a feed-aggregator, to see headlines of blog posts, but I don’t read from a feed reader. I don’t want a sanitized, text-only experience with a blog. You’ve got it all together your way for whatever reasons, and I have no problem abiding by that, and coming to your blog to read the posts.

    In summary: if the excerpt is a summary, and not just the first 40 words or so, I see no reason the feed should be much less valuable than before. Especially for me.

    So I say, do it. You’re a business man. Give away something for free, forever? Perhaps yes, perhaps no.

    Go ahead and burninate the full-text feed. It will have no effect on my readership of your blog – the value of the posting & commenting does that. Keep that value, and I’ll keep coming.

  13. I’m for adding sponsors to your feeds. The conversion event you want is for readers to visit your sponsors so you get paid. Visiting your site is only a meanst to that end.

    For a reader like me, feed reading is a highly efficient way to browse a lot of information. There’s three stages: (1) Does the title get me; (2) Click and read post; (3) Periodically comment. If I have to leap onto an entirely new page to just read the post, well I may never do it and in fact unsubscribe. However, I might actually click on ads in feeds.

    Your dealing with two segments, web page visitors and feed browsers. Market to them differently.

  14. If full text were THAT necessary, slashdot wouldn’t bring so many people to sites. I have your feed on my Google Homepage and my attention is brought only by the title of the post. Make a good excerpts, keep up the good content, and you won’t be losing that many readers and will still gain visitors.

  15. John, one of the problems with excerpt feeds—usually based on a number of words, is that all the html formatting, paragraphs, blockquotes, etc gets stripped, making the excerpts themselves much less skimmable—more like gibberish.

    Readers who subscribe to your feed are a different class of users, some are lurkers, yes, but I’d guess they’re more likely to click over to a post when and if something you write inspires them to comment—or see what other people have commented—two very important elements of conversational media not easily subverted by feeds.

    By relying on excerpts, I’d say the chance that someone jumps over is reduced by how must content is cut.

  16. I’m a big boy. I know how to click to read stories. As long as you properly describe them in your descriptions, I’ll click to read stuff that’s interesting. Of course, I’ll naturally read less simply because it’s inevitable descriptions can’t cover as much as if I do a quick skim of an entire story in my readers. But I won’t be deleting the feed. I find it amazing that anyone would decide that any site they find useful has to get nixed just because they don’t offer full feeds. Hey, if other sites offer the same exact info and full feeds, that makes sense. Otherwise, sure — the site might lose a reader, but the reader loses something too.

  17. All it means is that i’ll stop reading what you write. It’s like news sites preventing themselves from being index. Good bye searchblog.

  18. Your feed-readers have been getting everything from you, FOR FREE, for quite some time. So it’s no surprise they’re up in arms. Of course there’s going to be a chorus of “no” if you switch over.

    But you know what? Your blog is still valuable. People may threaten, and they may even unsubscribe, but so long as your blog is still valuable, they will be back, one way or another. They’ll gripe and moan, as they come to your site to read anyway.

    Myself, I come to your blog every day to see the updates – my feed reader is my Google homepage, and while it may be getting full text, I’m not used to that. Frankly, I prefer to read blogs at the source – sometimes there are pictures that won’t come through, sometimes the feeds are excerpts, sometimes there are related links I find useful.

    Plus, the blog has its own CSS that doesn’t (I think) come through a feed reader. Reading it styled the way the author set up is like reading a book in its original cover; reading it in a feed reader is like reading an article by looking at the snippet in a SERP.

    The ads, generally, end up in my “blind spot”. I notice them once in a while, but generally ignore them anyway.

    I do use a feed-aggregator, to see headlines of blog posts, but I don’t read from a feed reader. I don’t want a sanitized, text-only experience with a blog. You’ve got it all together your way for whatever reasons, and I have no problem abiding by that, and coming to your blog to read the posts.

    In summary: if the excerpt is a summary, and not just the first 40 words or so, I see no reason the feed should be much less valuable than before. Especially for me.

    So I say, do it. You’re a business man. Give away something for free, forever? Perhaps yes, perhaps no.

    Go ahead and burninate the full-text feed. It will have no effect on my readership of your blog – the value of the posting & commenting does that. Keep that value, and I’ll keep coming.

  19. Parting shot – I cannot stand ads coming in RSS feeds. I just won’t tolerate it. My rss-feed aggregator is MY place, I don’t want weird ads coming in where I think is just links to real content. If I want ads, I’ll go to the blog itself — and I always do, go to the blog itself, so no problem.

  20. Without the full text feed, I’m gone. I don’t keep anything else but full text in my reader. I can get my news from a million different sites, thank you very much.

  21. Without the full text feed, I will stop reading as well. There is nothing that bothers me more than having losing the content and being required to click through random links and leaving my realm where I am able to quickly scan through hundreds of news items. I will leave.

  22. “There’s nearly 70,000 of you now who read this feed.”

    No, there’s nearly 70,000 of us who SUBSCRIBE to the feed. I am a subscriber but rarely a reader. I, for one, will not stay subscribed if you switch to partial text feeds because it’s not worth my time to click out of my reader to a web page. If the content was more in line with my interests I’d be more likely to deal with partial text feeds. I might also therefore be more likely to be interested in what your sponsors are selling, so maybe it’s a good idea.

    Good luck!

  23. Teaser feeds are the way to go. I need to review a lot of news every day; I don’t need the full text of every possible article from every possible RSS subscription. I need just enough info to decide if the whole article is worth my time.

  24. I agree with Randall – one above. Only need teaser feeds – let me decide whether i want to read the whole article. Who are all these people that waste their time reading a full submission if it has no relevancy to them? I do not mind clicking through if it is worth my time… as was the case for this article.

    Plus, long-term viability of your blog requires it.

  25. I agree with much of Trogdor’s post (although i’m not sure it needed to be said 3 times)

    For the full text people, I don’t understand why they’re happy to monetize the feed reader companies’ sites. Google is currently testing adsense for feeds, but it’s ambiguous if they’re inserting ads in on the content/feed provider’s end, or the content consumer’s end without letting the content/feed provider know.

    The second option wouldn’t be too much of a shock given how Google has monetized gMail. Ads in people’s email inboxes were considered controversial at one point in the distant past, but now no-one seems to care.

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