The other day, former agent Nathan Bransford (of the enormously popular self-titled blog) wondered about modifying his blog’s “feed” from full to partial posts. Responses from his readers — or at least, those who commented — completely surprised me in their lopsided preference.
If you already know what a blog’s “feed” is, feel free to skip past this entire bulleted list and go down to the bottom of the post. If you don’t know what a blog’s “feed” is, here’s a rough summary:
- Blogging sites and technologies — Blogger, WordPress, Live Journal, etc. — all provide automated subscription services for people who might want to learn when a given blog has posted a new entry. Subscribers receive a feed: a stream of links to a given blog’s most recent posts. (Subscribing to a blog’s feed is sometimes called syndicating it. The technology used to manage blog subscriptions is called RSS — originally an abbreviation for RDF Site Summary, but generally regarded nowadays to stand for really simple syndication. Thus, you may also come across verbiage like “RSS feed” or (like “pizza pie”) “RSS syndication.”)
- If you’re a blogger and have never explicitly told your blogging platform (Blogger, etc.), “Do NOT allow subscriptions,” then guess what? Right. Anybody who wants to (unless you’ve somehow otherwise managed to exclude them) may receive your blog’s feed.
- A feed might consist of (a) just the links to each post (always, I think, consisting of the post’s title), or (b) the link, plus the entire contents of the post; or (c) the link, plus a truncated version of the post’s contents — that is, a partial post, with the text cut off after some arbitrary number of characters.
- You view a list of all your subscribed blogs’ posts using software most often referred to as feed readers. A feed reader might be a standalone software package, a browser or blogging plug-in or widget or extension, a Web site… You can also subscribe to the content of many blogs (including Running After My Hat) via email.
- The most popular feed reader, maybe unsurprisingly, is a Google product — Google Reader.
- Here’s a partial screen shot of how my own Google Reader screen looks at the moment (click for a wider view, including stuff to the right of what’s shown here):
- The right side of the window is the important part, for now. It shows you a list of all posts in any of the blogs to which you subscribe which you have not yet read. (At least, as far as Google Reader knows. There are various ways to read blog posts without telling Google Reader, of course, in which case they will still show up here as “unread.” In the above list, as of right now I’ve actually read four of the displayed nine “unread” posts.)
- As you can see, the right side displays the title of the blog itself, the (boldfaced) title of the specific blog post, and a rendering — in gray — of the first few words of the blog post: as many words as will fit without bumping the item to more than one line long.
- Here’s a partial screen shot of what happens when you click on a given blog post (in this case, my own most recent one, Friday’s whiskey river post):
- The most important things about the expanded view of the post you just clicked on:
- It’s almost completely unformatted: in particular, it doesn’t show you the fonts, colors, and general appearance of the blog as you might be accustomed to seeing it at its home site. It’s just the content.
- Images from the blog post may or may not show up in the expanded view, depending on the settings of the given blog.
- Running After My Hat‘s feed as shown above is a partial feed. It includes the first N words of the post’s full content; to read the entire post, a subscriber can click on the blue post title (the phrase “How (Not) to (Dis)Connect,” in this case) — the post opens in a new browser window or tab.
- Blogs may, as I mentioned, provide full content instead of partial content. In these cases, to read the whole post you almost never have to leave Google Reader to visit the actual site.
- If you’re a blogger, offering full vs. partial feeds can offer different advantages. The main one is that — if you care about your blog’s statistics — people who read your blog via a feed reader do not count as site visitors unless they actually “click through” to your site itself. Thus, if you’re feeding full posts, you may actually have many more readers than you’ll ever know. (This seems to have, in part, inspired Bransford’s considering a switch to partial feeds.)
- If you’re a blog reader, though, you’ve got other things to consider.
- Full feeds can be annoying, especially if the blogger tends to run off at the mouth. You may or may not be able to see images, videos, music-player widgets, and so on, even after scrolling down through a couple of screens of nothing but text. If the blogger uses various little visual stylistic devices like drop-caps to break up his long entries, you won’t see those. You may or may not even see italics, boldface, and so on.
- Partial feeds can also be annoying — particularly because they require the extra step of visiting the blog’s own site (and loading into your browser all that other junk, including blog header images, menu sidebars, and so on).
What surprised me about Nathan Bransford’s little straw poll was how many of his regular readers hate-hate-flat-out-absolutely-hate partial feeds. I didn’t count them up, but I’d say the tide was running 80-20 (or more) in favor of keeping the full feeds. Many people said, flat-out, that if Bransford switched from a full to a partial feed, they’d stop reading him altogether: they’d simply delete his blog from their feed readers.
Bottom line: I’ve always fed RAMH on a partial-post basis. But now I’m wondering how many people took one look at the partial feed and said, y’know, the hell with that and moved on to the next distraction. So, for a while at least, I’m going to switch it over to a full feed. My blog traffic (never astronomical to begin with) will probably drop as a result… but, oddly, I may acquire more readers.
If you already subscribe to this blog, btw: when I (starting with this post) switch to the “full” setting, you’ll see ALL posts in full — not just all future ones on a going-forward basis.