Cognitive Daily

One of the most hated practices on the Internet is the breaking of articles into pages. Jason Kottke swearingly rants against it here, and Mike Davidson denounces the practice here. I don’t much like the practice either, especially when a short, pointless article is broken into four or more pages (Davidson mockingly points to this extreme example).

Davidson argues that only extremely long articles — more than 20 screens long — should be broken up into pages, and these pages should correspond to logical divisions within the article, which he calls “acts” (I’d call them “chapters” or “sections,” but you get the idea).

Some of Davidson’s commenters, however, say that he is guilty of a similar practice: offering just the first paragraph or two of a blog post on the blog’s main page and RSS feed, and requiring readers to click through to view the full article. I’m about to do the same thing, right now. If you’re reading this article on Cognitive Daily’s main page or in your RSS reader, should you have to click a link and wait for the page to reload to read the rest?

Web guru Robert Scoble thinks you shouldn’t, and tries to throw his weight around in a comment on Davidson’s post:

Influentials like me (er, weirdos like me) who read hundreds of feeds and then tell our readers about which feeds are best (or which items) ARE how many people will find your blog.

So, if you want more readers put out full text feeds.

If you don’t care about getting more readers, then, yes, partial text feeds are just fine.

Partial text feeds tell me that you are rude and unwilling to treat me — as a reader — well.

It’s the same disease as those who do page view pagination.

You should look in the mirror.

Yikes! I guess Scoble’s never going to link to CogDaily! Some of our own readers have complained (more politely) of the same thing.

But as I responded in the comments, in order to pay the bills, we need readers to come to our web site, not just read via Google Reader or Bloglines. Doesn’t a partial RSS feed help you learn if you might want to read more? If you’re not interested, you can skip it, so the RSS feed still offers an important service. Similarly, there is a functional reason why we display only a portion of each post on the CogDaily home page: We want you to be able to see a selection of posts and pick which one you want to read.

As Davidson admits in his post, there comes a time when an article needs to be broken up. I’m not sure I like it chopped as finely as Gamer Theory does, with just an index card worth of information on each “page.” When I conducted an experiment putting the complete text of Moby Dick online, I decided each “page” should be about three screens long.

That also happens to correspond to about the size of the typical CogDaily article. I think readers can follow along comfortably for that length of article; any longer than that and it should probably at least have some kind of subheadings to keep readers oriented; it’s easy to get lost in a sea of text.

So what do you think of the way articles are presented here on Cognitive Daily? Would you like to see them broken up into smaller chunks? Are you okay with our decision to include only a portion of each post on the main page and RSS feed? Or are you with Scoble in believing that all partial feeds are “rude”? Do you have any other ideas for how we could improve CogDaily’s design and presentation of posts? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

  1. #1 Maya Incaand
    April 23, 2007

    If you give me a descriptive title and a proper introductory paragraph sufficient to have an idea of what the article covers, then I can decide to click through or not.

  2. #2 cephyn
    April 23, 2007

    I dislike having to click through to see a full post. I use my RSS reader in part to read things all in one spot without having to click to a zillion web pages. Partial feeds often will make me less likely to read the content – it has to be really interesting and grab me quickly, or be really unique, to make me want to click through. Since I have many feeds in overlapping genres, often I can get some information from other, full text feed sources.

  3. #3 Tim Weaver
    April 23, 2007

    For the most part I will not click through to a feed unless I have prior knowledge that the feed tends to be worth the click through… CogDaily case in point. A headline grabbed me enough that I was willing to click through. Now I don’t really debate it since I’m aware of the value of the feed in general. That being said, I still don’t read as many/much of CogDaily as other full text feeds.

  4. #4 Ty
    April 23, 2007

    The only partial feeds that I might consider rude are the ones that give nothing more than a sentence or two, which always seems to be rather vague.

    I can’t complain about you wanting to make sure people come to your blog. Yet your current setup lets people who use the RSS feeds, like myself, read enough that we can make a better judgment call if we want to read the whole article.

    Partial feeds, like yours, dont bother me.

  5. #5 ocmpoma
    April 23, 2007

    For me, it’s a question of what’s more annoying — having to click and load a post that I want to read in its entirety, or having to scroll down and down through full texts of posts?

    On my blog, I tend to put a ‘fold’ into a post that I see as fairly long (more than 20 lines of text, maybe) so that my readers (all four of them) won’t have to scroll down through full posts in order to see previous ones.

    Perhaps I need to rethink this…

  6. #6 Lucas
    April 23, 2007

    One thing you could do if you want people to see the article in the page, is not feeding the links (showing as plain text in the readers). I usually don’t even know the look’s of the sites I don’t comment on. In fact, it’s the first time I see this page, so in one hand, it worked.

    OTOH, I would accept that my reader displayed some kind of add suggested by your site.

  7. #7 Jim
    April 23, 2007

    Put small, ~1-line text ads in the rss feed (different ad in each feed item, perhaps) and publish full-length articles. There isn’t a huge variety of ads on any individual post at the web site anyway so the “eye-balls count” ought not be much, if any, lower.

    Wil Wheaton (wilwheaton.net) has been, presumably successfully, experimenting with this at his site because some obscenely large percentage of his readership never sees the web site. I can’t immediately find the right search terms to get the post(s) where he discusses this, though.

  8. #8 David
    April 23, 2007

    I tend to skim through my RSS feeds looking for what interests me most, and open those sites as I go, so it really wouldn’t make much difference to me if it was full text or not.

    Something that does irritate me, however, is where you stop it – when I read through the RSS text (usually because I can’t decide if I want to read the article or not), I almost always find “and here are their results: [suddenly cuts short]”
    I think it would be better to include the first results, so that readers can think either “well that’s what I’d expect anyway” and carry on reading other feeds, or “hmm, that’s a surprise, I wonder why that happened” and click through to find out more.

    On the subject of paying the bills I think the adverts here (i.e. laser eye surgery) are a bit random and I know I’d never follow the link (heh, perhaps the next casual Friday could be: What advertising works on you?)

  9. #9 Stephen
    April 23, 2007

    Why not provide both? If ads are the issue, include them in the full-text feed (you shouldn’t have to with the partial feed). There will always be a split in reader preference.

  10. #10 Jerry
    April 23, 2007

    As a reader, I prefer the full text of posts in the RSS feed. That allows me to read an entire article in one place. If I wanted to read hundred of articles on dozens of different web pages, I wouldn’t have bothered using an RSS aggregator in the first place. On the other hand, I DO click through to some articles that only send excerpts in their feeds.

    So, for this reader, if your primary concern is ‘monetizing’ me by getting me to click through to your full articles, partial feeds are the way to go — you’ll at least pull me through for a few articles a week. If your goal is to educate or communicate with me, then sending the full text in your RSS feeds will work better. I am certain to at least skim the full text of an article that shows up in my aggregator in full.

    Of course, all of this may be moot. You are unlikely to earn any money from me even when I do click through to your full entries, as I use an ad-blocker that strips most or all of the advertising off your page. (If the fact that I don’t get your ads offends you, drop me an email and I’ll be happy to drop your feed from my reading list.)

  11. #11 Ryan Fox
    April 23, 2007

    I pretty much share the same thought as Jerry, though not quite as extreme. I too use Adblock, so you’re not showing me any ads, therefore making me click for nothing.

    However, if someone can make a Greasemonkey script to continuously pull up more results from Google as you scroll down so that you don’t have to keep clicking next, surely we can make one to pull out a full article.

    As another commenter mentioned, the feeds that offer one sentence are really obnoxious. I usually don’t even bother giving them a trial run. Also, comics that give feeds that only say “Click here for today’s comic.” What’s the point?

  12. #12 Liz
    April 23, 2007

    I’m pretty happy seeing partial text in the RSS reader — it would take too long to scroll through all the items if everyone included full text.

    I’ve noticed that Science Blogs sometimes take a long time to load, so sometimes I’ll click on the link to read more, but then get fed up with waiting and just close the window.

  13. #13 Marty Smyth
    April 23, 2007

    Outside of livejournal, I read everything thru google reader. Since that represents many hundreds of new posts per day, it’s VERY rare for me to click thru to a post. I have to be VERY interested in the topic, or (as in this case) want to post a comment. I’m ON THE PAGE with your post, and I STILL haven’t read any of it that wasn’t in the RSS feed. And I probably won’t, because I’ve still got hundreds of posts left to read PLUS work to do. And when I get home, I’ll have hundreds more posts to read and more work to do. If I can’t read it in the aggregator, it’s almost never worth reading.

    Sad, but true.

  14. #14 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 23, 2007

    I think this is contextual and personal.

    I don’t do feeds, since my browsers bookmark folder is convenient with a few common feeds. (More freedom. ;-)

    On the common feed, I don’t read posts with one or two lines before break. Not enough info, so I usually don’t follow except for spectacular keywords. (And it is often the wrong action even then. :-| )

    And I appreciate those that do short posts that doesn’t get any commentary for one reason or other to show the whole post. As I appreciate those who do long posts breaking them up so the feed will be easier to read.

    Similarly on the blog itself.

    When I want to read a post I usually load the entirety with comments in a tab in the background. So personally I can live with (in fact prefer) breaks here.

    What I don’t like is the magazine style shown by Davidson, having to click through a post instead of being able to load it in a single tab. Totally useless for the reader, messes up loading/reading/referencing/saving/printing, only good for the click-hunter.

  15. #15 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 23, 2007

    “messes up loading/reading/referencing/saving/printing”

    make that …/commenting. ;-)

  16. #16 Nathan
    April 23, 2007

    A post needs to be VERY interesting for me to click through. Generally I’ll unsubscribe from anything that only gives me a paragraph or less from a longer article. It gets a bit annoying to read the snippet only to realize that I’ve gotta click-through for the conclusion. It certainly interupts my reading flow just as much as articles that are split across pages.

  17. #17 tekel
    April 24, 2007

    if you’re so goddamn lazy or disinterested you can’t even be bothered to click on a link to read my whole post, why should I care what you think anyway?

    If an author chooses to support her writing with advertisements, and you don’t see those ads when you’re reading her RSS feed in your aggregator, you’re leeching her content. If you don’t like the way she chooses to do business, perhaps you should just read something else.

    My policy is generally: 2 paragraphs or less, post the whole thing. more than 3 paragraphs: break into header / full post sections. 3 paragraphs: depends on my mood. But I’m catering to readers who actually visit my website rather than the folks reading on RSS.

    And for the record: I hate articles that get split across multiple pages, but I get cranky when someone makes a long post and DOESN’T break a section out for the front page. I guess what I prefer is a few good leading paragraphs to give me a sense of where the article is going, and then a link to the ENTIRE rest of it on one page. Just like you did here.

    What would /. look like if every article was posted full-length on the front page? I know this is a slightly separate issue, but (for at least some content management systems) the front-page post is all that goes on the RSS feed. Why cheeze off the readers who still visit your site by messing up your look & feel, just to cater to the RSS freeloaders?

  18. #18 jim
    April 24, 2007

    I don’t do RSS, so I will confine myself to talking about looking at the blog main page.

    For blogs or aggregates (like Scienceblogs 24) that I skim, in which maybe one in five posts is of interest, showing only a lead paragraph is a blessing; it allows me to filter the interesting posts quickly.

    For blogs whose full posts I read regularly (like Cognitive Daily), having to click through is a minor nuisance.

    The answer is obvious: just make every post so interesting to everybody that they won’t want to stop at the first paragraph, and then don’t make them click through!

  19. #19 Nathan
    April 24, 2007

    Tekel: I can see you point, and I agree that for blogs that consistently post really long entries, full text probably isn’t the way to go… but it really irks me when I have to click through to get the second paragraph of a 2 paragraph post.

    Also, alot of blogs I read still show me their ads in the RSS feed (this probably lends itself more to unobtrusive Google-style ads than the flashy ‘punch-the-monkey’ type of thing).

    I’m not disinterested and lazy… but I read a tonne of blogs across a broad range of news and interesting topics… every extra click adds up when you’ve got 300 new posts to wade through, and when I do have to be selective about which articles to read… snippets usually get pruned first.

  20. #20 Weldon MacDonald
    April 24, 2007

    I don’t like long posts in my RSS reader. Best is a good head line, then a paragraph or two to see what the content is about, then, if I’m interested, I’ll go to the site to read the rest. I don’t mind going to the site, after all it’s one of the reasons people write blogs so it seems only fair. I routinely dump sites that don’t give enough info on the RSS to know what it’s about. (ie CNN, I never read for this reason).

    On the site it should all be on one page, unless it’s very long, but I don’t have strong feelings about it. If you’ve gotten me to the site, then

  21. #21 Josh
    April 24, 2007

    It’s said above, but I suspect this is less about original ideas and more about sizing up the audience so I’ll include my thoughts. I don’t mind an author putting ads in their articles, but I can’t stand partial posts. There have been posts where the cut-off on Cognitive Daily made me think I had read the entire post, but I accidentally clicked the title and discovered the article was much longer. Also, I sometimes do my RSS reading off-line–when that is the case having only half the article infuriates me!

    I don’t mind ads in an RSS feed, although like Jerry I have an ad blocker turned on. I know it’s a fair amount of trouble, but I often suggest to the bloggers I read that having two feeds, one with ads and one with just teaser text, is the best way to please the widest segment of your audience.

    Oh, and one last note: I’ve complained to one or two bloggers about this in the past only to discover that I subscribed to their feed when they first created one and now they have three or four newer formats they’re supporting. In other words: if you do add feeds please make a post that states this fact so that I don’t miss it.

  22. #22 pelf
    April 24, 2007

    (1) The articles at Cognitive Daily are just at the right length, at least to me (or is it because I have only started reading it not too long ago?). But of course, longer articles that are intersected by sections wouldn’t be a bad idea after all, as opposed to chopping the article into a few pages – I won’t normally make extra clicks (unless the article is super-interesting) because I have other feeds in my Bloglines and only limited time to surf and read blogs :)

    (2) I am OK with Cognitive Daily’s partial RSS feed because like I mentioned, I need to scan the post to see if that’s what I wanted to read, and this is true especially for sites with multiple-author and multiple-posts daily. But I’d prefer full RSS feed on personal blogs – and I will only click if I wanted to leave a comment, otherwise I’d just read :)

  23. #23 Jennifer Grucza
    April 24, 2007

    I could care less about if feeds were partial or full-length, since I use the Firefox Sage plugin in my sidebar, set to go to the original article when I click on the title of the post. Usually the title is enough for me to determine if I’m interested enough to click, and if not I hover over it for a sec to see the first few sentences.

  24. #24 Jennifer Grucza
    April 24, 2007

    Er.. I meant I couldn’t care less. :)

  25. #25 Damozel
    April 24, 2007

    I was interested to see that people use the aggregators so differently from the way I do.

    I subscribe to a number of blogs so that I can see what’s new in the blogs that interest me. I NEVER read all the content of any blog; there are not enough hours in the day.

    I PREFER to get partial content in the aggregator. And I don’t see the big deal either in clicking on a page link if it isn’t just silly. If a blog is particularly lengthy, it needs to be divided up.

    If you’re not interested enough to click a link, you’re just not that interested.

  26. #26 aurora
    April 25, 2007

    I’m just amazed that this is an issue. I mean… CICKING? How lazy are some people? What kind of society do we live in where people are too f**ing annoyed to click a mouse button to read an entire article? I mean, some people in this world don’t even have a local library, let alone an internet connection. I agree with Damozel. If you don’t click, them you probably just don’t care. And conversely, if you’re reading it just because it’s in front of your face, then maybe you should be reading something else.

  27. #27 codeSuidae
    April 25, 2007

    I only clicked through the link in the feed to comment that I hate getting partial feeds. Either provide the entire article or just the headline and a very short digest. I’m not even going to bother reading the portion of your article that was not included in the feed, with the deluge of material available on the web today you’re lucky to be in my feed list to start with, don’t push your luck by expecting me to click through to finish reading something you’ve irritated me with by only providing half the article.

  28. #28 Christopher Davis
    April 28, 2007

    Gee, aurora, tell us how you really feel.

    Then perhaps you can tell me how to “click through” when I’m reading RSS feeds on my PDA on the subway. Not all applications have always-on connectivity.

  29. #29 Michael Chermside
    April 30, 2007

    I find putting partial text in the feed to be completely appropriate, and quite helpful (as contrasted with putting no text in the feed). Please keep it up.

    – Michael Chermside

  30. #30 aurora
    April 30, 2007

    Christopher,

    Yes I did respond quite strongly. But, hey, this is a blog here, not the UN. And your situation honestly didn’t occur to me. I wasn’t even aware that people did that. I don’t have a PDA or any friends who have one. So my issue is specifically with those who are complaining about “clicking through”, while online. That’s really all that upset me. I’m not really bothered by blogs that post articles unbroken. Does that make my comments irrelevant?

  31. #31 Katie
    April 30, 2007

    I know I’m late to the game here but I thought I’d say that I ALWAYS click through and read posts on the actual webpage instead of the RSS feeder. I use Mozilla Firefox so I just open them in new tabs and work through the tabs. I prefer to read posts in their natural habitat, I guess.

  32. #32 mike
    May 3, 2007

    What’s at stake are my time and attention, both very scarce resources. If you want my time and attention, help me economize by easing my experience. I interpret partial feeds as a passive-agressive gesture–in effect the partial feed says, please keep reading but only on my terms. I know you mean no hostility but that’s how it feels as I scan my feed reader. You run the risk of alienating some of your readers when you publish only a tease.