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RSS feeds and advertising

You have choices when creating RSS feeds: you can put in the full content of your articles, put in an abbreviated description, or even nothing at all. You can also add advertising directly to the feed.

Let's start with the content. By providing that in the RSS feed, you are allowing subscribers to read your content without visiting your site. While perhaps a convenience for them, there's a penalty for you to pay in terms of bandwidth: all those extra bytes get shipped across the Internet every time someone downloads the feed. That probably wouldn't be a problem if so many RSS readers didn't check for feed updates constantly. And even that shouldn't be a problem because they shouldn't be pulling down files that haven't been updated and they are supposed to pay attention to the "update frequency" fields in the feed so they don't come back too early. For example, I have tags in my feed that say it isn't updated more often than every six hours. But the readers don't pay anjy attention to that at all: my logs are choked with RSS downloads that come from the same addresses as often as every fifteen minutes. If I added content, that's a lot of additional bytes.

But even if the readers pay no attention to my update frequency, they should at least ask my server if the file has changed:

 bash-2.05a$ telnet localhost 80
 Trying ::1...
 Trying 127.0.0.1...
 Connected to localhost.
 Escape character is '^]'.
 GET /aplawrence.rss HTTP/1.0
 If-Modified-Since: Sat, 19 Nov 2005 12:20:29 GMT
 
 HTTP/1.1 304 Not Modified
 Date: Sat, 19 Nov 2005 12:23:28 GMT
 Server: Apache
 Connection: close
 ETag: "655a2-1760-c1a1ca80"
 
 Connection closed by foreign host.
 
 

Apparently very few readers bother with that. See conditional GET.

There is a middle ground between full content and no content: some people use a brief excerpt from the post or a separate description that only appears in the RSS feed.

More recently, folks have been adding advertising to RSS feeds. That has generated tremendous controversy, but if you are going to ship content, you might as well ship the ads because otherwise you have nothing coming in from RSS subscribers. Of course you don't have to add it to every post in the feed; I would think that mixing it in to a few would be more acceptable than tagging every post.

At the present time, I don't ship content or ads. I am considering adding a brief description and probably won't put in advertising. It's a subject that needs a lot of thought.

There's also a matter of interpretation of the content. Content you stick into an RSS feed has to be entity-encoded; that is, the HTML tags have to be escaped so that they aren't confused with the XML of the feed itself. The interpretation of tags can cause problems for people who want to write about tags, as I sometimes do. See RSS 2.0 Best Practice Tip: Entity-encoded HTML in Descriptions for more on that.



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