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Full Or Partial RSS Feeds – The Great Feed Debate

This week I want to try something a little different and attempt a debate here at ProBlogger. The idea is simple – I’ve chosen two people who I think have experience around a debated blogging topic to argue the case for either side of it. These two opinions will act as the first speaker for each side and then I (as the moderator) will hand it over to you the ProBlogger readership to act as the 2nd and 3rd speakers for each side.

The idea isn’t to have a bun fight over the topic but to flesh it out and engage in some good conversation and learning.

Rss-Full-Or-Partial-Feed-2

The Topic

The topic for this debate is ‘Full or Partial RSS Feeds?’ – it’s a topic I get asked about a lot and which I know there are good arguments for on both sides.

The Speakers

Gina-RickI’ve chosen two speakers for this debate that I think will get a good conversation going. They are:

Arguing for Partial Feeds is Gina Trapani – editor of the famous Lifehacker blog.

Arguing for Full Feeds is Rick Klau – former VP, Publisher Services at FeedBurner and currently in Strategic Partner Development at Google.

I should say before we start that I put Gina in a position of having to argue for something that she isn’t convinced of herself. She generously agree to participate however.

So without further ado – here’s some thoughts from Gina and Rick to get our discussion going. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts in comments below – no matter what they might be.

The Argument for Partial Feeds

GinaGina Trapani – editor at Lifehacker
At Lifehacker.com we offer a choice of either a full-post feed (with ads) or partial feeds (no ads.) While giving the reader a choice is a good thing (at the expense of adding an extra step to the subscription process), I can see why a publisher or a reader might prefer less-popular partial feeds.

As a publisher, providing a pull quote in your feed instead of the full post gives you the advantage of seeing which stories your readers are interested enough to click on. A lot of people assume that publishers use partial feeds just for extra on-page ad views, and that may be true in some cases. But back when I published a personal site – and advertisement-free site – I used partial feeds for editorial purposes. The necessary clicks from feed items served as instant reader feedback. You simply can’t do the kind of traffic tracking with full feeds than you can do with partial ones.

As a reader, I prefer partial feeds in some cases, especially from news sources who can summarize the point of the article in one sentence. Skimming CNET’s partial post feed, which just includes the story lead, is a lot easier and more efficient than including the entire article.

The Argument for Full Feeds

Rick KlauRick Klau – former VP, Publisher Services at FeedBurner and currently in Strategic Partner Development at Google.

More than half a million publishers have burned nearly 900,000 feeds over at www.feedburner.com , so it should come as no surprise how often we are asked which is better: full-text or partial feeds? While there is no single, “right” answer that covers all situations, there are a number of often overlooked angles to consider.

First, I’d like to clear up a few points of confusion. Clickthroughs alone are an imperfect (if not altogether inaccurate) measure of a reader’s interest in a story. Partial feeds often make it harder, not easier, for a reader to know whether they’re interested in a story at all. If you just include a sentence or two of a post in a feed, you’re asking the reader to click through to read the rest of the post – when the actual substance of the post is not at all obvious from those first few sentences.

Regarding Gina’s statement that “you simply can’t do the kind of traffic tracking with full feeds that you can do with partial ones” – I respectfully disagree. Publishers who use FeedBurner’s feed management services can measure both feed item views ( i.e., posts which are read in the aggregator) as well as clickthroughs – giving them an accurate view of both clickthroughs, and more importantly, the clickthrough rate. This is true for both full feeds and partial feeds… and is often the best way to measure how engaged your audience is with your content. It should be noted that in feeds who’ve compared full and partial feeds, we’ve seen no hard evidence suggesting that partial feeds alone increase the clickthrough rate.

Now for some reasons why full feeds are in a publisher’s (and a reader’s) best interest. I think Mike Masnick at TechDirt hit the nail on the head earlier this week when he posted about this question:

[F]ull text feeds actually … lead to more page views… Full text feeds makes the reading process much easier. It means it’s that much more likely that someone reads the full piece and actually understands what’s being said — which makes it much, much, much more likely that they’ll then forward it on to someone else, or blog about it themselves, or post it to Digg or Reddit or Slashdot or Fark or any other such thing — and that generates more traffic and interest and page views from new readers, who we hope subscribe to the RSS feed and become regular readers as well. The whole idea is that by making it easier and easier for anyone to read and fully grasp our content, the more likely they are to spread it via word of mouth, and that tends to lead to much greater adoption than by limiting what we give to our readers and begging them to come to our site if they want to read more than a sentence or two.

As I wrote earlier this year on our corporate blog, full posts also contain far richer information within the posts – hyperlinks – that can be exploited by services like TechMeme, Technorati, and other RSS-aware services. Those links are valuable indicators of the relationships between posts – which can yield tremendous context for readers who want to discover related content. Partial posts rob readers (and automated services) of that context, as the hyperlinks themselves aren’t included in the partial posts.

Commercial publishers who distribute feeds often worry about the lack of revenue – they make money on their site and are understandably concerned that they are “giving away” their content through the feed. But it’s possible to monetize your feed directly (through FeedBurner’s feed and blog ad network, among other options) – and if you buy Masnick’s argument above, traffic to your site will actually increase thanks to the fuller feed (which means your site revenue will increase as well!).

Readers clearly prefer full feeds over partial feeds; one need only see the outcry from Freakonomics readers (read the comments) last week when they switched from a full feed to a partial feed to understand that readers value the delivery of information in its entirety, to an environment (their newsreader) they prefer. Certainly there are occasions when a partial feed is required: many commercial publishers have licensing issues that prevent them from including full text in the feed, and in those cases, some content’s better than no content. But when it’s better for the readers (who get what they want, where they want it), better for the publishers (who can drive more revenue and satisfy their users), and better for the ecosystem (which get more information, which allows them to add more value to their users), it’s my opinion that full feeds are simply better.

Have Your Say

OK – Rick and Gina have kicked the conversation off – it’s time to have your say!

Do you use Full Feeds, Partial Feeds – or both? Why?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. I agree with Rick, full feeds are far more better – I have feeds within my outlook and I look at the title and if it attracts me I say I will read it within my outlook – if its partial I will rarely go to the website – I am subscribed to your feed – its still traffic being conveyed to my eyes except in a different form of traffic generation.

    I think full feeds are much better than of partial – since it will provide full information – it should not matter if I am reading from your page or from an rss reader – I am still a reader of your content

    great arguments all in all

  2. I use partial feeds because that’s what I prefer to see when I read someone else’s feed. I don’t want to read through entire posts; I want to get a clue what they are about and read what I’m interested in.

    I also don’t like the bandwidth – whether reading or posting my own feed. Of course the bandwidth isn’t my concern if I’m using FeedBurner (which I do), but on the reading side it just takes that much longer to run through and update everything I might want to read.

  3. Dan Cole says:

    I would rather open a new tab for a post I want to read, then scroll past a bad post to some unknown location. I also often open many tabs from the same page, so I’m not use to reading post after post on the same page. Tabs also get closed automatically if the post isn’t good, so if a bad post comes first… I will close the tab before seeing other posts. I’m with Partial Feeds.

  4. Avinash says:

    I agree with Rick as well. When I see full titles, I tend to be a curious and try to read it. The information provided is also fuller than partial feeds. I personally find full feeds better.

    Avinash
    http://www.photoswift.com

  5. Count me in to Full feeds.

    I’d prefer to skim the titles and, if I’m interested, read the rest of the post. Partial feeds serve no benefit to me as an RSS reader.

    That said, I’ve had some of my readers request a partial feed email synopsis be sent out weekly, instead of a full feed daily. I think for email users it may be a different story.

    – Mason

  6. James Joyner says:

    Monetizing the blog feed is ridiculously hard. Feedburner provides a good service but their monetization is a joke. I’ve got 26,000 plus subscribers and more more money in a single day from AdSense than from a year of Feedburner’s ads.

    The main argument against full feeds, it seems to me, is that it makes the job of those filthy scraper site parasites easier.

  7. Tsahi Levent-Levi says:

    I definitely vote for full feeds. I usually drop my subscription on partial feeds – they just take too much time to skim through when you have over 100 posts a day and still need to produce some work on your own.
    My view is that if you want to make money out of breakthroughs ,ads and whatnots you simply need to write good enough content that would make me come to the site. Harassing me with partial information will scare me away and not lure me in.

  8. Christine says:

    I agree with Gina, if the partial feed is done correctly. If it’s the first few sentences of a post, it probably doesn’t pull me in enough to want to read the whole article. However, if it’s a two- or three-sentence summary of a post, it has the potential to let me know if it’s an article that will interest me or not. That’s where her editorial tracking would be truly effective.

  9. PWdude says:

    Count me in for full feeds for sure.

    Partial feeds in theory are good; less scrolling through etc, but unfortunately the opening paragraph on the majority of sites fail to draw the reader in, therefore I’d rather receive full feeds and embrace the full content of the site which includes the images.

  10. I think full feeds are better for many of the reasons Rick gave; readers should be able to view your content in the manner that suits them best and a partial feed won’t give the readers the full sense of your article.

    Getting someone to read your article is difficult enough, forcing them to click through it once they’ve found your article and read part of it might actually reduce the total size of your readership. Running RSS adds within a feed is the best way to monetize RSS if that’s a concern.

  11. Adam Snider says:

    As a reader, I prefer full feeds, so that I don’t have to leave my feedreader if I don’t want to. As a result, I provide my reader’s with full feeds.

    I can understand why people use partial feeds—especially if they are monetizing their blog through advertising—but I think that providing the reader with an optimum experience should be your first priority. Besides, you can always add advertising to your feed, if you want.

  12. Robin says:

    I originally moved from full to partial feeds for the simple reason that I wanted to use excerpts on my overcrowded front page, and my particular blog software doesn’t allow excerpts on the site and full posts in the feed. So, not everybody is using partial feeds to “monetize”. My guess is that most ad clickers on my site aren’t RSS readers anyway, they are people who show up via Google searches.

    But I would like to note 2 things — 1. I got almost no complaints at all, and did not have any noticeable drop in RSS subscriptions, so I really think this depends on your blog’s subject matter, and 2. it had the unintended effect of drastically cutting down on content theft (a big problem in my niche).

  13. I used to publish only partial feeds because I thought that by publishing full feeds I wouldn’t get so many page views. Boy was I wrong! I switched to full feeds because my readers were begging me to do so. And ever since I made the switch my page views are going up instead of down. I can’t explain it, but I love it :-)

  14. ChrisB says:

    My site has a full feed, but in my reader I prefer partial feeds. This may be due to how bloglines works — if I “save” a full feed article, they take up a lot of space. If I could collapse full feeds in my reader, it wouldn’t be an issue.

  15. Full feeds only. Period. And I will rarely subscribe to a partial feed. Of the 150+ feeds in my feed reader, 3 or 4 are partials.

  16. markowe says:

    Since I started subscribing to ProBlogger, rather than visiting when the fancy took me, I have on the one hand been reading almost all the posts in their entirety, but on the other rarely visiting the site itself (though the notable exception to this is when I want to make a comment). So what do you want – people to read your content more, or to visit your site more?

    You could do a little experiment, which might be a bit risky – try switching to summary feeds just for a few days, to see what difference it makes to your various stats.

  17. Deano says:

    Seems like you had a bias towards the full feed in your article (3 paras against 8 for).

    What I’m worried about with full feeds is the amount of people who can clone your content and automatically add it to their blogs.

  18. Al says:

    I can’t stand partial feeds. So I don’t subject my readers to them.

  19. Rete says:

    I prefer full feeds — I like to read in my rss reader because it is very clean, uncluttered, and a typestyle that is easy to read. If I get into an article and it is a partial feed, I’ll rarely click through to the website to read the rest, simply because it is hard for me to visually adjust to whatever color/font the website is using.

    However, I will click through if I feel moved to comment (such as now). Isn’t that the best indicator of whether your post has successfully reached your audience?

  20. I think both of them are correct, I prefer full feeds to read because I do not have to view the website in order to see the ads. Now this is a disadvantage to the blogs because how can somebody say that they receive more traffic with full rss.

    I place partial on my blog and people are happy , because I write in first sentence what is my post about and if they are interested they will follow the link to my page again.

    Example: http://feeds.feedburner.com/MakeMoneyBlogger

  21. I prefer full feeds. In frustration with some blogs, I have written a blog entry on that back in July: http://www.thoughtclusters.com/2007/07/full-feed-problem-again.html

    My feeling is that it doesn’t make any logical sense to have partial feeds because it actually results in smaller number of views and drives away high-quality readers who can share your post.

  22. Matt McGee says:

    As a reader, I find myself paying much less attention to — and even unsubscribing from — blogs that only offer partial feeds. That also means I don’t often link to blogs that offer partial feeds.

    As a blogger, I switched to full feeds about 6 months ago and saw an immediate jump in subscribers and comments on my blog.

  23. I’m torn about this one.

    As a reader, I prefer full feeds because I have it all there in front of me and can skim through it fast if I have to without worrying that I am missing something essential.

    As a blogger, for my more content based blogs I prefer to give partial feeds because of what Deano stated above… too many people are cloning content and replicating it on their websites using full feeds.

  24. I prefer full feeds (as both a reader and publisher), but I can see arguments for both sides. If it’s not a blog I read an awful lot (because it’s 90% “today was my kids birthday”-type posts) I hate having to scroll through a long page (and it’s associated loading time). However I use Outlook to read mostly, which shows the subjects as if they were emails, so it’s rare I view a whole list of pages!

  25. Something about “Do unto your subscribers as you would have done to you…”

    I think the argument depends greatly on the type of site, and where your traffic is driven from. Only a small part of my overall traffic comes from RSS, but my site is content based, not news.

    If I could get the news in a full feed, I’d probably never visit the site in question, which is why most of the news sites force me to click through their partial content feeds… news content is only “good” for a short period of time, so it’s very unlikely that I’ll be stumbling across it later.

    And monetizing of RSS feeds is currently a joke.

  26. Patrick Hake says:

    The biggest problem with full feeds is the ease with which people can steal your content.

    For a powerful blog, such as Problogger, this not an issue. For blogs with less search engine clout, having your content cloned can destroy your search engine placement.

    If the search engines were smarter and simply time stamped new information and then ignored copies of that information later, I would happily use a full feed. So long as I see my content popping up in the SERPs on spam websites, I will continue to use a partial feed.

  27. I surveyed this issue previously in Should I Switch from a Full to a Partial RSS Feed? Without rewriting that post here, I’ll briefly address some of the problems in Rick’s argument:

    If you just include a sentence or two of a post in a feed, you’re asking the reader to click through to read the rest of the post – when the actual substance of the post is not at all obvious from those first few sentences.

    If the content of your post isn’t indicated by the title and opening paragraph, you’ve just failed Writing 101. You’re probably losing potential readers due to your lack of structure, who click away before realizing your post is interesting or relevant to them. This is a larger problem than can be solved by publishing a full feed.

    Publishers who use FeedBurner’s feed management services can measure both feed item views ( i.e., posts which are read in the aggregator) as well as clickthroughs – giving them an accurate view of both clickthroughs, and more importantly, the clickthrough rate.

    Rick is missing the point here. A click on a partial post in a feed is a vote to read it, and the lack of a click is a vote against. If you give the entire post at once, you’ve lost the ability to measure that. They may still click on a full post in order to comment on it, but that is a very different metric.

  28. TheMadHat says:

    Full feeds. Although I stay subscribed, most partial feeds I don’t read much. With the sheer number of feeds (300+) I don’t have time to click over just to see if I’m interested in reading it.

    If I am I’ll probably click over anyway for the comments. Gina makes a good case for the user option though, I may have to test that out. I’d like to know what the stats are for users selecting partial feeds vs full feeds.

  29. Kelvin says:

    As a reader, I like full feeds. I don’t like to have to click on a title to see the original. This is extra work, and I consider it a waste of time when the actual article is not much longer than the partial feed. Every time I click on a link to go to a new article, I need to adapt myself into the new font, layout, etc. I would rather read them in my feed reader where I can just focus on the content. If I like the site enough, I’ll visit back (such as to check comments, etc.) later.

    As a blogger, I usually prefer to give my readers full feeds. Once a while I would want to use partial feeds though, especially when my post gets technical and full of pictures for every single step of my step-by-step tutorials. But since most of the time I still prefer to give my readers full feeds, I stick with full feeds.

  30. Matt Jones says:

    For me it just has to be full feeds. Having a bursting RSS inbox there is no way I will risk clicking and opening a naff post based on a couple of lines and its title.

  31. There’s another important variable: time, i.e. how many feeds a user follows. When the number of feeds grows, it becomes very time consuming to click items from partial feeds to check the whole story. That’s why as a user, and hence as a blogger, I avoid most partial feeds. Life is short — really.

  32. Jennifer F. says:

    I would respectfully disagree that partial feeds are a good indicator of reader interest in your posts — they’re only a good indicator of reader interest in *the first few sentences* of your post.

    Also, there’s that mysterious law of the internet that whoever is the most generous with information wins. I think that with truncated feeds there’s something slightly irritating to readers about the fact that you’re making them click on links and view posts through a more cluttered interface just so you can have some additional stats or maybe get a bit more ad revenue. I’d guess that a competing blog who had full feeds would quickly gain more readers (just a guess though).

    …But take all that with a big grain of salt since I don’t try to make money with my blog, so I’m no expert. :)

  33. I don’t even subscribe if it’s a partial feed. If I read a post in it’s entirety in RSS, I’ll usually open it in a browser window anyway, so I can comment. There’s really no benefit to partial feeds. It defeats the whole purpose. I might as well just go back to live bookmarks in firefox (which is lame). I’d also much rather have a full feed with ads than a partial feed without (though that’s a good option to have, I suppose).

  34. I absolutely prefer the full feeds version.

    For any movie review site, the competition is fierce and I can’t make the mistake of losing potential subscribers if they get tired of having to click through for the additional text. Best to keep my subscription base happy, I say. After all, who knows who they’re sharing my site with?

  35. Kirsten says:

    It would depend on the source. Subscribing to blogs, I much prefer a full feed. Only 2 blogs on my reader have a partial read, and while it annoys me, I tolerate it because they belong to personal friends. Having the full feed actually allows me to read my subscriptions quicker, and in this time-starved world we live in, that’s of the utmost importance to me.

    If I were subscribing to news articles, on the other hand, I would probably prefer partial feeds. When I go to major news site or newspaper sites, it’s the headlines that make me decide on whether or not I want to read further, and news sources have been playing the art of the headline for as long as printed newspapers have been available. But, I don’t subscribe to news feeds since the news is so in-your-face as it is, and very easy to find if I need to.

  36. I always end up unsubscribing from partial feeds. It breaks me feed reading flow.

    I do still read LifeHacker by visiting the web site, but to be honest that’s the *only* site I do that with. Every other site has lost me as a reader.

    I’m a very active commenter, and user of delicious, stumbleupon, reddit and digg so if I’m not reading your site because of partial feeds then you’re missing out on more than just 1 reader. You’re also missing out on access to my word of mouth network.

    And that’s true for every potential RSS subscriber out there.

  37. Jason Ryan says:

    Full feeds only, thanks. I have found that, over time, I have unsubscribed the partial feeds. The whole point of blogging is about engagement and furthering the conversation – if you want to do that, then let me access your content…
    And I have no problem with ads at the bottom of a full feed – just don’t expect me to open a browser window to see your stuff.

  38. Sephyroth says:

    I also prefer full feeds – I said this on another blog the other day, but when I read a blog that has a partial feed, those items are generally left unread and I’ll put off reading them. It’s nothing to do with the blog or the blogger, it’s just that I can’t get into a post based on the first 250 characters or so.

    Of course, then there is one feed that I used to be subscribed to which had more feedflares than actual content in the post – and that included a line telling you that the feed is a partial feed.

  39. In my recent post “How to Read 423 Feeds a Day (and Keep Your Day Job!)” I specifically suggest not subscribing to anything but full feeds. Quite frankly, I don’t have the time to click-through all day long, and I have yet to read any content that can’t be found somewhere else.

    I used to enjoy the Freakonomics blog, but the moment they switched to one-sentence feeds (which are nowhere near enough information for me to even decide if the post is of interest or not), I unsubscribed and never went back. I know from discussions on their blog after that decision that a lot of people felt the way I did.

  40. Sunny says:

    I’m a full feed girl. Only a website that has really GREAT value to me (like DPS) will stay on my feedreader if it has a partial feed. I’ve got too much to do to mess with partial feeds. If I want to click through I will. It’s harder to evaluate if I want to read the article on the partial feed.

  41. SingForHim says:

    I vote for full feeds. I actually click through on full feeds more, because I’m interested in the comments and other posts. Most of the time, it’s hard to hook me in the first sentence. Like Kirsten, the only partial feeds I read are good friends.

    Mamablogga.com did an good article on this as far as personal blogs go.

  42. Richard says:

    I’m with Gina on this one – while I’ve got nothing against a blog that publishes full feeds my personal preference when reading feeds is excerpts. As a result I prefer blogs that allow readers to choose one or the other.

    I’ve also been using the ‘headline’ view on Google Reader lately – although don’t like it as much as partial feeds because it doesn’t give me the all important first sentence or two.

  43. Rhonda says:

    I also use partial feeds on my blog mainly because I got fed up with people scraping my feed. I was spending all day chasing people who were scraping my content, republishing my images and basically stealing my hard work for their own personal gain.

    Partial Feeds – Reluctantly

  44. James Pegram says:

    I discussed this on Reality Wired a while back in Why Use Full RSS Feeds. I read a lot of blogs and there is nothing more annoying than having to stop and go to the site and wait for I to load to finish reading something interesting. 9 times out of 10 if that happens I won’t even bother.

    The argument about content theft is about as asinine as RIAA’s argument for why they an sue anyone that thinks about listening to music. I understand both sides it just isn’t worth the aggravation it causes readers. If your worried about content theft, hire a lawyer.

  45. elysa says:

    Partial feeds drive me crazy as a reader. I like to visit the blog when I have something to say. I agree that I read more of the content of my full feed blogs than I do of my partial feeds. I find it annoying to click through on each post.

  46. Rebecca says:

    Full feeds please, it really frustrates me when (with limited time) I have to click ‘yet another link’ to finish of a post.

    It seems so many people do not write succinctly enough to get their point across in the first few sentences but get going and get good when they finish home with a whole post.

  47. Andy Merrett says:

    “I’m a very active commenter, and user of delicious, stumbleupon, reddit and digg so if I’m not reading your site because of partial feeds then you’re missing out on more than just 1 reader. You’re also missing out on access to my word of mouth network.”

    Wow, erm, just… wow. :/

  48. Sean O says:

    I prefer to read partial feeds and that is what I provide on my site.

    For those that say the first few sentences are not enough to understand the post I tend to agree with Chris Marshall above. Good writing dictates that the first 100 words or so should be enough to catch my interest or not. When I read a full feed site, I only read the first 2 sentences anyway and if that isn’t good enough then I am on to the next thing. I am a discriminating reader, I only read things that really interest me.

    Monetization of feeds is bad. I don’t like them and don’t put my readers through the agony.

    Unless you do not want to monetize your site, I think your feeds should be partial.

  49. As a reader and blogger I use and love full feeds.

    When a blog publisher forces me to click through I often don’t click at all, though I might have read the post where it in a full feed.

    I do not want to do this to my readers. I want my readers reading my posts, if I use a partial feed, they may not read the posts.

    -Thomas Flight

  50. Jeffro2pt0 says:

    Most feed readers now a days give users the ability to choose how they want to view their subscriptions. The options are typically Full Text, Partial Text, or headlines only. I’ve always told other users of Feedburner to set their Feed to display the full post which would cater to everyone. Let the user decide if they want to see only a partial post or not.