A Look at Full and Partial Feeds in an Increasingly Mobile World

As of July 2012 I no longer recommend using this tactic, as it creates too many low quality links to your website

I’ve long stated that I prefer full feeds over partial feeds. Now that I’ve spent the past few weeks using an iPad, I feel even more strongly that full feeds are the way to go and that offering partial feeds is an obstacle to getting your posts read by as many people as possible.
Two sites I read on a regular basis that offer partial feeds are Search Engine Land and Wired Magazine. I like both websites and read them on a mostly daily basis, using a either Google reader or the Newsrack iPad app. In an effort to be clear, I’ll disclose that I am also a regular columnist for Search Engine Land.

As use of blackberries, iPhones, iPads, android, smart phones, and other Internet consumption appliances increases, I think it’s time that publishers rethink the use of partial feeds …

My typical routine includes scanning the list of feeds 1-3 times per day. If an article is interesting and something I want to read, I’ll send it off to Instapaper to read on the iPad while I’m at the gym later that day or (if absolutely necessary) on the laptop. The iPad has really affected the way I consume. It’s much easier to read on the iPad than it is on a laptop or desktop computer.

When I encounter a partial feed, it’s problematic because I have to send it through a middle service provided by Google. Google actually scrapes the content and provides a “light” version. You can see an example at this URL or the screen shot below.

As use of blackberries, iPhones, iPads, android, smart phones, and other Internet consumption appliances increases, I think it’s time that publishers rethink the use of partial feeds. Providing content that has barriers to consumption isn’t a smart long term solution.

I think it’s time for publishers to rethink using partial feeds as consumption habits change …

The most common argument revolves around advertising and not being able to include it in the feeds. To be honest, this really isn’t a valid argument. There is a lot of off the shelf space available right now for free. You can use the feed footer to randomly insert advertising links in the bottom of each post. Want the ads at the top? Use the RSS Footer and you’re all set. If you need a more sophisticated solution you should have enough of a budget to build a  custom plugin.

The next biggest argument is that the posts will get scraped. Getting scraped sucks but, to be honest, it’s a non issue most of the time since Google is pretty good at figuring out the original. They aren’t perfect, but they are right more often than they are wrong. Lastly in most cases getting scraped works to your advantage.

Another solution would be to turn full feeds into a revenue-generating opportunity. You could offer partial feeds for free, and publish full feeds using a subscription model. Give each subscriber a unique feed that redirects to the full feed published at a secret URL. If the subscription is expired redirect to a partial feed. Change the full feed secret URL every month to eliminate people sharing or getting access when the subscription expires. Concerned about people republishing? Embed a unique identifier in each feed in the form of a tracking bug. Its not a perfect or foolproof solution, but it’s a big step forward.

I think it’s time for publishers to rethink using partial feeds as consumption habits change and devices allow content to be read in new ways. Publishers have to adjust and make changes.

PS: I’ve read a lot of reports about mobile consumption and, unless you are delivering rich media, you should consider providing a “lite” or “mobile” version. If you view this website on an iPhone, iPad, blackberry, or even a Wii, you’ll see a slightly different version. I use the wptouch plugin with some custom user agent settings, and it works pretty well.
photo credit: Yutaka Tsutano

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