The Art of RSS

It only takes a few good posts to get into my news aggregator. But staying in it requires that you provide a good perceived signal to noise ratio (S/N). And for most of you, that means a full text RSS feed.

The wonder of a full text RSS feed is its ability to provide a higher S/N than it’s corresponding weblog. An ability driven by the separation of content from presentational boilerplate. I concede that there may be a few, a very few, whose presentational genius provides a higher S/N at home. But unless complete strangers are telling you that, you’re not one of those few.

For the rest of us, an excerpt feed will always deliver a lower S/N than a full text feed. Every false positive (a click through that looked interesting, but wasn’t) and every false negative (a click through that didn’t happen because the excerpt wasn’t interesting enough) lowers the perceived S/N. And batting 1.000 only buys you the chance to break even with the full text feed - depending on the reader’s bias on click through.

But you already know all this. And you’ve decided that the benefits of driving your readers back to your weblog are worth any decrease in readership. Then take control of the excerpt. Write the excerpt yourself. Adjust your software to use the first paragraph as excerpt and write your pieces accordingly. Don’t just cede control to your software and blindly accept the first N characters as the excerpt.

If you expect it to be worth our time to click through, then it should be worth your time to provide a reason.