Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Why you should offer a newsfeed

Via Lockergnome’s RSS Portal, comes “Why you shouldn’t offer a newsfeed“. Naturally as someone who habitually uses RSS and Atom feeds I have to take issue with some of the points, so, here they are, in turn:

“1) It’s too much trouble to set up.”

That depends on the platform. GeckoTribe uses Blogger, which I last used well over 18 months ago before syndication was offered in the free version, so I can’t comment specifically there, but in Movable Type feeds are provided as standard when you create a blog. The RSS feeds aren’t perfect but the Atom feed is fine.

“2) It takes too much time to maintain it.”

Again, I can only speak as a Movable Type user, but it requires barely any maintenance from me. In fact, about the only time you do need to do maintenance is when you start tinkering with it, which, in general you don’t, especially with Atom.

“3) They use too much bandwidth.”

Yes, this is a fair point – the RSS feed for this site is the most popular file, with 15750 views last month. Sadly some aggregators still pull the file every hour, even if the file specifies that it should only be pulled once every three hours at most. But then that’s a problem with the aggregators and web services.

“4) It’s too early to choose a format for it.”

The way this was put is a definite exaggeration. Mark Pilgrim has a handy guide, which suggests 3 formats of RSS – 0.91, 1.0 and 2.0 – and then explains the strengths and weaknesses for each. I agree that even that may be confusing for some, but in general, if you go for 2.0 you’ll get the best compromise between compatibility and features (in my experience at least). With Atom, it’s 0.3 or nothing. Yes, it’s not version 1.0 yet, and while I’ve not been following the post-0.3 progress of Atom it doesn’t look like it’ll change much from now on. From what I gather, any future releases will be backwards compatible. And besides, 0.3 has received quite widespread adoption so I doubt it’ll get abandoned.

“5) If you’ve got a newsfeed, everyone will read it and not come to your site”

So what? They’re here to read my content. Okay, so I try to do up the web pages so that they’re readable and look nice but you could easily turn off stylesheets and read it in a plain vanilla format, like you could do in an aggregator.

While I’ll admit this is a somewhat harsh criticism that I wouldn’t normally resort to, I do think that using this argument is a bit rich when your site isn’t modified much from a standard Blogger template.

“6) Not that many people actually subscribe to newsfeeds yet.”

True. But in a way your bandwidth argument contradicts that – certainly I read all the feeds in my aggregator (and any that I don’t get deleted), although maybe that’s just me and not representative of everyone.

“7) Blogs and newsfeeds will give you a hacker image.”

Wha…? Okay, so since the BBC offers its news via RSS, they’re a load of hackers, right? A lot of mainstream internet media publications offer RSS feeds now – I’d hardly call it a hacker thing, nor would I call it ‘unprofessional’. If anything, professionals would want to cater for the widest possible audience, and RSS lets you cater for the audience that likes to keep tabs on news.

“8) Microsoft isn’t crushing everyone in the newsfeed industry under their heel, so it must not be that important.”

Microsoft is starting to adopt RSS, just ask Scoble. In fact, Microsoft invented syndication with Channels and its CDF format back in 1997/98 with IE4. Okay, so it didn’t work, but RSS and Atom have a very strong following at the grassroots level, and Microsoft haven’t been sat on the arses over this. In fact, I gather that Longhorn will have an RSS reader, although that’ll be a few years away.

The writer reckons that newsfeeds are a “fad” that “will pass”. I strongly beg to differ.

Sidenote: this entry was written under the influence of alcohol, and therefore may include grammatical or spelling errors, for which I apologise. But hey, it’s Easter.

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