2003.01.23

For a while now people/organizations with web sites have been trying to determine if they should offer RSS feeds, and if so, how much they should put in them. Are titles only enough? Should there be a description? The full content of a post/article?

We here at the RasterWeb! Laboratories and Grist Mill do the following: Provide an RSS 2.0 file where each item has a title, a description (which is a short manually created excerpt from the entire body of the item) and the full item itself in the content:encoded section. For our purposes, this works well.

Someday (soon?) aggregators should get smarter, and let you choose if you want to see the description (short excerpt) or the whole thing (full text of the content:encoded area.) You can do this right now with AmphetaDesk, though without some extra hacking it’ll affect all channels. I suppose the ‘extra hacking’ would involved adding a pref to each feed for choosing short or long, but that’s an excercise for another time…

Alternately, on the server side, we have people/organizations who are concerned about the costs of providing an RSS feed. People will tell you that a full feed drives more traffic to your site, and while that may be true, not everyone wants to believe that argument. Solutions? Well, there’s gzip, ETags, If-Last-Modified, things, but I had one other idea. Provide more than one feed: One with X amount of titles only (where X is a high number like 20) and one with X amount of titles, descriptions (where is X is a lower number like 10) and one with X amount of titles, descriptions, and full text (where X is 5.)

Our goal is to have all the files be about the same size, and use the same amount of bandwidth. Of course some jerk will subscribe to all three, so we’ll have to have the server be smart enough to deny that. (That’s possible right?)

Other ideas: Provide the full text for the X most recent items, and just the title and description for the rest of the items. What about paying for a full RSS feed versus using the free titles only feed? What about ads in the feed? (Please, don’t kill me!)

As to the question of: How can I get users to visit the site rather than just read the whole thing in an aggregator? What does the site offer? Are there comments? Related items? Useful images? I know that I’ll read Mark’s stuff in my aggregator, but also go to his site to see who is linking to/commenting on his stuff. Same with sites that have Trackback or comments or the like. I’m guessing people/organzations want you to visit their site to up the page views and ad impressions, right? I’d mention something about ads in RSS feeds, but I’m too afraid to mention that idea again.

Anyway, you get the idea. There’s a lot of things that can be done, and most of them haven’t been tried yet. Is interesting problem, no?

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