From time to time I notice in one of my RSS feed readers a post or two on the general topic of full feeds vs. excerpts. It’s been on my list of Things I Must Get Around to Understanding Better.
Some bloggers like to syndicate only a partial feed, or excerpt, not the whole article or post, so if this blog, for example, was set to send only excerpts of posts, a reader would only see the excerpt in her or his feed reader and would have to click through to this blog to read the whole post.
The argument in favour of using only excerpts is generally, as I understand, that it is a way of encouraging people to visit your blog, rather than just relying on feeds to know what you are posting. And if you want to monetize your blog via in-blog ads, then it makes sense, the argument goes, to have people visit your blog so that they can be exposed to those ads.
One of the problems with that approach is that it is producer-focused, not consumer-focused, i.e. “I want you to come and visit my blog so I can sell you things”.
But the consumer or reader might not like excerpts or clicking through to websites and might decide to cull all the feeds which only have excerpts. As Dennis Kennedy points out:
Over the years, people who use newsreaders to consume RSS feeds often reach a point where they feel that they have subscribed to WAY TOO MANY feeds. They then decide to prune their list of feeds. Historically, one of the easiest ways to cut the feeds you subscribe to is to delete those that offer only excerpts of posts.
The reason should be apparent. You save yourself the time and effort of clicking through to see the rest of the post. If you read feeds offline with a stand-alone reader, as I often do, then you will prefer full-text feeds because you can read everything in the post.
Kevin O’Keefe, who also links to Dennis Kennedy’s post, has switched his LexBlog Blog from excerpt to full feed and is happy with the results:
When I switched to full text RSS feeds more people read my blog posts and more people, other bloggers and the media, cited my blog posts in their writings. My reputation as an authority on lawyer blogs grew and LexBlog’s business increased.
Last week, in his post Should I Test This? search expert John Battelle floated the idea of switching from full feeds to excerpts. The next day, in More on My Feed (Non) Experiment – he announced that the experiment was not going ahead and explained why – basically the reaction of at least a “vocal minority” of his readers. Both posts and the accompanying comments make very interesting reading: some commenters were so opposed to the idea of excerpt-based feeds that they indicated that they would cancel their feed (or had done so – but I noticed at least one “un-deleted” on the announcement that the experiment was not to proceed).
For the sake of readers who might not know how to switch from full to excerpts, or vice versa – I certainly took a long time to figure it out (one of those things the experts feel is so obvious it doesn’t need explaining?) – here are a couple of examples of how to manage the switch, one for users of WordPress and one for Blogware users (I haven’t tested other platforms but my guess is there would be some similar options):
- in WordPress, you control whether it is a full feed or an excerpt being syndicated as follows – in the control panel, go to Options, then Reading, then Syndication Feeds, where there is a radio button option to choose “full text” or “summary”; and note the caveat that if you use the <!–more–> feature so that only part of the post shows on the main page, the RSS feed will also cut off at that point
- with another blog of mine, Thinking Home Business, which uses the Blogware platform via the reseller BlogHarbor, there is a similar choice to make – if I want to show only an excerpt on the main page then that is all that will be included in the feed.
I must admit I haven’t been on one side or the other of this debate. My preference lately has been to show the whole post if it is not too long (judged subjectively on a post by post basis) but to use the “post-splitting” or “more” function for some longer posts. Frankly, I hadn’t realized until today that using the “more” function was effectively creating an excerpt-only feed – so “more” in that sense can be “less” in terms of what appears in the feed reader: makes sense, I just hadn’t picked up on it.
I am drawn to the “whole post” case and can see that it makes sense to stop using the “more” function if I want to be consistent.
It would be interesting to know if there is a blogging platform that enables the blogger to have a further option, namely to be able to choose the excerpt (or “more” split of the post) for display and the full post or excerpt for the feed. Do they have to be tied?