Full-feed RSS is a jewel that media companies refuse to explore

UK Guardian logoThe UK’s The Guardian shocked many people two weeks ago when it became the first major newspaper in the world to offer full text RSS feeds, something I’ve been wondering about for years. It’s is a significant milestone, and it is absolutely inevitable that every media company will go this route sooner or later.

symbol for RSSThe depth and potential of the subscription (RSS) Web — in which people can bring content to themselves rather than “visiting” websites — has been held back by companies who heretofore have only used RSS to “tease” people. The hope is that they will click through to the company’s portal website, where the eyeballs can be counted for advertising. This has been traditional media’s downfall in the use of RSS, because the technology has advanced to the point where it’s possible to serve and count ads in feeds.

Tech media and bloggers have been providing full feed RSS for years, having gone through the pro and con arguments long ago. Media companies didn’t participate in this, because RSS for media has always been restricted to a marketing tool. I subscribe to 40 RSS feeds, and very few are partial text. I keep those in my reader only because I have to, but I very rarely click through to read the full text. I’ve long thought it was an insult to provide only partial text, but I’ve grown to believe it’s much more than that. Those companies who provide only partial text feeds are shooting themselves in the foot, because on the Web, authority and relevance go to those who play the game the Media 2.0 way.

Broadcasting and Cable, for example, provides many feeds, but they are useless in terms of communicating information, which is what RSS was created to do. RSS isn’t a manipulative marketing tool. It’s an end unto itself, and until we start using it as such, we’re going to miss the opportunities it offers.

The Guardian has opened the door, although only partially. It’s not including images, and has decided that it will only offer full text on stories the paper feels it can legally distribute. The paper has also announced that it will begin running ads in the full text stories, which will be the big differentiator. Sooner or later, the paper will discover that it can also offer ads “as items” in the feeds, and then the real business model will be established.

The place-based distribution available through RSS is the future, folks. The mobile Web forces the issue, because browsing on a portable device offers virtually no business model, and the only question is who will get there first at the local level. This is another reason why we so strongly advocate a blog-based, continuous news model for local media. Its output is an RSS “river of news,” that plays well in the place-based distribution model.

Let me repeat: RSS is not a tool for driving traffic to your portal; it’s a valuable way of communicating your products and services to an increasingly networked culture. Ignore it at your own peril.

(Originally posted in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)


  1. […] Let me add this item to the short list of things I’ll say amen to. I’m a voracious RSS consumer — my reading list stands at 577 feeds as I write this — and nothing chaps my ass more than having to click out of my reader and over to a the actual site to read a full item — especially if I’m reading feeds on my phone. Granted, it is kind of nice to get a whiff of the originating sites design and original context, but more often than not I’ll just skip over partial feeds — unless they are so intriguing that I just HAVE to jump. When I’m in flow — scan — read — mode I just want ingest and progress — not jump. Jumping is for browsing — for when I’m looking for new feeds — full feeds. […]

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