RSS Query

Over at Cognitive Daily, Dave asks about splitting articles in RSS feeds. The ScienceBlogs feeds do not provide the full text of our posts, just the “above the fold” portion, and this practice rubs some people the wrong way.

The reason for this is that our Corporate Masters are trying to support the site by selling ads, and ad revenues are based on page views. The get those page views, we need people to click through to ScienceBlogs, so we try to use the “above the fold” content to draw people in, and get them to look at the ads.

My question to you is, how do youn feel about this? Personally, I’m very happy with splitting the content on the blog itself, as I tend to get a little long-winded, and splitting the article into pieces keeps my longer posts from completely dominating the front page. I try to put a few paragraphs up that give the basic idea, and then put the rest “below the fold,” so people who aren’t interested in the content don’t have to scroll down through fifteen screens of it.

On the RSS side, I’m not unhappy with the current situation, at least when people do it right. I’d rather have the option to click over to a site to read the full article than have 1500 lines of text I don’t care about thrown up in Bloglines. Provided that the person writing the blog does a good job of splitting the article, that is– a few paragraphs that give the key idea, and break off at a logical point in a way that makes it clear that there’s more on the main site. The Hartwell-esque “stop in mid-sentence” technique is not so good, nor is the post that appears to be complete in and of itself.

(None of these are the same sort of blight upon the web that breaking articles over multiple pages is. There are very few ways to keep me from reading an entire article that are more effective than splitting it over fifty goddamn pages.)

But we aim to please, here at Chateau Steelypips. So, what do you think of the way we handle RSS feeds around here?

Comments

  1. #1 Ambitwistor
    April 27, 2007

    My RSS reader presents me a menu of post titles, which I click on to see the article itself: i.e., I see text from only one blog entry at once. But then I have to click again to read below the fold. So I’d rather get the whole thing at once.

    If I were using a reader that showed multiple blog entries at once, then I’d probably prefer to get just the above-fold text, or else there would be too much scrolling to see them all.

  2. #2 Kevin W. Parker
    April 27, 2007

    My RSS reader presents the whole feed at once (all stories from a given source), with the headline plus whatever’s above the fold. Long articles tend to disrupt this, plus it’s hard to read an entire article in the RSS feeder’s format. I’d rather have a headline plus first paragraph “above the fold”, then the rest available if I click on it.

  3. #3 Nathan Williams
    April 27, 2007

    I’m not sure what the publishing side of the ScienceBlogs interface looks like, but some of the other bloggers on the site seem to publish in such a way that most or all posts appear, in the RSS reader, to have “below the fold” material. It’s frustrating to keep clicking through to discover that there isn’t any.

  4. #4 Janne
    April 27, 2007

    I much rather have it split, pretty much like you do now. My feed reader gives me a very nice two-column layout, and having each item with a headline and one or two short paragraphs makes it very easy to decide what to read and what to skip.

    Overall, my experience is that it works best when the first paragraph isn’t simply the first paragraph of the post. Instead it is a condensed version of perhaps the first two or three paragraphs, without any rambling preamble. Sort of like an abstract, but without the conclusion spelled out. That seems to free posters to be more longwinded and roundabout at the start (beginning with some anecdote, or prefacing with something unrelated) without having to worry how it will stand on its own above the fold.

  5. #5 Clark
    April 27, 2007

    Nothing you try to do will ever make me actually look at the adds anyway (but we don’t have to tell that to the people advertizing). I like that the front page is kept clear of any really long posts. I don’t read 100% of what you write, and it helps me skip over the stuff that looks boring.

  6. #6 Scott Spiegelberg
    April 27, 2007

    I’m fine with the split version. I can skip the basketball stuff, which isn’t always evident from the title. Likewise with Crooked Timber and Berube’s hockey posts (which are much longer and much more tedious).

    As a technical question, how does one create a fold in Blogger? And does that fold automatically affect RSS feeds, or does that need to be programmed somehow?

  7. #7 Mike Bruce
    April 27, 2007

    I think the way you do your folding is fine. Some other sites put really tiny chunks of content, truncated in the middle of sentences, and that’s not so good.

    The only time any of it really bugs me (the middle button, after all, is pretty easy to click) is when I’m reading stuff on my phone. Then it’s a little more tedious to click through.

  8. #8 Scott Simmons
    April 27, 2007

    Yes, the way it’s being done works well with my reader & reading style as well. Thumbs up.

  9. #9 John Novak
    April 27, 2007

    Does not matter to me, one way or the other.

  10. #10 Michael
    April 27, 2007

    I prefer the split approach in blogs. Assuming the leading paragraphs are well written, I can easily tell whether I want to click through and read the whole thing, or skip it. Loading only part of the page improves performance and allows me to follow more blogs without investing too much time.

  11. #11 k. benton
    April 27, 2007

    I think you handle it just right, personally.

    Enough content above the fold to hook me if it’s something I’m interested in, or, alternately, allow me to decide if it’s not.

    Some sites have a feed which only includes the first 150 characters or something, and then an elipsis… I find that basically an insult, and don’t subscribe to them.

    The method you use balances fairness to you in that it encourages ad views, and fairness to the rss user who can get a good idea what you’re saying without being forced to click thru (which, when it comes down to it, a lot of them wouldn’t do if they just got the headlines).

    Keep up the good work, I say…

    As a post script, hear hear on the multipage article thing… that is among the most infuriating things ever. Thank god a good percentage of such sites have a “Print” view… it’s the only way i’m gonna read the article.

  12. #12 Natalie
    April 27, 2007

    Bloglines does a good job with the above/below the fold stuff on ScienceBlogs, so I have no complaints. I do hate when the sentence stops in the middle, so don’t be starting that anytime soon!

  13. #13 Stuart Coleman
    April 27, 2007

    Sometimes it’s annoying, but most of the time it’s all right. All in all it doesn’t bother me much.

  14. #14 Lou
    April 27, 2007

    Clearly I’m in the minority, but I don’t like the current system. I like being able to print out 8-12 pages of blog posts at time for reading while walking to my car, for example. Plus if I’m going to be busy I’ll just copy/paste pages into a word document of my favorite blogs, so I can just read them while I’m in a meeting without net access. So I’m annoyed, almost every day, that I can’t just grab a days worth of posts without having to click on each post separately.

  15. #15 Stephen
    April 27, 2007

    I came in here to make a comment, but #3 Janne did it for me. Even down to the 2-column reader (Sage on firefox?).

  16. #16 Aerik
    April 27, 2007

    I thought I read recently that whether a feed is split or full makes no difference to the pageviews for a website.

  17. #17 Nick
    April 27, 2007

    Half the fun is in the comments which aren’t in the feed (at least not in the feed I use) anyways so I click through on most occasions even if there’s nothing after the jump. Even providing the entire thing wouldn’t get me to click through any less and no feed reader I’ve used does comments-in-feeds well enough to warrant wanting that data.

  18. #18 rebecca
    April 27, 2007

    I prefer the split too. You usually have a good chunk above the fold, so I know if I want to read the rest (I don’t read any other scienceblogs regularly). And if I want to read the rest, I’d be coming here to the site anyway, because then I can leave it open over the course of an afternoon and eventually read the comments.

  19. #19 Matt
    April 27, 2007

    I’d prefer an RSS feed with the full post. After all, the whole point of RSS is to avoid having to go to the website at all. If every blog that I read first thing in the morning were to do the “folding” thing then I would end up with 500 browser windows open after the first 5 minutes. “Intelligent folding” is not that important to me either. For “unintelligent folding” I can always set my RSS reader to only display the first few lines of a post and then expand it by clicking.

    Of course, I realize that there is an issue with sites that are trying to generate revenue from advertising, and there’s not much that can be done about that at the moment. Ideally, there should be a new format based on RSS that would allow ads to be placed directly in the feeds. That would be the fairest system for advertizers and people would have a choice about whether or not to subscribe to such feeds.

  20. #20 Scott Wyngarden
    April 27, 2007

    Matt: After all, the whole point of RSS is to avoid having to go to the website at all.

    That’s not the point of RSS for me; I’ve always used it as more of a notification tool than a site replacement tool. There are a few blogs whose authors have a tendency to be long-winded that I’d probably dump if they didn’t use the fold feature appropriately.

    For the record (and however much it matters), I like the way you use your “below the fold” powers Chad. It’s also helpful that not too high a percentage of your posts use it.

  21. #21 Nathan
    April 27, 2007

    I think its fine for long posts, as long as the content before the fold gives you a good enough summary to know whether you want to click-through or not…

    But it does really annoy me when a blog makes me click-through for just the conclusion… like the second paragraph of a 2 paragraph post.

  22. #22 Ty
    April 27, 2007

    It doesnt bother me, unless the blogger is only putting a very small amount of text into the RSS feed.

    A couple paragraphs of information “above the fold” is great. It gives people using RSS readers a chance to figure out what the entry is about before we click on the link.

    I quickly get fed up with bloggers who only use a sentence or three “above the fold.” I often have little idea exactly what the entry will be about, before I click on the link.

  23. #23 Christopher Davis
    April 28, 2007

    I generally dislike, and by “dislike” I mean “avoid with extreme prejudice”, non-full-text feeds. A good chunk of this is because one of my feed readers is on my PDA, so I will load it up and then read on the subway or wherever; not much chance of clicking through to the full article from there.

    That said, I think you have a reasonable balance; many of your shorter posts are complete, the break points are logical rather than an arbitrary character limit, and it’s clear (at least in NetNewsWire) when there is additional text and when there isn’t.