What Should Go in a Default RSS Feed?

So after four or five years of not redesigning this site, I’m finally working up the energy to rearrange the furniture a little. Part of the motivation comes from realizing how much more I like the general design of my construction blog and the other part comes from the admission that a lot of the things I want to update my site with regularly are not articles about web design and development, and in some cases, not articles at all.

The first question to answer in this redesign is: what are the discrete types of content I will be posting once the redesign is complete. So far, this is what I’ve come up with –

  1. Web design and development articles
  2. Other articles
  3. Product Recommendations
  4. Random links of interest, a la what’s in my sidebar right now
  5. Newsvine seeds linking to interesting news stories I’ve read lately
  6. Photos
  7. Videos
  8. Links to latest entries on A House By The Park
  9. Latest Twitter posts

The items are more or less in order of what I think people would be interested in. The first three would be full text posts and the rest would be in some sort of compact form, either inline with the rest of the posts or more likely in a sidebar.

So far so good. I’m pretty confident I can pull all of that off with not too much work. The problem, however, is how that all manifests in an RSS feed. WordPress has a great feature where you can mix and match categories into different RSS feeds — which I fully plan to do — but what goes in the default feed? That is the $64,000 question. With somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 subscribers, I don’t want to piss anybody off by shoving a lot more updates in there to relatively meaningless things like Twitter entries. As a reader, I prefer to subscribe to RSS feeds that update once or twice a week max and if one of my favorite blogs shoved the whole kitchen sink into their feed suddenly, I might unsubscribe.

On the other hand, however, I’ve had plenty of people say things to me like “I used to always read your blog… back when you updated it!” — clearly implying that 2 or 3 updates a month isn’t cutting it.

Mike Industries Poll

What should go in the default existing Mike Industries RSS Feed?


So the first question to answer is “what should go in the default feed?” If you’re a current Mike Industries RSS subscriber, please vote in the poll to the right.

The second question is not really something I need votes on, but perhaps should be discussed in the comments below: when offering custom RSS feeds, is the best practice to create them by opting out of categories or opting in? Here are the two ways you can custom feeds in WordPress –

http://www.example.com/feed?cat=1,2,3

(Returns a feed with items from categories 1, 2, and 3)

or

http://www.example.com/feed?cat=-4,-5,-6

(Returns a feed with all items except from categories 4, 5, and 6)

The user interface for creating each style of feed can still be identical (a bunch of checkboxes), but the nature of the subscription is subtly different. Let’s say you’re subscribed to the first feed and I add a 7th category. Say category 7 is links to a third blog that is created at some time in the future. If you’re subscribed to the first feed, you won’t get the new stuff. If you’re subscribed to the second feed, however, you will, because you haven’t specifically excluded category 7. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. If you have any insight into this or any other related issue, I would love to hear your comments below.

Like this entry? You can follow me on Twitter here, subscribe via email here, or get the RSS feed if that's how you roll.

20 Responses:

  1. brad says:

    Something else you may want to consider is changing your article feed from summary to full posting. This is something many people never consider, they just use whatever the default is. I much prefer full postings for many reasons, but one of the biggest being that if I’m traveling and use Google gears to download my feeds so I can read them from my hard drive a summary is pretty much useless.

  2. Mike D. says:

    brad: Yep, I will probably turn on full-text RSS, at least as a trial. Since I’m not really pimping Dreamhost anymore, the financial incentive to keep people on the site is not as high. That leaves automated content piracy as the only other major concern and I’ll just keep an eye on it for now.

  3. Considering that your “default rss” feed is the same feed that we are all already subscribed to, I think it would be best to keep it just articles, you’d be adhering to the “least surprise” user experience principal. We are already used to only getting just articles, so if we keep getting only just articles, there’s no surprise. Then go ahead and feel free to offer a “kitchen sink” feed, but make it a different feed that people can choose to consciously follow, rather than have it foisted upon them when they weren’t paying attention.

    I figure that the people who are begging you for more posts are also probably paying some pretty close attention to your current posts, so when you announce your new feeds, they’ll probably see that and resubscribe to a feed with more content.

  4. Don says:

    Mike, I guess I’d go with opt out. So long as I know I have the choice of reducing, assume I want to hear what you are talking about — except in the case of twitter crap. If I care about that I guess I follow you on twitter, don’t I?

  5. Jon says:

    Another vote for full feeds.

  6. Scott says:

    I’d want to see everything, except cross posted content. I have this problem with a few people I follow online – I follow them on twitter and I subscribe to their blog, and I’m getting a lot of their content twice. They tweet their blog entries, and they blog their tweets. Neither seem to be fully inclusive though, so to get all of their content, I need to subscribe to both.

    I’m subscribed to your construction blog and I follow you on twitter, so I wouldn’t want to see that in your RSS feed. Everything else is fair game IMO.

  7. Tom Q says:

    Another vote here for full RSS feeds.

  8. I subscribe to your blog because I value your opinion and viewpoint in the articles you write. I don’t know if I’m in the norm, but I’m quite happy to wait a few weeks between articles. I’m not all that interested in links you’d post, though I’m sure they’d be interesting, but it’s the full posts that you post that I really value.

    Just make sure to keep that RSS feed whatever you do! :)

  9. Mike says:

    What if say… you gave the option to your readers. Instead of having a link to the XML RSS feed at the top, you linked to an RSS options page. There the use can decided how they would like to receive the content from you. Granted that would only take care of NON-subscribers (or non-RSS readers).

    But, similar to you your post Adding a Subscribe Bar to Your Blog, you can always add a temp bar, only for a few months and only specific to your RSS users, across the top to draw attention to update their feed settings. Again this only solves the problem for those subscribers that read the content on your site instead of a reader.

    The final solution … is to update the Feed ‘Layout’ itself to include a link (again only for a few months) that links to the feed settings page.

    As for the Settings page itself, the page will have a number of options to either ADD or REMOVE categories, get FULL or PARTIAL articles, and maybe even a small tutorial on the syntax of your RSS URL for the more even more customization.

    Then again this could be all too much for most users. My folks still have a hard time wrapping their brain around RSS … they always ask, “Why not use Email?” Frustrates me a bit.

  10. Mike D. says:

    Adam: Yeah, that was my first instinct too, however: a) From the polls, it seems like the majority of people want to see a little more in the feed, and b) I don’t mind putting a little extra in there as long as it’s not overwhelming or noisy. Very touchy situation though, for sure.

    Scott: With regard to the cross-posting thing, hmmmm… that will probably be a bit of an issue in the default feed but I’ll provide options to mitigate it.

    Kevin: Thanks. Yeah, I kind of feel the same way about most blogs I read. I read don’t want more than a couple of updates a month.

    Mike: Yep, great ideas. I am planning to do all of that.

  11. Out of the 600+ feeds I’m subscribed to, I believe yours is the only one to still remain an excerpt-based feed.
    Just like the others, I’m eager to see that changed. :)

  12. Full articles. I know how to stalk you elsewhere.

  13. PanMan says:

    I like what Jeremy Zawodny does: He has 2 feeds, 1 with full articles and one with small links. I’m subscribed to both, but read them at different moments (article mode and link mode are different).
    I’d say the main feed shouldn’t include too many updates, but would include all real “articles”, so nr 1, 2 and 3 above.
    Currently I read all your posts as I see them, but with too many posts, it would become one of the “Yeah, I should check up on that” feeds.

  14. Tom says:

    I think update frequency (ie. not updating *enough*) is only an issue on websites, not in RSS feeds. For people with more than 10-20 feeds, my favorites are the ones that don’t update very often. The ones that update daily or intra-daily are too much for me to keep up with. I unsubscribe and check back on the site from time to time (I’m sure missing plenty, but that is unavoidable).

    I’ve seen at least one site offer a “Best of the week” feed to get around this. Not that I’m suggesting that in this case.

  15. Ted says:

    Why note provide the following:
    – an RSS feed of just your articles
    – an RSS feed of just interesting links
    – and if people want your Twitter feed, just provide your screenname and they will be able to get your RSS from Twitter.

    This way, EVERYONE will be happy.

    Those that don’t want to get bombarded with too much news can just select the feeds they want.

  16. Chris says:

    Is it coincidence that my Live Bookmarks in Firefox stopped working for this site around the time you posted this? It’s an ominous sign if even considering a change makes things stop working!

  17. Chris says:

    Which will be ready first Mike, the house or the blog? HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  18. George says:

    Mike

    Any thoughts on the new ESPN.com homepage?

  19. Mike D. says:

    Thanks for the nudge, George. Posted.

  20. [...] after running this poll about a month ago, I’ve decided to include original and shared items in the default RSS feed [...]

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