Is it Time to Rethink Partial Feeds?

Truncating a FeedIt’s hard to believe, but Plagiarism Today is now almost 7 years old. A lot has changed in that time, including the rise of social media (Facebook accounts became publicly available one month after PT launched and Twitter was launched just two months before), the birth of microblogging and much, much more.

The Internet has changed a LOT over that time and a great deal of the advice that I gave back then no longer really applies.

For example, I would never tell anyone today to use Feedburner, not only has the company lost any interest in protecting feeds from scraping, but the service itself has fallen largely by the wayside. You’re much better off controlling your feeds yourself.

But after seven years it’s time to look again at another piece of advice I pointed into everyone’s heads years ago: That the benefits of partial feeds were far outweighed by the hostility among legitimate users.

Six years later, does that advice hold up? Perhaps not as well as I would like, at least not in all cases.

RSS Has Changed

Seven years ago, the most common use of RSS was to use it in an RSS reader, whether it was a Web-based one like Google Reader or a software one, such as Newsfire. It was a growing way for people to read and consume blog content.

However, while RSS readers were convenient for reading a large number of sites quickly, many users complained about the second inbox effect of RSS readers, Furthermore, as social networking began to rise in popularity, more and more people stopped subscribing to sites in an RSS reader and started following them on Twitter or liking them on Facebook.

This trend is pretty clear on Plagiarism Today, which has seen relatively flat RSS growth in recent years but now has many times the number of subscribers via Twitter and Facebook as it does via traditional RSS.

But RSS has played a major role powering the way sites interact with social media as many of the apps and tools for sharing content socially rely upon RSS to discover new content and push it out. However, the way these apps interact with the content is different. Twitter only allows 140 characters and Facebook excerpts are less than a paragraph. In short, they usually work just as well with short RSS feeds as they do full ones.

But while most subscribers have stopped reading full RSS feeds and wouldn’t notice a transition to a partial feed, RSS scrapers are still very active and a potential threat. Many of these RSS scrapers can have their potential impact blunted by switching to partial RSS feeds.

In short, legitimate readers have largely transited away from reading full feeds but the scrapers are still around. As a result, the benefit of switching to a partial feed remains the same though the drawbacks, most likely, have been lessened.

The Cases Against Switching

But while it’s true that RSS has changed and most readers wouldn’t even notice the switch to a partial RSS feed, there are still several reasons to avoid making the switch.

First off, the benefits of making such a switch are likely blunted by the rise of feed expanders, which convert a partial feed to a full one for the purpose of reading, scraping or any other use of it.

Likewise, there has also been a great deal of advancement on the front of protecting RSS feeds as services such as Distil may be able to help block out bots visiting your feed for scraping.

But even without such tools, digital fingerprints, especially when combined with Google Alerts, can greatly help tracking where your RSS content appears and make it quick to shut down any sites scraping your feed.

So, RSS scrapers don’t need to be a major threat to you even with a full RSS feed and, even if you haven’t been actively promoting your RSS feed, there’s a good chance you still have a decent number of very dedicated and passionate subscribers.

In fact, it’s easy to argue that your RSS subscribers, along with any who use your email newsletter, are the most dedicated to your site, making them the group that you want to upset least.

Bottom Line

In the end, the choice you make is going to depend heavily on your situation. If you have a large number of RSS subscribers or use services (such as email newsletters) that demand full RSS feeds, you’ll likely want to continue using a full feed. However, if almost all of your subscription is through social media and you have a major issue with scrapers, you might want to consider switching.

If you have a partial feed currently, there probably isn’t much benefit in switching back as there won’t likely be many new readers to subscribe when you do. In short, the benefit of changing from a short to a full feed is minimal right now.

But for those who do have full feeds, now is a good time to reflect and make sure that it is still the correct decision for you. In many cases, if not most, it likely still is, but the Web is a very different place for RSS than it was even just five years ago, that makes reviewing your RSS strategy critical.

Not doing so could leave you with a strategy that is out of touch with today’s realities and that can leave you inadequately prepared for what is going on right now.

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