Full text vs. Partial text feeds, Argument #495

Ahh, the arguing over whether to do full text or partial text feeds continues. This time with Feedburner saying they aren’t seeing a click-through difference.

Personally I hate partial text feeds. I’ve subscribed to a few of them, particularly ZDNet’s bloggers, but I notice I read a lot fewer of their items than I read items from, say, TechCrunch or Mashable, who offer full text feeds. And I link to them a LOT less.

I keep bugging Dan Farber (who runs the ZDNet blogging group) about this and he says he can’t do anything about it because of the advertising model that ZDNet has chosen. He also says that he hasn’t gotten enough feedback to the contrary to take back to his management.

The thing is he won’t. Here’s why.

Out of, say, 1,000 people who are on the Internet, only a small percentage read a lot of feeds. Let’s say it’s 10%. That means only 100 out of any 1,000 people will read feeds and of those 100 people only a small fraction will bother with ZDNet’s feeds.

The thing that partial texters are forgetting is that the other 900 people will find out about you from an influencer. Someone who will tell them. So, your traffic growth will be far slower if you only offer partial text feeds. Many of my friends who are journalists or bloggers just won’t deal with partial text feeds anymore. You certainly see that I link to mostly full text feeds on my link blog.

John Battelle realized this after he polled his readership about this issue: “From the results of my very unscientific poll, I’d clearly be alienating at least a very vocal minority.”

I wish ZDNet came to the same realization cause the quality of their content is really high.

113 thoughts on “Full text vs. Partial text feeds, Argument #495

  1. Thanks Robert. You do make some good points. I’m a prolific RSS reader but the only feeds I’ve ever deleted because of their content quantity are the ones that provide none at all.

    I look at partial feeds like an opening paragraph. If the opening paragraph is no good, I’m not going to read a full feed. conversely, if a partial feed’s paragraph is good enough, I’ll click thru.

    I must add, I use NetNewsWire (Mac) which, for me, revolutionised reading feds because it oncludes a built in web browser.

    If I still had to open my partial feeds to a separate browser, then actually, I would read less partial feeds.

    So, since most of the world isn’t lucky enough to have NNW, then I guess I can see the reasoning for full feeds.

    PS What I like about NNW too, is if I don’t have time to read a feed or its page, clicking thru effectively saves it for later.

  2. Prasanna: a poll probably won’t work well. Why? Because out of 1,000 people on ZDNet I bet only 10% are RSS subscribers, if that high. So a lot of people would vote without having any skin in the game.

  3. Prasanna: a poll probably won’t work well. Why? Because out of 1,000 people on ZDNet I bet only 10% are RSS subscribers, if that high. So a lot of people would vote without having any skin in the game.

  4. Why don’t you initiate a poll or something where every one will vote asking ZDNet to publish full feeds?. I am sure they would take a look at it and probably listen

  5. Why don’t you initiate a poll or something where every one will vote asking ZDNet to publish full feeds?. I am sure they would take a look at it and probably listen

  6. I’m game for dinner and an education.

    I just used to have a boss that used to do anti-user stuff too. It drove me to leave and, later, drove him almost into bankruptcy.

    I get lots of links on ZDNet blogs and don’t get much traffic from them. I wonder why that is, now that you’re saying that you’re a “large site.”

  7. I’m game for dinner and an education.

    I just used to have a boss that used to do anti-user stuff too. It drove me to leave and, later, drove him almost into bankruptcy.

    I get lots of links on ZDNet blogs and don’t get much traffic from them. I wonder why that is, now that you’re saying that you’re a “large site.”

  8. Robert, I’m not trying to piss you off, and if my failure to get your point is driving you to distraction, I apologize.

    Full-text RSS is obviously more user-friendly. Of course I’d prefer to let people have what they want — if it won’t hurt the core business. And we’ve been experimenting with full-text feeds on one ZDNet blogs and all BNET blogs since Feb., to get real data in their impact. I hope it’s as beneficial as you say.

    Rather than respond to your specific points here, I’ll reiterate the dinner invite. There’s info about ZDNet’s traffic that I’d prefer not to post publicly.

    But I will say this: The direct impact of influential sites like yours or TechMeme (or even Digg) is not as profound as one might think for a large site like ZDNet.

    Discussion of indirect impacts requires a nice bottle of red.

  9. Robert, I’m not trying to piss you off, and if my failure to get your point is driving you to distraction, I apologize.

    Full-text RSS is obviously more user-friendly. Of course I’d prefer to let people have what they want — if it won’t hurt the core business. And we’ve been experimenting with full-text feeds on one ZDNet blogs and all BNET blogs since Feb., to get real data in their impact. I hope it’s as beneficial as you say.

    Rather than respond to your specific points here, I’ll reiterate the dinner invite. There’s info about ZDNet’s traffic that I’d prefer not to post publicly.

    But I will say this: The direct impact of influential sites like yours or TechMeme (or even Digg) is not as profound as one might think for a large site like ZDNet.

    Discussion of indirect impacts requires a nice bottle of red.

  10. UPDATE! I unsubscribed from your feed and subscribed again using google reader’s add feed function and using just the address scoble.com and now its fine.

    I don’t know what was the problem.

  11. UPDATE! I unsubscribed from your feed and subscribed again using google reader’s add feed function and using just the address scoble.com and now its fine.

    I don’t know what was the problem.

  12. Stephen: again. You aren’t hearing me.

    How do “average” readers find you?

    My studies show that most readers come from blogs, or secondary effects of blog links (a link from a blog like mine, for instance, will get you found in Google). Or from closely associated portals like Digg, TechMeme, or StumbleUpon (all controlled by influentials).

    Or, do you think your readers come from only some other place?

    Most readers don’t use RSS. And most RSS readers don’t subscribe to many feeds (ask Google’s Reader team, I have).

    So, your risks of losing a page view to an RSS reader are FAR LESS than the risks of losing the INFLUENCE of that reader on other people’s reading behavior.

    But, I’m sure you have lots of data to prove your theory too.

    In the meantime TechCrunch and Mashable are getting more readers AND MORE INFLUENCE than most of your bloggers.

  13. Stephen: again. You aren’t hearing me.

    How do “average” readers find you?

    My studies show that most readers come from blogs, or secondary effects of blog links (a link from a blog like mine, for instance, will get you found in Google). Or from closely associated portals like Digg, TechMeme, or StumbleUpon (all controlled by influentials).

    Or, do you think your readers come from only some other place?

    Most readers don’t use RSS. And most RSS readers don’t subscribe to many feeds (ask Google’s Reader team, I have).

    So, your risks of losing a page view to an RSS reader are FAR LESS than the risks of losing the INFLUENCE of that reader on other people’s reading behavior.

    But, I’m sure you have lots of data to prove your theory too.

    In the meantime TechCrunch and Mashable are getting more readers AND MORE INFLUENCE than most of your bloggers.

  14. LayZ: I’ve been studying reader behavior for more than six years, both at Microsoft, and at PodTech, and on my blog.

    What the hell have you ever done on the Internet? Nothing, that’s what, other than be a troll on my blog. Have you ever seen a referer log? Have you ever done customer surveys? I doubt it.

    How did Channel 9 get to 4.3 million unique visitors a month? By providing full-text RSS feeds.

    The problem is I’m sure there’s lots of evidence that can be made to fit any damn theory you want.

    Either way, Stephen at ZDNet demonstrates he’s willing to piss off his readers in order to make a buck.

    Long term that strategy doesn’t sound like a good one to me. Readers have almost infinite choices now and ZDNet’s content isn’t heads and tails better than other sources that DO provide full text.

  15. LayZ: I’ve been studying reader behavior for more than six years, both at Microsoft, and at PodTech, and on my blog.

    What the hell have you ever done on the Internet? Nothing, that’s what, other than be a troll on my blog. Have you ever seen a referer log? Have you ever done customer surveys? I doubt it.

    How did Channel 9 get to 4.3 million unique visitors a month? By providing full-text RSS feeds.

    The problem is I’m sure there’s lots of evidence that can be made to fit any damn theory you want.

    Either way, Stephen at ZDNet demonstrates he’s willing to piss off his readers in order to make a buck.

    Long term that strategy doesn’t sound like a good one to me. Readers have almost infinite choices now and ZDNet’s content isn’t heads and tails better than other sources that DO provide full text.

  16. @30 “Remember, most visitors on the Internet don’t read feeds at all. How do they find out about new sites? Hint: someone links to them. Hint2: the someone who links to them probably DOES read feeds. Hint3: if that someone who links to them reads feeds, and gets pissed off at your partial text feeds, will they link anymore? No. So, no more visitors.”

    Is there research that supports this, or is this just your opinion based on anecdotal evidence. I’m sure ZDNet and others would love to see the proof of this. My guess is, though, they already have a pretty good idea of their visitors behavior.

    Who are you defining as “most visitors”? Your insulated circle of friends and acquaintances, or broader more representative population? If it’s the former, then what you basically have is a self-fulfilling prophecy. My guess is that “most visitors” don’t read feeds but rather find things via some search engine or have been emailed a link to that web site. But, unlike you, I’ll happily admit that that is just my opinion and don’t have any data to support that. Now I’m sure at this point you will say “But LayZ, I have eleventy-million readers, so they would surely read my link blog and click on every link in there” Well, we don’t know that for sure. In the end, this ia about ZDNet’s ability to make money providing full feeds. And it seems, based on what Stephen has said, they don’t see them paying off. Bottom line, you need to prove to companies like ZDNet that full feeds will generate the level of web site visits ZDNet needs to make money. According to Stephen– which I would bet has a lot more data to support his position than you do– doing full feeds doesn’t pay. You need to provide more than just your opinion to make your case when it comes to trying to change a business decision.

  17. @30 “Remember, most visitors on the Internet don’t read feeds at all. How do they find out about new sites? Hint: someone links to them. Hint2: the someone who links to them probably DOES read feeds. Hint3: if that someone who links to them reads feeds, and gets pissed off at your partial text feeds, will they link anymore? No. So, no more visitors.”

    Is there research that supports this, or is this just your opinion based on anecdotal evidence. I’m sure ZDNet and others would love to see the proof of this. My guess is, though, they already have a pretty good idea of their visitors behavior.

    Who are you defining as “most visitors”? Your insulated circle of friends and acquaintances, or broader more representative population? If it’s the former, then what you basically have is a self-fulfilling prophecy. My guess is that “most visitors” don’t read feeds but rather find things via some search engine or have been emailed a link to that web site. But, unlike you, I’ll happily admit that that is just my opinion and don’t have any data to support that. Now I’m sure at this point you will say “But LayZ, I have eleventy-million readers, so they would surely read my link blog and click on every link in there” Well, we don’t know that for sure. In the end, this ia about ZDNet’s ability to make money providing full feeds. And it seems, based on what Stephen has said, they don’t see them paying off. Bottom line, you need to prove to companies like ZDNet that full feeds will generate the level of web site visits ZDNet needs to make money. According to Stephen– which I would bet has a lot more data to support his position than you do– doing full feeds doesn’t pay. You need to provide more than just your opinion to make your case when it comes to trying to change a business decision.

  18. The whole value of RSS is speed to consume information. If you have to click through to read, you’re diminishing the benefit of the technology. I have unsuscribed from feeds that are partial (and dont’ read others)…Probably read 25 feeds or so a day. It’s annoying when it’s partial, so I skip it, and the author loses a relationship building oppty.

  19. The whole value of RSS is speed to consume information. If you have to click through to read, you’re diminishing the benefit of the technology. I have unsuscribed from feeds that are partial (and dont’ read others)…Probably read 25 feeds or so a day. It’s annoying when it’s partial, so I skip it, and the author loses a relationship building oppty.

  20. Robert, for you — a blogger with a substantial audience and a willingness to link back — I’d be happy to provide a full-text feed. It’s just the folks who aren’t media professionals that I’m worried about. The actual readers are the ones I need visiting ZDNet in order to have a business.

    P.S. I’ll compare your research to my live site data over dinner any time. My treat.

  21. Robert, for you — a blogger with a substantial audience and a willingness to link back — I’d be happy to provide a full-text feed. It’s just the folks who aren’t media professionals that I’m worried about. The actual readers are the ones I need visiting ZDNet in order to have a business.

    P.S. I’ll compare your research to my live site data over dinner any time. My treat.

  22. Web 2.0 has decided to give away many services for free to consumers and support their costs with advertising.

    As traffic grows they need more money to support infrastructure and have to increase advertising revenue or take VC money.

    Either way the end result is that eventually users are a site’s assets and advertisers are the customers. John has stated pretty clearly recently that advertisers are telling him to use comscore for measurement and that they are not interested in paying premium rates for advertising on feeds.

    Early adopter tech bloggers may not like those choices, but Zdnet,Cnet and Time Warner will use Comscore, provide partial feeds and take the money.

    Unless the blogger early adopters adapt they may miss out on the revenue part of Web 2.0.

  23. Web 2.0 has decided to give away many services for free to consumers and support their costs with advertising.

    As traffic grows they need more money to support infrastructure and have to increase advertising revenue or take VC money.

    Either way the end result is that eventually users are a site’s assets and advertisers are the customers. John has stated pretty clearly recently that advertisers are telling him to use comscore for measurement and that they are not interested in paying premium rates for advertising on feeds.

    Early adopter tech bloggers may not like those choices, but Zdnet,Cnet and Time Warner will use Comscore, provide partial feeds and take the money.

    Unless the blogger early adopters adapt they may miss out on the revenue part of Web 2.0.

  24. Robert, I would be more than happy to see your feed in full, too. I am using Google Reader and Bloglines, an on both of them I see only the excerpt of your posts. Do something about it if you are not aware of the situation. FYI, just in case.

  25. Robert, I would be more than happy to see your feed in full, too. I am using Google Reader and Bloglines, an on both of them I see only the excerpt of your posts. Do something about it if you are not aware of the situation. FYI, just in case.

  26. Scoble is right because he understands the role of influencers and links in generating traffic. Indirect evidence of this in my own case comes from examining the search generated traffic I get versus the link referral traffic. Numerically the search generated traffic is greater but quality wise – quality being defined as “people hitting on posts for the reasons I wrote them” — I get “better” traffic on my little specialized blog from links and referrals, since so much of my search generated traffic seems to be tangential to my real topics.

    For example, I get a ton of hits because my last name is the same as a famous fast food restaurant.

    While I don’t have advertising, I would still think that advertisers would prefer quality over quantity, given the specialized nature of my site.

    ps – say hi to Jeremiah for me next time you see him.

  27. Scoble is right because he understands the role of influencers and links in generating traffic. Indirect evidence of this in my own case comes from examining the search generated traffic I get versus the link referral traffic. Numerically the search generated traffic is greater but quality wise – quality being defined as “people hitting on posts for the reasons I wrote them” — I get “better” traffic on my little specialized blog from links and referrals, since so much of my search generated traffic seems to be tangential to my real topics.

    For example, I get a ton of hits because my last name is the same as a famous fast food restaurant.

    While I don’t have advertising, I would still think that advertisers would prefer quality over quantity, given the specialized nature of my site.

    ps – say hi to Jeremiah for me next time you see him.

  28. LayZ: >>Would you read them religiously if they did full feeds?

    Yes. I already subscribe to a few. I would subscribe to more. And I would definitely link to more if they had full text feeds.

  29. LayZ: >>Would you read them religiously if they did full feeds?

    Yes. I already subscribe to a few. I would subscribe to more. And I would definitely link to more if they had full text feeds.

  30. Rowan: you’re seeing it the wrong way again. Sorry for continuing to harp on this.

    If you want the most readers (maximizing the number of visitors, as you put it) you will use FULL TEXT feeds. Why? Because influencers are WHO brings more visitors to your site! (I watch these traffic trends very closely — how do you think popular sites get popular? Cause someone with a lot of traffic linked).

    Remember, most visitors on the Internet don’t read feeds at all. How do they find out about new sites? Hint: someone links to them. Hint2: the someone who links to them probably DOES read feeds. Hint3: if that someone who links to them reads feeds, and gets pissed off at your partial text feeds, will they link anymore? No. So, no more visitors.

  31. Rowan: you’re seeing it the wrong way again. Sorry for continuing to harp on this.

    If you want the most readers (maximizing the number of visitors, as you put it) you will use FULL TEXT feeds. Why? Because influencers are WHO brings more visitors to your site! (I watch these traffic trends very closely — how do you think popular sites get popular? Cause someone with a lot of traffic linked).

    Remember, most visitors on the Internet don’t read feeds at all. How do they find out about new sites? Hint: someone links to them. Hint2: the someone who links to them probably DOES read feeds. Hint3: if that someone who links to them reads feeds, and gets pissed off at your partial text feeds, will they link anymore? No. So, no more visitors.

  32. Tricky one Robert – as evidenced by sharply divided opinion in the comments. If I am a noisemaker with a revenue model that is dependant upon maximising the number of visitors to my site, then I am stuck with HAVING to use partial feeds. If that slows or stops the ‘influencer’ traffic, I am going to have to live with that.

    On the other hand, if the key is to get the maximum number of people reading my stuff, the truncated feed posts are clearly self defeating. Possible solution – particularly for content-heavy tech sites? Offer 2 feeds, one truncated, one not. Experienced users can then vote with their feet.

    I am reminded of the long-running debate about the toll plaza on the one-and-only ring road here in Dublin, Ireland. Congestion levels are crazy on the road as we built the road we could afford rather than the road we needed. The government spent big bucks hiring various consultants, all of whom stated that the toll booths were not a significant contributor to the gridlock. Users were shouting loudly, and to the contrary. Then a smart senator said that he was going to use his R&D budget to pay all the tolls for a day and get the gates lifted. Guess what happened?

    Sometimes you just have to dip your toe in the water.

  33. Tricky one Robert – as evidenced by sharply divided opinion in the comments. If I am a noisemaker with a revenue model that is dependant upon maximising the number of visitors to my site, then I am stuck with HAVING to use partial feeds. If that slows or stops the ‘influencer’ traffic, I am going to have to live with that.

    On the other hand, if the key is to get the maximum number of people reading my stuff, the truncated feed posts are clearly self defeating. Possible solution – particularly for content-heavy tech sites? Offer 2 feeds, one truncated, one not. Experienced users can then vote with their feet.

    I am reminded of the long-running debate about the toll plaza on the one-and-only ring road here in Dublin, Ireland. Congestion levels are crazy on the road as we built the road we could afford rather than the road we needed. The government spent big bucks hiring various consultants, all of whom stated that the toll booths were not a significant contributor to the gridlock. Users were shouting loudly, and to the contrary. Then a smart senator said that he was going to use his R&D budget to pay all the tolls for a day and get the gates lifted. Guess what happened?

    Sometimes you just have to dip your toe in the water.

  34. Scoble, you probably realize that the FeedBurner guy has a commercial interest in this full text/partial text debate ?

    A convincing argument has to come from a NEUTRAL party.

    It’s a stupid debate by the way. On the one hand, you have readers that refuse to visit web pages, therefore allow the blogger to either get some ads impressed, or some widgets activated, …. Therefore those readers, if they refuse to “donate” by visiting the web page, perhaps don’t deserve the full experience.

    On the other hand, scraping a web page to get the full text as a regular RSS feed. It’s not a big deal. That’s what I do.

    Last but not least, when you enter this debate Scoble, you should always keep a hand to slap Winer and co in the face for such as travesty protocol as RSS. See, where do you see comments in Google Reader? Where can you add yours without visiting the web page? All of that just does not exist because RSS is short-sighted.

  35. Scoble, you probably realize that the FeedBurner guy has a commercial interest in this full text/partial text debate ?

    A convincing argument has to come from a NEUTRAL party.

    It’s a stupid debate by the way. On the one hand, you have readers that refuse to visit web pages, therefore allow the blogger to either get some ads impressed, or some widgets activated, …. Therefore those readers, if they refuse to “donate” by visiting the web page, perhaps don’t deserve the full experience.

    On the other hand, scraping a web page to get the full text as a regular RSS feed. It’s not a big deal. That’s what I do.

    Last but not least, when you enter this debate Scoble, you should always keep a hand to slap Winer and co in the face for such as travesty protocol as RSS. See, where do you see comments in Google Reader? Where can you add yours without visiting the web page? All of that just does not exist because RSS is short-sighted.

  36. @19 “Do you always treat your best customers rudely?

    Do you always not listen to your best, and most influential customers?”

    You start out your comment by telling Mr. Howard-Sarin that you don’t read ZDNet blogs that much, if at all. So…..how does that make you one of Mr. Howard-Sarin’s best and most influential customers? I would think ZDNet doesn’t much care what you think about their feed strategy given that by your own admission you don’t patronize them much. Or are you saying that if they didn’t do partial feeds, you WOULD be their best customer? Would you read them religiously if they did full feeds? I’m sure that’s the question ZDNet would like to know. But, it seems even they they don’t much care because they wouldn’t be making much money from a reader like you anyway. Apparently your ego is getting in the way of understanding ZDNet’s business model.

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