Half Empty or Half Full?
Creative Commons License photo credit: jaxxon

In my recent post about my photography resolutions for 2010, a couple of you suggested moving to truncated rss feeds for the blog. One suggested that it could make the site more attractive to advertisers by “forcing” readers to visit the site, and another mentioned that a truncated feed might also encourage comments and interaction here on the blog.

The common theme between both comments is that the feed consumers aren’t visiting the site very often. While making the blog more profitable is on my mind, I’m more concerned with the amount of interaction on-site. In 2009 we had around 2500 comments and pingbacks. But in 2008 we had around 4300 comments and pingbacks. My only guess is that a bunch of the old base-community has migrated over to the feed reader and assumed that the conversations would continue without them.

Then again, it could be a lot of contributing factors: feed readers are getting better, people’s lives are busier, my writing is turning to crap, etc. At any rate, I’d like to try a little feed experiment for a while and see what changes.

From here out, I’ll be syndicating partial feeds on most of the articles — but I’ll be setting the breakpoint manually on each post, so I’ll give you guys enough content to get a feel for the article. I’m not really a fan of the too-short partial feed, so I’ll try to avoid that whenever possible.

[UPDATE 1/12/2010] Looks like I’ll be keeping full feeds after all. Most people prefer them (myself included) and there doesn’t seem to be a good method for setting a breakpoint manually.

I’d also like to hear from you feed readers on this subject. Does it matter to you one way or the other? Will you wash your hands of Epic Edits once and for all? Or would you actually prefer to have condensed feeds in your reader/email?


Also feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below — I do read every single comment and I hear what you guys are saying. I can see pros and cons on both sides of this discussion for both you and I, but I need to know how much you guys care one way or the other.

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Just to make things more interesting, I found that most of my traffic isn’t coming from feeds, but Google or Twitter so … full or partial might not matter much.

Just a thought. I wonder about it occasionally myself, but stick to full feeds out of habit more than anything else.

January 11, 2010 11:50 pm

I voted for the first one, but clogging sounds worse than what I thought. I follow a lot of stuff on RSS and I do appreciate the short intro stuff, particularly those that give you a good idea of what’s coming in the title + first part of the post. I’ve got heaps of articles coming in, and I like being able to decide what’s relevant to me quickly.

January 12, 2010 12:31 am

Personally I do not need full RSS feed. What I want from RSS is one picture that supplement to the story and the excerpt from story (1 or 2 paragraphs max.) that contained enough information for me to decide whether open or not full length story in browser.

January 12, 2010 1:33 am

I confess that I get irritated by partial feeds. It doubles the time and effort to read what people have to say, but makes no difference whatever to my response to the content. And if clicking through means I have to wait for all those extra images on the page to load… well, I just get cranky. I think content creates comment, not structure. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. But then I would say that as I live with a professional writer.

I do still click through to your site from my feed when I want to read what others have commented, or to add my own voice. Maybe I should comment more. You’re right, though – even as a reader I sense a more inert readership than before. Working out whether that is a real perception, or why, would involve looking at what type of posts involve the reader more. Do you have a higher proportion of posts that require no comment (link round-ups, photodumps)? The writer in my house would always argue that content is the first place to look for a shortfall in your expectations, and that worrying about the mechanics such as feeds comes second. But he would, wouldn’t he? However, there is such an enormous amount of information and talk about the technical side of blogs and the audience gained through social media that it completely skews your perceptions. Crucially, it isn’t how you arrive that matters, it’s how engaged you are when you get there.

There are two issues here, and you need to figure out which is more important for your purposes. Are you concerned with sheer readership numbers, to monetise your site and enable you to continue providing the service? Or are you concerned with readership engagement, to foster active participation? Does getting number two right help you with number one? I can think of another site that transparently focuses on option number one to the detriment of option two, and I’ll bet they won’t be as long lived as this site.

Best wishes for 2010, Brian.

January 12, 2010 2:35 am

I’m a big follower of blogs through Google Reader (and Newsie on iPhone), maybe mildly addicted and I hate partial feeds especially when the images are cut out of the post. From a business perspective I tossed around with the idea of partial feeds but decided to steer clear. I like the idea of a descent size partial feed so you get the general gist. To be honest if I want to make a comment or if i really like the post I generally make a visit to the site even if it has full feeds. Just my opinion anyway.

January 12, 2010 3:12 am

I’d prefer the long form post in my feed reader however I can totally understand why you should want to go this route.

What I don’t like (and I don’t subscribe to sites that do this) is where the feed generates a heading, one line of text (possible the heading again) and that’s it. It’s pointless and annoying.

If possible, I’d like to suggest a middle ground. If you can publish a partial post to the RSS feed I will be able to see if the article is something that interests – maybe the first paragraph? If I want more I can click through. I do that anyway when I want to store it in Delicious so it’s no hardship to me.

I rate this blog highly and I’d be upset if you killed the full feed – but I accept your rationale. Keep up the good work whichever way you go.

January 12, 2010 3:40 am

Oddly, when I tried to vote, “view results” shot me to “eye of the tiger”. Not one of my favorite tuness…

Full feed.

Not sure why comments are important to you? Can you tell that people are reading the posts? Is it an income thing? Not criticizing, just asking.

I’m here to learn, and don’t have much to contribute, which is why I don’t comment. I do very much appreciate the information you share.

January 12, 2010 4:35 am

I think the truncated feed is sensible when you consider traffic, plus the fact that advertisers really like those sorts of numbers.

Mostly though, it’s about encouraging comments and the interaction that makes this more than just “one man’s blog”. You’ve created a community and bringing people to the site to comment makes the community thrive.

As for your writing, you’re fine. No worries on that count.

January 12, 2010 4:41 am

I voted for “It’s cool…”, but it got me thinking. I do a lot of reading in my RSS feed but I’m more likely to comment on an article if I have to click through for a full version; not to mention that reading on the actual blog is more aesthetically pleasing since I get the full experience.

I also second Joanie though – I hadn’t thought much about this particular question, but if your intention (or a bloggers intention even) is to create a community aspect, then encouraging comments/feedback becomes important. If that means a partial RSS feed, then so be it.

January 12, 2010 4:59 am

I prefer to have full feeds, since it gives me the ability to scan whole articles. Although with a longer sample, that may not be a problem. I’ve subscribed to several feeds that only post one or two sentences, and it isn’t enough to get the gist of the article.

The articles that I decide to read in depth get opened in Safari. I rarely comment on blog posts regardless. Keeping track of the replies usually ends up being a huge time sink.

January 12, 2010 5:15 am

I’m a fan of full feeds; most of my feed reading is not done in a browser, but rather through an iPhone app or a standalone feed-reading program, and it’s highly inconvenient to have to go to a browser to read the full article (especially on the phone). I’m less likely to read the full article if the feed is truncated, honestly–I’ll either decide it’s not worth the bother, or I’ll make a note to look at it later when I can more conveniently access a browser and then forget about it.

That said, I do recognize that if your goal is to get people on the site and not just reading the text of the articles (and seeing the images contained therein), truncated feeds are probably more likely to get people who aren’t lazy-ass space cases like me to actually look at your site. ;) Setting the breakpoint manually should help; I’m most annoyed by feeds that just have a sentence or two per article. I’m not going to drop the feed just because the articles are being truncated, I just might not read as many of the articles.

January 12, 2010 5:24 am

Most of the time I go through Google reader as a widget on my iGoogle page, so I open each url to see it. That what works for me. So truncated articles would not have an impact on my habits.

Thanks for considering our opinion.

January 12, 2010 5:49 am

I use Google reader and many of the feeds I get have advertising on the bottom of the post. That’s always an option.

January 12, 2010 5:55 am

Hi Brian, long time listener, first time caller.

I think I’m what you would call simply a consumer of the information. Most of the time, I don’t feel particularly driven to comment on a blog article I’ve read. All my blog reading is through Google Reader, and it really doesn’t stir strong emotions in me either way – I have sites with only summary RSS feeds, and sites with full RSS feeds, they both are the same to me.

If it’s about driving more traffic to the site for monetizing, I would personally not be opposed to ad-supported full-article feeds. I’ve clicked through and even bought from a few properly targeted ads in feeds.

If it’s about community, I don’t find that fulfilled by comments on a post, I’d personally think that better driven by a forum offering.

January 12, 2010 6:32 am

As someone who catches almost all of my RSS feeds on the road, typically on a slow 3G connection, I have to say that I am a huge fan of full feeds. The main reason for this is that if I want to read an article on a short feed I need to load up the site, which can take quite some time (BTW, this site takes an age to load on 3G).

I may intend to continue to follow a site that moves to short feeds, but in practice I almost always stop following due to time restrictions and the inability to read the article from the RSS reader.

January 12, 2010 7:22 am

I have a tiny preference for full feeds, but not enough that it’ll affect my readership. If I want to comment, I click over to the page and do so even if it’s a full feed.

January 12, 2010 7:34 am

I read everything in Google Reader but if I believe it is a good post I click through, no exceptions. It depends on the format of the truncated articles. If it is just a click through, I’ll unsubscribe. If there is enough there to know what the post is about, I’ll probably stick around.

January 12, 2010 7:38 am

I have a strong preference for full feeds. I do almost all my websurfing from my feed reader and for a person like me, truncating feeds is an alienating move and a major irritation. Of course, I can’t speak for all users but I’m no more likely to post a comment simply because I’m already on the page. I regularly comment on posts I read in my feed reader.

January 12, 2010 7:40 am

I really don’t like partial feeds. I find that I’m no more likely to click through from a partial feed than I am from a full feed (which I do a lot), and there are a lot of reasons why partial feeds are really annoying. Most notably is that reading feeds from a mobile device is so much easier and faster from a feed reader. Clicking through to a blog is just annoying enough that I’m more likely to ignore the post completely than to read it at all if I have to click through while using my iPod.

I seriously think that so much more of the conversation happens on other social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed) these days that it shouldn’t be surprising to see comment stats on blogs taking a nosedive.

Anyway, I like your content and I will keep coming back regardless of whether you provide a full or partial feed. But I would really rather see the full feed.

January 12, 2010 7:47 am

Yes, I understand. I use a reader and rarely go to the actual website / blog unless it’s to make a comment or vote in a pole (as above). If you go to partial feed, I’ll probably read fewer full articles unless they sound like something I’d be really interested in. But I can see how it would help the total picture.

January 12, 2010 7:50 am

I am, by nature, a lurker – a partial feed will not get me to comment any more than a full feed would (and I ignore ads anyway). I prefer to do all my reading on a single tab and not be jumping back and forth just to read an article. The end result is that I will probably be less inclined to fully read Epic Edit articles unless the teaser sufficiently grabs my attention. I certainly won’t be dropping the subscription, though!

January 12, 2010 7:51 am

I like having the full feed sent to my Gmail inbox for at least 3 reasons.
1)By having it come to email, I don’t have to wait or click around to get to the blog posts.
2) If you publish irregularly, I don’t have to worry if I missed a blog post. When you post, It shows up.
3) If it’s in Gmail, it’s searchable for me.

January 12, 2010 8:45 am

I’m also reading most of my news/blog stuff in my feed reader. I have several photography feeds in there that only supply a partial feed and I have to confess that I read only that part in the feed reader and only click through if I am really, really interested in the post.
But your feed is one that has a special place in my habits anyway since your posts tend to be very long (which is not a bad thing in my mind) and I open them in a browser window so I can read them when I have the time to read all of it – since my feed reading is more of a browsing.

(yeah, I know, this comment isn’t helpful at all in your decision)

January 12, 2010 9:16 am

Like I said in the comments of the other article: since I’ve started using a feed-reader I’ve hardly visited the blog, which also means I do not post any comments. There probably is a thin line between attracting more visitros and annoying your visitors. By showing introductions to articles I will click through and view the actual article, like I do on other feeds. But perhaps other feed-junkies do not like thid idea at all.

January 12, 2010 9:16 am

I went for screw it…. For a long time I put up with partial feeds but there re just too many interesting sites to deal with partials IMO. I will leave it in the reader but if I notice a few partials from any one sub, I just unsub from it. There are VERY few sites can get away with partials (I suspect not any in reality)… so the old add per eye ball revenue is dead for me and a lot of others.

January 12, 2010 9:34 am

I loathe partial feeds. I use a reader to keep things organized. Then, if I want to comment, I scroll wheel click on it so it opens a new tab in my Firefox. If a blog switches to a partial feed, I almost instantly unfollow. Loathe them.

January 12, 2010 9:41 am

Wow… that topic got the comments going! It’s good to hear from everybody on this, and there are a lot of points for both sides that I hadn’t considered. I’ll have to follow up with another post so I can address some of the questions, concerns, and suggestions. For now, I’m keeping a full feed because I don’t see an easy way to set the truncated feed manually. The “more tag” doesn’t work on feeds any longer, and I’m not a fan of the super-short excerpts. If I do find an easy way to accomplish what I want, I might test it out for a week or two — but I’ll let you guys know if that happens.

January 12, 2010 10:20 am

I would much rather have full feeds.

You can monetize your RSS feed, without having readers visit your website.
John Gruber of Daring Fireball gets sponsors for his RSS feed; people click through on his sponsor ad posts.
Here’s what Mike Johnston’s experience was at The Online Photographer.

January 12, 2010 10:22 am

I’d never heard of Epic Edits until the feed was recommended by Google Reader.

January 12, 2010 10:34 am

Partial feeds have always struck me as particularly insulting to your readers. You’re essentially saying from the outset that you’re willing to inconvenience and screw over your fans to appease your advertisers.

I’m not going to walk away from Epic Edits if you go partial feed, but I’m a lot less likely to comment. I’m a lot less likely to participate. And I’m probably just going to mark a post as read if I can’t read the whole thing in my RSS reader.

January 12, 2010 11:03 am

I wanted to comment that I think the reason that the discussion has fallen off here is probably a direct result content fall off. You went from multiple well researched, well informed articles a week, to two maybe 3 quickies with at least one of those being a news or photo dump (aka. not original content on your part). i understand that people get busy, we all have lives, but it does bother me to see a site doing that when it has paid advertisers. I’m not trying to be harsh at all, I’m just wondering if you can really look back on 2009 and say you gave this blog the same kind of attention you gave it the year before- I’m thinking that’s the bigger problem.

Anyway, I don’t like clogging up my RSS reader with blogs that don’t post enough new, original, content anyway, so I’ve been contemplating erasing this one for awhile now, I’ve just been trying to give you time to catch back up again because I used to really like it, but I will say that partial feeds would be the end for me undoubtedly.

Oh, and I read all my RSS feeds in outlook, where I can move them around, add them to my to-do list and tag them for later reading. This has never stopped me from clicking through if the content is interesting- I click through at least 60% of my feeds each day (the 60% most relevant to me) and comment or read comments or bookmark the page or whatever. I do not however, even bother with partial feeds, too much work.

January 12, 2010 11:54 am

One of the reasons I use full feeds on my site is because I prefer them so much on other sites that I don’t want to be hypocrite and use partials on my own site.

Personally, I’ve found I’m more likely to comment when the post (like this one) ends with some sort of plea for an opinion. If I read an article that’s all “To take a great photo, follow these 10 steps” and it ends after the 10th step, I don’t have anything to say whether I’m viewing in a reader or on-site. However, if the article ends with “If you had to add an 11th step, what would it be?”, I’d be much more likely to leave a comment, including having to click through from my reader – which is what I did to leave THIS comment.

January 12, 2010 12:06 pm

I prefer a full feed, especially for articles that are basically just an image with text about the image, e.g. webcomics, daily images, etc.

Feeds whose posts consist of only a hyperlinked title are the worst; if I can’t use feed43 or similar to get the content I want from sites like that, I stop subscribing. I use feeds is so I don’t have to visit a hundred sites each day (128 feeds in Google Reader now), unless I feel the need to comment, etc.

January 12, 2010 1:40 pm

Sorry I don’t comment more. I follow over 200 photography-related RSS feeds along and while I would love to comment on them all every day to encourage them I am swimming along just trying to keep current on them all (I also follow 900 non-photography-related feeds).

January 12, 2010 5:57 pm

I am MUCH less likely to read a full post if it doesn’t all show up in my RSS reader. I’d have to be strongly interested in what you’re writing about to jump to the full post on your website.

January 12, 2010 10:10 pm

I use Google Reader and appreciate a full feed. Like others here, I review a LOT of blogs and partial feed is the exception. If I feel the need to comment, I have no problem opening up the web site and leaving my remarks.

Bear in mind that you can include advertising in your RSS feed. Others do. I’ve seen a ton of ads for Timbuk2 messenger bags on some other feeds, since I was researching them last month. I’ll put up with RSS ads more readily than some web sites that have ads embedded in the text of their articles, making it almost unbearable to read.

January 13, 2010 1:08 pm

I prefer reading the full feeds in my feed reader of choice. It just makes it easier for me.

One of the things that I like about one particular blog I read (The Online Photographer), is that they update entries with featured comments from other readers, often with replies back from the author. That makes it obvious to me that there’s a good dialog going. I don’t know how they manage it so that the updates are seen in the regular article feed; you might want to ask if they’re doing anything special.

What I really wish would occur is that any feedreader would make it easier to join the article stream and the comment stream together in a more cohesive way. Then you’d get more feedback. Or maybe not. I’m not sure.

January 14, 2010 4:14 pm

I do like the way they do the featured comments… maybe there’s a plugin to make that job a little easier. I’ll have to look around.

January 15, 2010 9:08 am

I came to this post from my RSS reader… never actually been to the site before. It was a suggested feed on google one day when I was looking for interesting content. Didn’t know discussions existed before this post. Please keep the full feeds. Your posts are interesting!

January 16, 2010 10:22 pm

I gotta admit – I tend to be one who disregards most short-form feeds. I’ll click through on occasion, but there’s so much info out there, I just can’t keep up if I take the time to click through.

Looking over my current feed settings, there isn’t a single one that is short nowadays. I’ve dropped ‘em all. Interesting, hadn’t really thought about it…

January 17, 2010 4:25 am

I may not be your most common reader (I am tracking more than 200 websites through RSS feeds in order to feed my own web sites), but it’s very clear to me that the more consistent presentation and the fast access that RSS provides is critical for me. I understand the constraints it creates to you, but partial feeds are just not the same thing.

Essentially, think that you are building several web sites at the same time: one web sites at epicedits.com, and one RSS web site. If you cripple the second, it’s just one opportunity you loose. People going to RSS tend to be more technologically inclined, and if they chose RSS it’s not because they dislike your writing (on the contrary) but for their personal constraints of environment or taste. Don’t loose them.

January 17, 2010 7:30 am

I’m glad you decided to go with the full feed! I’ve had to unsubscribe from some great blogs because they switched to partial feeds, so I always feel like it’s a win when someone decides to stick with the full feed. I do all of my sorting and browsing in Google Reader, and it just doesn’t work if I can only see a headline and a brief summary. Plus, if a post is good (and long) enough I’ll open it up in my browser anyways, so you’re getting the best of both worlds.

January 19, 2010 1:28 am

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