RSS datapoint of the day

By Felix Salmon
June 4, 2009

Jim Ledbetter switched the RSS feeds at The Big Money from truncated to full. What happened?

Earlier this year, TBM moved from a headline RSS to a full-feed. Jing Gu, our tireless director of technology, tells me that satisfying the needs of active bloggers was a crucial consideration in that decision. And, certainly, TBM traffic is up dramatically since the beginning of the year-not to say that’s because of the full-feed RSS, but no one here holds the opinion that it has hurt us.

This is obviously consistent with my view that switching to full RSS increases, rather than decreases, web traffic. There have been other publishers who have made the switch; I’d love them to weigh in with their own experiences, because the one thing which is sorely lacking here is empirical data.

Within TBM’s own organization, WPNI, there seems to be confusion on the issue: some feeds (TBM’s, Ezra Klein’s) are full, while most of the rest (Slate, the other WaPo bloggers) are truncated. Over at the Economist, the Free Exchange blog went from truncated, to full, to truncated again — I’d love to see what that did to its traffic. (I, for one, have pretty much stopped reading it since it retruncated itself.)

I’m hoping that the ad recession will help push publishers towards full feeds: with excess inventory rampant, we’re move away from the Holy Pageview as the only thing that publishers care about. Instead, there is — or should be — much more emphasis on building a strong relationship with a large and loyal readership. Full RSS is a great way of doing that, even if it doesn’t increase pageviews (and, to reiterate, I’m still pretty sure that it does increase pageviews).

That said, RSS has always been a pretty marginal technology, and I’ve never said that it will make an enormous difference one way or the other. “I suspect that before RSS truly revolutionizes the use of the Web,” says Ledbetter, “something else will come along to surpass it.”

The truth is that RSS won’t revolutionize the use of the Web, and anybody who thinks it will is doomed to disappointment. Already Twitter is replacing it to no little degree. That’s fine. The point is that publishers should maximize the value of RSS to their site, even if that maximal value is not as large as they might hope. And the way to do that is to serve up full feeds.

Update: Remy discovers a useful hack:

What wpni doesn’t get is that in letting Ezra have a full text feed they gave away their secret. The same address that gives the full text feed for Ezra’s blog (voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/fa st.xml) gives it for any other Post blogger. Just append /fast.xml to the end of any Post blog’s homepage and you get the full text rss feed.

So The Hearing, for instance, the WaPo blog from Simon Johnson and James Kwak, has a full RSS feed here. Good to know!

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