October 29th, 2008

Guardian Launches Full RSS Feeds, First Media Company Not To Suppress RSS Adoption


On the eve of The Guardian’s launch of full text RSS feeds, Matt McAlister, Head of Guardian Developer Network, pinged me looking for examples of other mainstream media companies that have full text RSS feeds. Surely this many years into the age of syndication, Guardian couldn’t be the first mainstream media company to adopt full RSS feeds, which nearly every major independent blog has had since inception. The technology for inserting ads into RSS feeds is simple (heck, even I figured it out) and has been around for years.

But neither Matt nor I could find any examples. How unbelievably sad.

But not for The Guardian — they get to be the first media company to actually take RSS seriously, to actually make the offering something users would want to USE.

In fact, I think The Guardian holds the distinction of being the first mainstream media company not to actively SUPPRESS RSS adoption by publishing abbreviated feeds.

What every other mainstream media company does with their RSS feeds is publish a brief excerpt of the content, forcing readers to click on the headline and visit the publisher’s site in order to actually read the content.

Why? So the publisher can serve ads.

And the problem with this? It defeats the entire purpose of RSS!

The value of using an RSS reader is that you can read content from dozens (or more) sites all in one place without having to visit all of those sites.

But if all the RSS feeds you subscribe to have only an excerpt, and you have to click through to read anything, you spend your entire time clicking to other sites. Which is completely annoying!

And that’s why most people who use RSS readers don’t bother to subscribe to partial content feeds.

And… I think this is one of the reasons why RSS adoption has not gone mainstream.

Mainstream media is still mainstream because that’s what that largest number of people consume. Can you imagine sitting an average web media consumer down and trying to convince them to use an RSS reader with partial feeds from all their favorite mainstream media sites?


Every mainstream media company will argue that they need to use partial RSS feeds to MANIPULATE their users into coming to their sites so they can serve ads.

Which makes sense, if you believe that manipulating users is the best way to build brand loyalty.

The only problem with that argument is… you can serve ads in RSS feeds! That’s what The Guardian plans to do.

The Google Reader blog reported The Guardian is the “first major newspaper in the world” to have full text RSS feeds.

I’d argue that The Guardian is the first major media company in the world to have RSS feeds AT ALL.

All of the others with partial feeds — it’s a joke. It’s something that they bury at the bottom of the site so they can claim to have fully embraced web technology.

But they haven’t. They are supressing web technology. And they are surpressing the potential both for mainstream adoption and for advertisers to take feeds seriously as a channel for advertising.

I hope for The Guardian’s sake that they are able to build a sizable RSS audience that is appealing to their advertisers, and that they are able to profit while everyone else sits on the sidelines.

Comments (12 Responses so far)

  1. The Seattle based Crosscut is another example of a mainstream news outlet with full text RSS feeds: http://crosscut.com/feed/

    Disclaimer: I work for Crosscut.

  2. While I agree that partial feeds are annoying, it’s not really that bad. I use Google Reader and Firefox, and when a partial feed catches my interest, it goes in a new tab to read later. Not really that hard. Sometimes I do it with full feed articles just so I can keep moving through the list.

    And, of course, if I want to comment I have to click through anyway. (like this site, right now!)

    What’s really annoying is when the feed is so truncated that I can’t tell if the article will be interesting or not. Otherwise, not that big of a problem for me.

  3. Great post and a good move on The Guardian’s behalf.

    Many of CondeNet’s RSS feeds are full text, blogs in particular. Wired.com, for example, has over 10 topical blogs that comprise a very high percentage of the content on the site. We do monetize those feeds, and put related links within them to drive additional views.

    RSS of course is great for making text portable, but creating an interactive experience with slideshows, videos, social features, etc., is core to ‘telling the story’ in so many cases. That simply can’t be replicated via RSS. For the right types of content, I’d argue there’s still good value being offered to the user by summary feeds for them to browse through quickly.

    I personally like that Netvibes has a feed view/site view option that makes it very easy to toggle between the two. When I’m on my mobile, I only look at what I know is full text RSS, and I do most of my reading on the go.

  4. I really like the flexibility they added to cut the feeds by subject or contributor so I only get the content I want. This will certainly keep me engaged vs sifting through the masses to read the stories I want. It would be cool if they made this even easier by adding custom subscription options.

    Very interested in the impact across many fronts: Uptake, overall feed engagement especially among the blogosphere. It would also be interesting to track how this impacts their SEO as it should increase links.

  5. [...] Guardian Launches Full RSS Feeds, First Media Company Not To Suppress RSS Adoption [...]

  6. My site has full feeds for articles and blogs as well – Best Health Magazine in Canada.

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  8. [...] Guardian launches full RSS feeds, first media company not to supress RSS adoption [...]

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  10. Fair play to The Guardian for fully embracing RSS.

    However, I would say that partial feeds aren’t that bad and do have a place.

    For publishers that have a mix of free and premium content it’s still a good idea to publish a teaser that can be picked up in RSS feeds, (and indexed by Google), then if anyone has a particular interest in that post / article they can take a trial or a subscription, or make a single item payment e.g. to download a full report / white paper…
    Using RSS in this way is a good way to get content in front of the right people at the right time, rather than hiding premium content behind a subscriber wall.

    I also don’t have a problem with partial RSS feeds because it’s easy enough using tabbed browsers or something like Netvibes to view the full webpage as and when you want to whilst still browsing the feed list.

    I would say that having the flexibility to subscribe to targeted feeds, e.g. categorised by topic, is far more important in making RSS an effective useful tool.

  11. yes a great improvement but still quite a lot of frustration – below happens quite a lot:

    “We’ve applied the new full content feeds across the entire web site, but there are some exceptions:

    1) We don’t always include cartoons, images and some of the other in-article elements that appear with articles on guardian.co.uk
    2) If we have any doubts about our rights to publish the full text of an article in this context, we just show a summary and a link to the main guardian.co.uk site where you can read the full version.”

    The main area that truncated RSS feeds are a real frustration is on a mobile device for obvious reasons.

  12. TechRadar.com and other sites from Future Publishing have full content RSS feeds.

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