Thursday, June 21, 2007
Web Feeds and Aggregators: Thoughts
I just "discovered" Google Reader. Oh, no, I knew it was there all along. It's even one of Firefox's default feed subscription options. I had simply been ignoring its existence this whole time, content to use Firefox's Live Bookmarks feature for all my RSS/Atom needs. For the uninitiated, a "web feed" is a way to "subscribe" to the content of a website, such as a blog, news outlet, podcast, or just about anything these days. After subscribing to a web feed, a visitor is automatically notified of new content on that website by their feed reader of choice. There are quite a few out there, including Firefox's Web Feeds feature, Google Reader, the Opera Browser, and Thunderbird. Basically, in stead of having to go to every website to see if there is new content available, the reader can subscribe to the websites' feeds, and will be automatically notified of any new content on each site. The problem is that with some feed aggregators, they simply pull all of your content off the site, and allow the readers to get the content without visiting the site. This becomes problematic for ad-supported websites, which typically either draw the readers to the site by providing unique participatory content, such as a discussion forum or comments, by only providing a summary of the actual content in the feed, or by injecting ads into the feed. I am not an ad-supported website, but I do like my readers to interact with me and each other through comments. If none of the users are drawn to my actual website, then none of them will see each other's comments. The other thing I like to do is keep track of roughly how many people are reading my blog, and blogger doesn't provide tools to track users on the site itself, much less the feed. They do provide a mechanism to insert something into the feed at the bottom, which could be used to tally readers. What I have been doing is having the feed only contain the first paragraph or so of the post, and then the readers are directed to the post's actual page. This may prove inconvenient for some readers, although I was trying out Thunderbird, and what it did with my blog was to simply load the post's page directly into the reading frame, which is actually ideal from my perspective. Other readers, particularly aggregators such as Google Reader only display the text and image content, and use their own formatting. I have been considering switching the feed to contain the entire post, but I'm not yet sure. What do you think? Is anyone actually reading this? Do you use web feeds? What reader(s) do you use? Do you prefer to have blogger format the post, or do you prefer your reader's formatting? I have decided that for the time being I will try out Google Reader for all of my friends' blogs, and for newsletters that I read every time, but for news sites where I tend to cherry-pick the articles, I'm sticking with Firefox's live bookmarks: it gives you a menu of the latest posts, with the ones you've read already grayed out. I wouldn't want my feed list to get clogged with every article on Ars Technica, Slashdot, Technocrat, and certainly not Digg.