Breaking Media’s full RSS returns

By Felix Salmon
June 3, 2010

The Breaking Media RSS Experiment, which I wrote about here in April, is over. And the winner is… full RSS!

Here’s Breaking Media CEO Jonah Bloom:

The whole idea of trying to force people into certain media consumption habits seems futile in an era when technology has enabled people to consume whatever they want, however they want it. If pushing a few thousand more visits to ATL every week with a truncated feed is the best idea we’ve got for monetizing our content then we’re probably pretty screwed anyway, so we’ll likely be better served focusing our energies on coming up with more compelling content and platforms (newsletters, mobile apps) and so on, than in further aggravating RSS subscribers.

And what were the numbers? Well, the experiment only lasted a month, so they were necessarily ambiguous — but they’re consistent with my thesis that if you truncate your RSS, then the amount of traffic you get directly from your RSS feed goes up, but your overall traffic from other sources goes down. Here’s Jonah, in an email to me:

I think this test would tend to support your theory in that we got more traffic from the feeds, but saw about a three percentage points decrease in referring sources.

Total numbers don’t give as clear picture as we might both like. We were up considerably in the first week after truncation, mainly on the back of a couple of breakout stories like the Harvard racism tale. In the latter half of the trial period we were below our best numbers. The last couple of weeks might well be indicative of some negative impact from truncation, but such a large proportion of our traffic is direct and search based that I’d be wary of drawing too many conclusions from topline numbers.

Like Jonah, I’m happy that Breaking Media did this experiment, I’m very happy that they made the results public, and I’m extremely happy that they ended up coming down on the side of the angels.

There’s no way that the NYT or WSJ, both of which are becoming increasingly vocal about the necessity of paywalls, will ever serve up full RSS feeds. But I do think that those of us on free sites can and should use full RSS as a really easy way of adding value and differentiating ourselves from the paywalled newspapers. Not to mention Gawker Media.

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