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Full Or Partial RSS Feeds – The Great Feed Debate

Posted By Darren Rowse 12th of September 2007 Featured Posts, RSS 0 Comments

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.


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 and LinkedIn.
  1. I like reading full (or at least ‘most’) feeds – so I use full feeds.

    I like being able to read the post in my feed reader (Safari’s built in), and then click on it if I am interested in reading more.
    I am a blogger, so if I can tell that the post shall interest me, I click on the link to make the blogger’s statistics happy.
    I then will comment (at least a thanks for the post) if I liked it and/or found it helpful.

    When I have the full feed, I am able to browse through the posts with more speed – especially when there are multiple posts for me to read.
    I am more likely to remain subscribed to the blog’s RSS when they’re full feeds.

  2. I use full feeds on my blog because I also want to read full feeds from other blogs. When a blog I’m subscribed to provides partial feeds only, I kinda lose my interest in reading its posts. Later on, I’d probably decide to unsubscribe from it.

    I don’t want my readers to think that way (not that I have that many readers, lol).

  3. I’m primarily a knit-blogger but this is a topic I’ve seen come up in “recreational” blogging a lot. Huge debates about convenience, theft, all of it. (Though, there’s not so much concern about placement in search results–it’s more about content/ creativity theft.)

    Personally, I do partial-feeds solely because I would find my content and my photos reproduced elsewhere without any credit given. I didn’t mind so much the being copied as the fact that my blog wasn’t even referenced as the source, and for a professional blog, that would irk me even more. I’d rather provide full-feeds, but not if entire posts are going to be ripped off.

    That said, I personally prefer to read the full-feeds. Although, since I never seem to get reliable results with commenting through any of the RSS readers I’ use, I usually need to click-through to the actual blog anyway, whenever I want to leave a comment.

  4. Full, not half. I don’t like the ‘feed is half empty’ mentality.

  5. At the very great risk of proving my obvious ignorance… Where and how does a blogger (me) set full or partial feeds.
    I apologize if this is totally dumb, but I have obviously missed this vital info :[

  6. BOTH – just read a few scrolls of comments; people feel very strongly about their preference, and bloggers should spend less time jamming up their side columns with junk, and give their viewers what they want: the option to read the feeds the way they want.

    Personally, I prefer partials with excellent headlines, and a summary of the post in the first 1-2 sentences. I’ve unsubbed from many feeds because of cruddy headlines, or rambling ledes (foodies are especially bad about this).

  7. Ahh, the age old debate. Full feeds are more desirable by a majority of readers. But partial feeds are what RSS was really designed for.

    RSS feeds are the TV listings of the internet.

  8. I remain a strong advocate of full text feeds because it makes life of RSS subscribers simple.

    But at the same time, I am not too pleased with FeedBurner RSS Advertising ever since they became part of Google.

  9. OK, y’all convinced me – I added a “Full” feed.

    But: what about FeedBurner? About 400 of my subscribers use FeedBurner and more than 100 of those use email notification – surely they don’t want full feeds, do they??

    For the moment, I’ve left it alone.. maybe I’ll do a test on them in a few days and see what kind of reaction I get?

  10. There’s an interesting lesson here from the world of print journalism and PR. When you submit a news release to wire service, you need to write it so that, should the media who picks it decide to print a truncated version, the reader will still get the story.

    So, the entire story is generally embodied within the first paragraph, while the last line is often a tease to read further. If you write your posts with this in mind, you should be able to deliver partial posts in a way that provides enough info to your reader to understand what the story is about and click through to dig deeper into it.

    So, I think in the debate over full versus partial, you also really have to factor in “how” you write your posts. Like writing for wire services, if you write specifically with the knowledge that you’ll be using partial feeds, then you can tailor your writing to “make” it work and lead the reader to click through.

  11. What I find frustrating with is when I click through on a Lifehacker partial feed only to arrive a page that has little more than a summary of another post/resource and a link. So it takes me two clicks to get what I wanted, when I could have easily gotten there from in one from a full text feed. So Lifehacker gets a brief PV from me, but at the cost of creating a irritated reader who may soon unsubscribe from their feed.

  12. After I realized, that some publisher or companies use my content via RSS to monetize their own website, I offer partial feeds only. I think, it’s important in this case, that headline and first lines of a post should include all relevant informations for the decision: “Click for full post or not.”, like news papers anyway.

    As reader it’s all the same to me. I get hundreds news a day. I read headlines only and decide about its first informations to click for full content or not.

  13. It’s my impression from the comments that readers generally prefer full feeds, because it’s more convenient, they don’t have to be bothered with visiting the original site; that’s the added value for them of a full feed. But that argument is based strictly on the desires of the reader; where’s my added value as a blogger from providing the full feed? Readers of the full feed won’t come to my site to see the ads, which help cover the time and costs of my blog. When I tried a full feed for my site, the visitation numbers dropped dramatically, then started rising again when I went back to a partial feed. If I provide a partial feed, then at least some people will come to my site to read the full post. Those who say they won’t visit a site based on a partial feed also won’t visit it based on a full feed, so I don’t really lose anything by providing a partial feed.

    People seem to think that bloggers have the obligation to provide their content in whatever format the readers want it in. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to set things up so that if you want to get value from my blog by reading the content, you need to provide a little bit in return by visiting the site. Factor in the issue of feed scraping, and the fact that some people prefer the partial feed, and the choice is clear for my site – partial feeds.

  14. I think full feeds are much better. I use my feed reader almost like a chaptered book. I like to turn to the chapters that interest me and read articles. A book never asks you to visit a website to read the rest of the chapter. I subscribe so I can get the enjoymenmt of the articles/posts without having to navigate away from one page.

    Call me lazy but were all just after the quiet simple life :D.

  15. I lean toward partial feeds as most people don’t include “2” or “3” sentences – they include 6+. I have lots to read and not much time to read it – so let me know what is happening by just reading the opening news flash/topic.

    If you include the whole thing I will end up reading it and then be mad at you for wasting my time and not showing me a quick summery.

    If (for some weird reason) I don’t already know most of what they are going to say about that topic – I can just click to view the full post. Because if I don’t already know what they are going to say; then I am interested enough to post a comment – so I will have to get to the site anyway…

  16. I’ve been using partial feeds for my sites. I used to have full feeds, but my content was being stolen from virtually every post I made. I don’t like the idea of having my content stolen and re-posted to other sites. Since I switched to partial feeds I’ve had far fewer sites stealing my content. I have been thinking about re-enabling full feeds again, but worry about my search engine placement and content theft.

  17. Re: stolen content – it gets stolen anyway, the full feed just makes it easier.

    Re: lost ad revenue – for me, regular visitors are very unlikely to click on ads anyway – it’s the ones who get there from search who click on ads..

  18. What about duplicate content issues when search engines spider both XML and HTML versions of the same pages?

    I usually go with partial feeds, or just “optional excerpts” so that no content is duplicated between the feeds and on-site content.

  19. There’s no doubt in my mind that full content feed is better. However, both Gina and Rick have a good points. I have to agree with Gina on news sources, such as CNN or BBC. In this case partial feeds seem to work better. I also like the idea (as seen on all Gawker Media sites) of providing both full and partial feeds.

    Personally, I’m more likely to subsribe and/or vist a particular website IF there’s a full feed available. I simply don’t have the time for visiting hundreds of websites daily.

    As far as traffic… internal linking is a good solution to this problem, just include “filed under..” or “related articles..” links directly in your feed and stop worrying.. pageviews will come.

  20. I think partial feeds can actually make you a better blogger. Why? Because you have to try and create posts that will tempt the reader in. On my new site I’m trying hard to think with headlines and intros how best to draw in the reader.

  21. I definitely think full feeds are better, especially if you are a smaller, less established site. Once you have a solid reputation and good incoming traffic, you can get away with partial feeds, but until then, it’s best that you make your content as accessible as possible!

  22. Netvibes really solves this full feed/partial feed situation for me. I have many feeds I am subscribed to. Some are full feeds and some are partial feeds, but when I want to read more of a partial feed I just click view website and it comes up in an iframe and I can read without leaving Netvibes.

    I think the underlying problem is having to leave the application/reader to go to another application. If partial feeds could be expanded to show the full feed, or view the site within the reader, then I think the problem is solved for most readers.

    This solves the problem for publishers who choose not to show a full feed because of the monetization/tracking factor. They can feel more confident that the user is going to click through the partial feed when they find it interesting because the content is available directly within their reader.

  23. I agree with Rick. I read many blogs (including problogger) directly on my phone via email. Makes my daily commute more enjoyable.


  24. I like Softsled’s idea of having an aggregator that will allow easy feed viewing.

    Still, I avoid partial feeds unless there is compelling content often enough that I’ll put up with the abbreviated/headline approach (my home town paper is one exception, as is Lifehacker).

    For my own site(s), I always do full feeds (which I also subscribe to). It provides a kind of distributed preservation of content, local searchability for myself and for others, and I just want to do it that way. But monetization is not a driving need for me.

  25. I always use full feed. Partial feed is a kind of cheating to the subscription concept itself. You are not giving liberty to your readers to read your post on his own convenience and choice. You are forcing him to visit your page.
    I personally unsubscribe to the feed which has partial feeds. I don’t want to read those even if they might have very good content.
    I agree with Rick 100%.

    Anurag Bansal

  26. As a reader I prefer partial feeds if I like the story enough I will go to the site. However the really short partials arenot worth me subscribing to as I don’t get enough information to make a decision on rather I want to read it or not. So if a blogger writes mostly short posts full feed is better and if you do partial feeds at least give us 500 characters to decide rather to read the rest.

  27. As a reader I prefer full feeds. Like MadHat I don’t read on if I get partial feeds and most of the time I unsubscribe.
    So, as a blogger I offer full feeds, I don’t think my software enables the choice, have to check that.

    Linking to other articles on my blog drives people to my blog, I hope.

  28. Without doing any research, I thought partial feeds were better all around:
    – less info overload for readers
    – more clickthroughs to my blog

    However, I prefer reading full feeds and rarely go to the site. I’m torn.

  29. michael pastor says: 09/18/2007 at 3:15 am

    When the argument comes down to either/or, the answer is *both* and *it depends*. Then you must look for the underlying theory or problem that exists between the dichotomy and design around *that* It’s like the argument between peer-to-peer or client/server – why do I have to make the choice?

  30. there is no debate if you had the experience of reading blog via mobile device. the answer definitely should be Full feeds.

  31. Maybe..

    As I commented above, as a result of this conversation, I implemented both full and partial feeds for my main feed and four sub feeds. In all partial feeds, I add a note that Full Text Feeds are now available with a link that takes them to the page that offers all those different feeds.

    It’s only been a week so far, but partial feeds have gained subscribers while most full feeds have remained near stagnant.

    I’m going to track this for a few months and see what really happens.

  32. I recommend full feeds

  33. If you’re running a business, why would you give your full articles away for free in an rss feeder? That’s like running a store, but giving the items away.

  34. @insidehoops

    Because the customer is always right?

  35. I prefer partial feeds being a reader.

  36. Re: stolen content – it gets stolen anyway, the full feed just makes it easier.

    Re: lost ad revenue – for me, regular visitors are very unlikely to click on ads anyway – it’s the ones who get there from search who click on ads..

  37. @youtubes

    I think your comment about regulars is mostly correct. Recently I killed advertising in all new posts – ads don’t appear until the post falls out of RSS.

    That’s cut my ad income about 10% – but has increased my average page views, and is a nice thing to do for the “regulars”, so I’m going to leave it that way.

  38. For me, full feeds is the way to go

  39. I’ve actually been tracking this for months now.. if at all possible you should have have both full and partial (so that your readers can choose what they prefer).

    While more people have chosen full since I started tracking, 30% have chosen partial – even though that’s not the default choice and they have to go out of their way to do so!

    The conventional wisdom about this subject appears to be wrong.

  40. Full feeds are the only way to go. I won’t waste my time following annoying links from partial feeds.

  41. @mike

    The point is that while YOU prefer full feeds, other people obviously prefer partial. A website that wants to provide good service to its readers should provide BOTH.

    My stats prove it: both options grow every month – and that’s even with people having extra work to choose partial! Obviously some people don’t want full feeds – about 30% at my site.

    I think it is both foolish and arrogant to impose your own likes and dislikes on your readers.

  42. @ Anthony Lawrence

    I agree.

    Even though I do prefer full feeds, providing both is the best of both worlds since people can choose which they prefer between the two and no one is imposing on readers.

  43. I think Rick makes an excellent point on full rss feeds vs. partial. If you rely on advertising to pay the cost associated with blogging you should run ads in the full feed. But I think some publishers want to drive traffic back to their website which is a great for keeping up their ad revenues. But on the other hand I think using services like feed burner and posting full feeds give feed burner opportunities to get more folks to sign up for their services. I suppose testing is the way to go and see what your reader prefer.

  44. Carolina says: 09/13/2008 at 4:33 am

    I have never figured out HOW to tell, when subscribing to a feed, whether or not it is a full or partial feed. I don’t find that out until I try reading it in my reader. I’ve also noticed that some sites begin with a full feed, and then suddenly with no warning they change it to a partial feed. Of course, if it’s one of my favourites, I click on through anyway, but if it’s a good, comment-worthy site (or article) I will click through anyway.

  45. Carolina says: 09/13/2008 at 4:34 am

    Sorry about the awkward sentence structure above. I’m just home from working all night and half the morning.

  46. Full Article – definitely; I am always on the go and often read the RSS feeds on the train/plane

    If a RSS feed is partial then I simply delete the complete feed (e.g. BBC, Motley Fool UK)

  47. After 18 months of offering both full and summary feeds, I find that most readers do choose the full feed. However, a significant number do go out of their way to choose the partial.

    I think it’s very important to offer choice..

  48. I’m trying to find ways to improve my feeds and it directed me here at problogger. Most of the articles that I’ve read are in favor of a full feed. This is for the reason that readers prefer to read without having to click on links. This is just my 2 cents :)

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