I was wrong about full-text feeds

In 2006 I wrote that I wouldn’t use any news aggregator or feeds that aren’t full text. I was wrong.

See, I often do get it wrong. Or, even if I’m right today, I can be proven wrong tomorrow by market changes.

What changed since 2006?

1. I have moved about 70% of my reading behavior to iPhone and other Smart Phone devices. Why does that matter? Well, on such a small screen having full text is far less desirable than if I use my 27-inch iMac.
2. Twitter came on the scene and now has lists/group support. This is a sizable shift. Back in 2006 Twitter was just for talking to a handful of friends. Now it has become a full-on aggregator. Look at this page of tech news brands, for instance. I couldn’t do that on Twitter back in 2006. I can today. Or, look at my list of Tech Companies. How is this NOT similar to an RSS aggregator? Notice, no discussion, no conversation, no “here’s what I had for lunch” types of Tweets, just feeds of information.
3. Google Reader became bloated and slow. Back in 2006 my Google Reader account was very fast. Today? It takes more than 20 seconds to start up and isn’t really nice on mobile phones (and, yes, I’ve tried all the apps, I still prefer Tweetie (I’ve been testing an early version of that app with list support and it totally rocks).

So, I’m sorry I was wrong in 2006 and that the world changed to 2009 technology.

I now use my Twitter account as my feed aggregator. Yes, I know many people still disagree with me about that. That’s OK, but soon you will see that Twitter has changed and has now become a very powerful RSS reader and that full-text isn’t as important as it once seemed.

Have you switched your feed reading behaviors lately? To Twitter? Away from Twitter?

By the way, have you looked at Listorious and seen the thousands of lists people (and companies) have created on Twitter in just the two or three weeks since lists came out? Have you listed your lists? My lists are here, feel free to steal from them and follow them. That’s why I made them and, oh, that’s another thing Twitter lets you do (see my lists without importing them into a feed reader).

42 Replies to “I was wrong about full-text feeds”

  1. Funny, I’m the opposite – full text feeds are MORE important to me now, exactly BECAUSE I read them on the iPhone. Linking out to a site to read the article is slower and harder to read than directly in the RSS reader on the iPhone. Plus, with offline readers like NetNewsWire I can still read them when I don’t have decent coverage or wifi.

  2. Hi Robert. You are certainly an advocate of web-based tech over dedicated software so comparing apps like NetNewsWire and NewsFire with Google Reader…. why do you opt to use Google Reader? I can only imagine these reasons.

    1. Portability of being able to access it anywhere
    2. Easy sharing features
    3. Data, stats, trends and data on what your friends are reading
    4. iPhone mobile web app that looks great.

    I just prefer dedicated software on my Mac (Mail, Tweetie, Netnewswire, Pages, Things, iCal, iTunes) but I've honestly tried Reader and can't get into it.

  3. All is forgiven. πŸ™‚ Yes, I've switched my reader over to Twitter. Lately when I visit a blog and it doesn't have a Twitter account, I send them an email asking them to at least push their RSS via twitterfeed.

  4. I switched to use FriendBinder to read my RSS in late 2007 (from Google Reader) and I read Twitter in the same stream, also I particularly didn't like having an unread count in Google Reader – though I am biased because I develop FriendBinder. This works pretty well – though I can see why people are going down the pure Twitter route since they can pick from a wider range of clients as a result.

  5. I think that when URL shorteners redirect to mobile optimized content when you are on a mobile device, then I will switch to Twitter feeds. For now, I use Twitter for conversation and content discovery, but I still use Google Reader for browsing feeds on my iPhone. It is easier for me to view full content and share from Google Reader. I have a Twitterfeed set up so that all my Google Reader items that I share are automatically pushed to Twitter.

  6. For you, yes. I can see Twitter as being your main feed aggregator. For me too, Twitter has become the number one source of discovering breaking news. Still, I think there will be many that will find RSS useful – as well as some folk who will completely skip the RSS phase. It all depends on where you fit in, in this strange new geek world.

    Twitter too, by all recent actions, appears to be seeing itself more as a curator of content than a social clubhouse. Lists, allowing us to aggregate the best sources – for ourselves, and others, the retweet feature (which I love) giving us an easy way to find new sources, and most recently the modest UI change – “What are you doing” to What’s happening” – something that a lot of people dismissed as being a ‘nothing’ change – certainly show Twitter’s acceptance of where it fits in today.

    But what will become of our followers and those we are following? I think these lists too will be more carefully curated, allowing Twitter to provide two distinct services; Twitter the connector of friends, and Twitter, the aggregator of news. Kinda neat.

  7. I'm with you on this Kevin. I use Google Reader on my Mac and NewsStand on the iPhone. The only two 'short excerpt offenders' that I'm subscribed to are SEO Book and Search Engine Land. Obviously they have their reasons to excerpt, rather provide a full feed, but I find it annoying to have to click through on either the iPhone or in GReader.

  8. My feed consumption behavior went through this cycle:

    RSS Reader => Friendfeed => Twitter => RSS Reader

    Last year I switched to Friednfeed and almost gave up on RSS readers. This year it's been mostly Twitter for me. I rarely visit Friendfeed ever since they were bought by Facebook (it doesn't feel he same anymore). However, as Twitter gained its momentum I find myself pulled back into “normal” RSS reading again. Not sure why, something about the ordered manner in which posts (mostly technical stuff in my case) are presented.
    So today it's Twitter for real-time and RSS reader for in depth and not so real-time.

  9. Twitter is valueless unless you sit in front of a PC 24 hours a day.

    If you don't provide (the option of) a full text feed, you're alienating people like me who spent very little unused time not in-front of 2 monitors. I don't have time to click links. Reading stuff on a pocket sized device is painfully slow. I'd rather stare at the wall opposite. Drinking from anything other than the firehose is too little, too slow.

  10. I gave Twitter a try but came back to Google Reader for one reason – search. I subscribe to full text feeds and I love that GR indexes the entire post.

    For example, say I get a chance to interview Phil Schiller and want to research what he's been up to recently. I just do a quick search in GR to pull up posts referring to him. Since it's GR, it's only searching the feeds I trust and since it's full text it can search the entire post instead of just the title.

    I haven't seen this functionality in Twitter or any Twitter app.

  11. You’re right -but only for your subset of behaviour. If all I ever read via feeds was tech news and I was only interested in dipping in to a stream when I have the time to pay it attention, then using a twitter list fits perfectly well. For many other uses cases – friends blogs, limited times etc, then a feed reader may be preferable. Multiple use cases mean multiple tools needed, plus the recognition that not one size fits all.

  12. Hi Robert,

    I’m just doing a bit of a shameless plug here. I just launched a new cut-down Twitter client http://blurl.me It strips away a lot of the Tweets and leaves you only with Tweets including links. It doesn’t replace a regular twitter client but helps with exactly what you are talking about.

  13. Robert: Please explain how tap->scroll past header/ads->go landscape->double-tap->scroll is NOT slower and more cumbersome than tap->scroll. πŸ˜€

  14. I find it weird that you seem to think it's one or the other. Can't you use twitter for one type of information and an RSS reader for another type? IMO, Twitter is best suited to listening to people and organizations for time-sensitive updates that I probably don't care much about missing if they drop off the bottom before I get a chance to see them. I subscribe to an RSS when I know I want to read every post. I expect my RSS feeds to be more verbose and in-depth.

    For instance, I follow @wilw because I think he's pretty funny and does interesting stuff. But I don't subscribe to his blog because its subject matter isn't that important to me. On the other hand, I *don't* follow @ch9 because their videos are generally pretty long and I don't need to see them show up on my twitter feed. BUT, when I have some time, I want to see all the videos I haven't checked out yet in google reader.

    Am I the only one that thinks twitter=right now and greader=must see?

  15. I use the full Google Reader on my Nokia N810 and it works fine. And as other devices (N900, Droid) come out with a real, full sized screen then all these problems go away.

    In fact it is becoming now that the iPhone is the crippled browser because its screen size is too small.

    I think you are a special case with Reader anyway. I have 265 feeds in mine and I don't get any slow down at all. And at least with Twitter I can't “star” any posts and come back to read them later.

  16. I believe you make a mistake when you say that things should be this OR that. There's space for both! There are people that would love to have full text and there are people who would like to have just the short versions. So content creators must be aware of this and provide both, as Aaron pointed up there.
    People should review their behavior and try less to dictate things as if there were only one way to do stuff.

  17. I couldn't agree more. In 2006 I would have unsubscribed from almost any feed that did not offer the full text in it's feed. Today, I prefer to read only headlines and/or excerpts. The iPhone is one reason and the echo chamber is another. I see the same or similar headline over and over but at least I don't have to read the same comments about those headlines – or scroll past them.

  18. Like any good app I prefer to be given the choice. Google Reader affords that choice. I also prefer the organizational features of Reader. Although Twitter has done an admirable job of shoehorning in features and uses, I don't see how Robert uses it as a reliable news reader unless he is on Twitter 24/7.

    With Google Reader, I can read headlines and link out to the full sites or I can read the content within the app itself. I can also read a river of categorized news or read news from individual sites.

    I use Twitter primarily for more personal types of updates that wouldn't necessarily warrant a full blog post (the whole purpose of a micro blog platform!)

  19. I find Twitter has way too much useless noise. My time is already pressed and having to go through all the noise to find the worthwhile info is not worth it.

  20. Hmmmm.. Agreed twitter is fast and you only choose to read what you want, but I do the same in Google Reader is list view. Another problem with the twitter lists things is that you have sit and keep watching the news flow past you, what if you miss something interesting, keep going back, you don't check it for half a day and you already missed 90% of the news…..

  21. I use NewsRob to download my latest Google Reader articles to my phone automatically, so all of the full-text feeds are stored there to read whenever I like, no network connection necessary.

    By contrast, for a partial-text feed or a link in a tweet, I have to open the full article in the browser, which wastes valuable time and battery life downloading all of the images, ads, Javascript, ads, and ads from the web page (sometimes multiple times for sites that split their posts into 232583 pages). That is, assuming I'm not on the subway or in a patchy network area, in which case it won't load at all.

    So, yeah, full-text feeds are nice.

  22. Something important is missing. Both twitter and RSS Readers are lossy – one only scans recent tweets, hits Mark All As Read when pressed for time, etc. We need better tools to gauge relevance automatically, to present the important stuff first.

    Fred Wilson likes to say “if the message is important, it will find me” and I don't think thats quite accurate. If the message is important to a lot of people you trust, it will find you. Otherwise, it _might_ find you.

  23. I'm not with you on Twitter *replacing* a feed aggregator like Google Reader. I think using list in the way you describe is complementary to a feed reader. the mobile version of Google Reader is not great but at least I can browse content and read only the clean full-text of what I am interested in. With Tweets as a substitute for RSS I see a headline and shortened URL so I do not know if I will be taken to a site horribly formatted for mobile browsing. Plus Twitter is real time. With a reader I can browse periodically and catch up on anything I want. They really seem like separate use cases to me. That said I really like the lists you have assembled and that they are available to all. The Lists feature easily doubled the utility of Twitter for me. Oh, and you are not retroactively wrong from 2006 just because technology has advanced.

  24. to be honest, it is still not as good as netvibes & co.
    I dont want to decide if i read a post by reading the title alone. And the overview is horrible.

    It is much more convenient if you have it all in front of you to decide where to spend your precious time, well unless you are preferring mobile use, which i dont atm.

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