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Please stop posting excerpts in your RSS feed!

Published to Blog on 8 Jul 2007

I’m not speaking to anyone in particular with the above title, just the blogging world in general.

I pruned a few RSS feeds from my reader today (Newsgator Outlook Edition in case you’re keeping count) and afterward I realized that each of the three was using post excerpts in their RSS feeds. It was not a conscious decision to target those types of feeds, but that’s just the way it worked out. I’ve never really felt that strongly that excerpts are a bad thing, however today I found myself dropping subscriptions to three blogs that use excerpts. Why is that?

I mentally categorize blogs to which I subscribe in one of four buckets:

  1. Definite Instant Reads - the blogs of friends, fellow Telligenti, or other .NET citizens who I know personally. Because I have personal relationships with these people I look forward to anything they write and will go directly to a new post whenever I see one and read it from start to finish.
  2. Instant Reads - blogs that post short but meaningful (or funny or stupid or whatever) content that I can quickly read and then either delete, keep for later review, bookmark for followup, etc. After looking for posts from group 1, I will look for posts from blogs that fall into this category and will read each new post. Seth Godin and Rick Segal fall into this group.
  3. Delayed Must Reads - blogs that usually post longer, meatier content that are definitely worth the time investment. This is for blogs like Scott Guthrie and Scott Hanselman. I usually only read new posts for these types of blogs about once a week or when I have some downtime. I know the posts on these blogs will take a bit of a time investment and they are worth it.
  4. Delayed Reads - blogs that I’ll read when and if I get a chance.

For the most part, it is all about time investment for me. Currently I subscribe to about 120 blogs and other feeds. So each post that comes in has a lot of competition. If I only have 30 minutes on a particular day to devote to catching up on my blog reading then maybe only a portion of category 2 feeds get read (the best ones first of course). This may happen several days or weeks in a row. When I decide to catch up on some more serious reading I will read the category 3 feeds that I think are the best and then I may eventually work my way to the category 2 feeds that have been recently ignored (effectively being bumped to category 4) - or I may not. If I find that I haven’t read a blog’s posts for a couple of months then I will delete it even if it’s for no other good reason than I haven’t had time.

So what does all this have to do with full-text RSS feeds? Hold on one more minute, I’m getting there. 

How does a blog fall out of favor? How does it move down the list from a good “read it as soon as it’s posted” blog to a “I’ll get to later if I can” blog. Besides the obvious issues of good content I can think of a couple of other things:

  • Way too many posts. This is the reason I no longer subscribe to Engadget. If I know that there will be 20 posts for a blog in an afternoon and I only have 5 minutes between meetings to see what is going on in the blogging world then I will skip that specific blog. (I am considering just subscribing to a category or two on Engadget.)
  • Relevance to me. Some blogs that I subscribe to may only have one post out of five that I am interested in. That is fine - it’s easy enough to quickly delete the posts that I’m not interested in. But knowing that I may have to filter some posts to find a good one means that blog may get bumped.
  • Longer content that is not of the “must read” variety. 

and drumroll please…

  • If I know that the RSS feed only contains excerpts I may choose to skip it because reading a post (or many posts) will take the additional time of having to click to go to the site. That extra few seconds may be more than I have to invest at that moment.

Finally, my “Delayed Must Read” list is pretty short. I currently only have about five blogs in that list. If a blog is not of the caliber of ScottGu or Scott Hanselman then it is not making that list. So if a blog gets bumped once there is a pretty good chance that it may never fall back into favor.

Some “experts” say that excerpts are good in your RSS feed because they force the reader to visit your site. However I think that strategy is a very thin double-edged sword that has just as much chance of backfiring. In my case I find that excerpts are just as likely to cause me to unsubscribe from your RSS feed as they are to visit your site.

Maybe I’m the only one with issues of too many blogs to read and so little time. If so, feel free to ignore my pleas. My educated guess is that I’m not.

Dan Hounshell
Web geek, nerd, amateur maker. Likes: apis, node, motorcycles, sports, chickens, watches, food, Nashville, Savannah, Cincinnati and family.
Dan Hounshell on Twitter

  • On 8 Jul 2007 "Steve"" said:
    Yup, I agree totally. I don't read RSS feeds that are excerpts, I want it all aggregated into Outlook 2007, not have to chase posts across the web. Right on.
  • On 8 Jul 2007 "Bruce"" said:
    I about messed myself when I read this, since I read your blog via the http// feed, and *all* the entries there are excepts - including this very diatribe of yours! I don't like it either. -Bruce
  • On 8 Jul 2007 "jayson knight"" said:
    Bruce beat me to it...the Telligenti feed is truncated, which drives me nuts. I also prune out feeds which are truncated, can't stand it.
  • On 9 Jul 2007 """ said:
    Jayson and Bruce, we are working on getting the Telligenti feeds corrected. Thanks, Steve.
  • On 9 Jul 2007 """ said:
    Jayson and Bruce, in the practicing what I preach arena - my mirrored feed on Telligenti should show full text rather than excerpts from here on out. Thanks for pointing that out.
  • On 9 Jul 2007 "Joe Wirtley"" said:
    Absolutely agree. I don't think I'm subscribed to any feeds that are an excerpt only. Like you, I didn't set out to do that, but that's how it has turned out. It's also interesting hearing how you organize your reading. I'm starting to feel that problem of "so many feeds, so little time".
  • On 9 Jul 2007 "Bruce"" said:
    Thanks for the quick response - much appreciated!
  • On 9 Jul 2007 """ said:
    Joe, my organization is nothing formal. It is more of a mental thing and nothing I really designed - I just noticed that it is something that I do. I normally look at my RSS feeds several 3-4 times a day and I've found that I scan them and read what I have time to read at that moment. Because I use Newsgator everything is right there in Outlook for me. Whenever I have a free minute I scan through the list of folders to see if there are any new posts that I'll be interested in. On the first pass I look for blogs of friends, co-workers, etc - the stuff I really enjoy reading. Once I hit those if I still have time I will look for other blogs that I enjoy reading and I know will be quick - stuff like Seth Godin, Gullible.Info, Hack a Day, Justice Gray, etc. During that second pass I will make note of any new posts by ScottGu, Scott Hanselman, Jason Haley, Sam Gentile, Mike Gunderloy, etc. I will not open them up, though, because I know they will take a time commitment. I will just file it away mentally that there is a new one. If I get through those and I still have time then I will make another pass and look deeper - for the things that I categorize as "I'll read it when/if I get a chance". Maybe someone who makes longer posts, like Rory, Martin Fowler or Bruce Eckel. Usually on the weekend or late in the day if I have some time I will go back to dig up those meatier posts by ScottGu and others. I'll wait until I have a good hour to give, a cup of coffee in my hand and a desire and willingness to learn something. I'm sure there are some other much more organized approaches, but that's how I do it and it works for me.
  • On 9 Jul 2007 "Nicole Keith"" said:
    The lack of the double click through is a huge improvement! Thanks Dan )
  • On 9 Jul 2007 """ said:
    Thanks Bruce and Nicole.