Annoying RSS Feed Tricks

August 17, 2005

The RSS feed tricks that are really annoying me right now are all the different ways people have invented to serve partial entry content. Almost all of them are bad, plus the basic idea is bad too.

Serving partial entries implies that the blog authors don't expect their readers to be interested in most of their words (otherwise, why make them go through extra effort to read them). The only good reasons for this that I can think of offhand are that very long entries or entries on a huge variety of topics. (Given the blogs I read, I can discount vulgar commercial motives.)

(My feed reader makes it very easy to skip the rest of an entry if I decide it's not interesting. If yours doesn't, find better software.)

The best excuse for this and the best version of it I've seen is the BBC news site. They at least have the excuse that they cover everything from soccer scores to earthquakes in Japan. They also go to the actual effort of publishing single sentence summaries of the news story (plus the headline).

Everyone else has both far less excuse and devotes far less effort to it. The result is, unsurprisingly, far less usable and far more annoying. Bad ways include:

  • serving an article abstract for a feed that's only about one thing. If I am interested enough to subscribe to the feed, I am interested enough to read more than your abstracts.
  • truncating the entry after the first sentence or paragraph, which may not serve all that well as a summary and/or teaser.
  • just truncating the entry after a certain number of words. You get bonus points for not explicitly noting the truncation, or marking it with something that can be at the end of your short posts too, like '...'.

The third method produces the worst results and is naturally the most common technique (perhaps because the other two take effort, instead of trivial code). I suppose I should be thankful that I've yet to see anyone truncating entries after so many characters, gleefully slicing words in half with their sharp ginsu code.

If your blog truncates entries in your syndication feed, for the love of the gods please take a look at how the feed looks in a feed reader. Then ask yourself if the result is either appealing or useful.

(I do not object to cutting off what are essentially footnotes from RSS entries; I sometimes do it too.)

Updated, August 25th: Another stupid entry truncation trick is just to have the title/link, with no entry text at all; bonus points are awarded for unhelpful titles. I had mercifully forgotten about this one until the feed in question had a new posting to one of the Planet feed aggregators that I read.

Written on 17 August 2005.
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Last modified: Wed Aug 17 00:22:50 2005
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