RSS – (When the) Reality (is that) Syndication Sucks

I was looking at my blog stats today and started thinking about RSS (really simple syndication for anyone who doesn't know – a technology that allows you to use an external source – either your e-mail client or a web site or a piece of software or whatever) to track your favourite sites. 

So, if you use RSS, you don't have to manually visit this site to see if I've posted that day or not.  Instead, you can use your RSS reader to track this site (and many others all at once) to see at a glance via a single interface if there any updates to any site you follow, usually via a brief title and a excerpt from the post appearing in the RSS reader. 

It's a great technology and makes it easy for me to follow dozens of web sites when in the past, I might have only followed a few on a regular basis.  But I also realise it has some significant downsides…

– most RSS readers (okay, the one I use does this so I'm happy to generalize about all of them ) only show new posts and don't show comments.  So you're less likely to read the comments on a blog (or even know if a post *has* comments) and that's often where the most entertaining, informative content is to be found.

– this probably also discourages readers from becoming active participants themselves if they're not right there with the “Submit Comment” button in front of them (I know I'm as guilty of this as anyone with the blogs of friends that I follow via RSS but rarely comment on.  Sorry all!)

– if you don't at least occasionally visit the blog directly, you also won't know if the blogger has added new widgets or other features.  For example, I have a feed of my del.icio.us bookmarks on my blog and often post interesting articles there that I find but don't want to devote a full blog entry to.  Unless you visit my blog directly (or subscribe to the RSS feed for my del.icio.us content specifically – yes, it gets that convoluted), you don't see those articles.  I also recently added a widget that shows where people are visiting my site from geographically.  But for many readers, this is probably the first time they even know I did this.

– you also don't see if people have redesigned the look of their site visually unless they tell you in a blog post that shows up in your RSS feed that they've done so.

By far, the largest number of referrers I get to my site are from Google Reader and Bloglines, two of the main RSS providers.  So, it's hard to tell with my stats package, but I'd guess that RSS readers outnumber direct visitors by 2:1 and possibly even 3:1.  (And don't even get me started on Facebook – I syndicate my content there too but am constantly doubting whether this is a wise thing or not for all kinds of reasons – of which this article is just one (big) example.) 

So yeah, anyhow, the point of all of this is to say that RSS is great (for the most part), I use it all the time (for the most part) and if you use it to visit this site, make sure you stop by directly every once in awhile to see what's new, throw in a comment if you're thusly inspired and see if I ever get brave and decide to change the default style I've had in place for over a year now. 

Comments 8

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    The comments thing is a pretty big downside for me. I do keep it in mind and remember to visit sites in person, though. 🙂 (And there are a few blogs I follow that get enough trollish commentary that I don't want to read the comments, so RSS is good for keeping the temptation to click on the comment thread at arm's length.)

    Posted 16 Dec 2007 at 4:54 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Take a page out the of corporate world's page: set up the RSS feed to include only a snippet of your “article” and then include a link to the full page. Then slap ads on this sucker, monazite, and sit back and count the dollar bills.

    Posted 16 Dec 2007 at 7:38 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    That's a good point. Not all comments are gold. (Er, present company excluded of course! ;))

    Posted 17 Dec 2007 at 3:12 am
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Man, I hate that.
    And it's not just the tricks being used to get you to visit pages. As I'm sure you know, one of the big “money” areas right now is figuring out how to embed ads right into RSS feeds.
    I don't think anybody's doing it yet – but I'm sure it won't be long…
    “Head Tale RSS – Sponsored by Amazon.com, The Librarian's Friend”

    Posted 17 Dec 2007 at 3:15 am
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    figuring out how to embed ads right into RSS feeds
    *shudder*
    Adblock is my friend…

    Posted 17 Dec 2007 at 5:41 am
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    As long as AdBlock can figure out to deal with that. If your RSS feed is…
    Jason Posts on Libraries
    Jason Posts About Pace
    Jason Posts A YouTube Link
    CLICK HERE TO BUY BOOKS FROM AMAZON.COM
    Jason Admits to Selling Out With New RSS Ads
    …it might be hard to avoid, even if you don't click on the link.

    Posted 22 Dec 2007 at 4:06 pm
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    Hee. Well, one can always just avoid subscribing to the ones with ads…at least, if they're done in an annoying way – I actually don't mind those Google AdSense ones; they don't distract you (at least, I don't even see them most of the time), and occasionally they're even amusing.

    Posted 30 Dec 2007 at 4:10 am
  8. Anonymous wrote:

    A lot of people attribute Google's mega-success to their search engine. I think that's a big part of it but an equally big part is that they figured out how to do online ads – customized, targeted, unobtrusive – in a way nobody had before.

    Posted 30 Dec 2007 at 4:21 pm

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