First, a rundown of what I sampled:
- Yahoo! News — AP headlines. Was OK in terms of a news snapshot, but not much depth.
- Yahoo! Weather — Only gave a forecast through Friday (“Fri,” said the automated attendant reader). Was too bad, because what I was really seeking was Sunday’s forecast, to learn the odds on whether I’ll be teeing off at Sandwich Hollows.
- Horoscope — Not content I ordinarily consume, but it was a feed from Tarot.com, a sister site at my employer. It actually fit the situation pretty well, and got me more excited about the Jott service.
- Boston Globe — Headline and summary. At least two of the stories were not optimized for Web presentation. Delayed ledes (newspaper term for using the first few paragraphs to set up a “nut graph” summary that establishes the point of the story) that were cut short by the feed kept me from learning what the stories were actually about.
- Autoblog — Competing site to some of my employer’s sister sites, including TheTruthAboutCars.com. I liked that Autoblog offered a full feed, but absent the visual context that an RSS reader might provide, the tags that immediately followed the headline, and the embedded credits and gallery links, served only to confuse the automated reading of the item.
- TechCrunch — This is when I reached the “A-ha!” moment. You mean I can get TechCrunch read to me before I get to the office? Glory be! Full feed, too! Outstanding!
I’ll come back to deeper feed thoughts in a second. First, I encountered one challenge with the Jott service itself. Just after starting to listen to TechCrunch, I had to stop for gas, so I hung up. When I got back in the car, I redialed Jott, and went back to the TechCrunch feed, hoping it would resume with “unread” items. Instead, it started back at the beginning, forcing me to listen to the same item twice.
I learned later that there are a few phone-key shortcuts, but indications are users can only skip from one feed to another, not from post to post. I’ll have to play with it some more to confirm.
After this test drive, though, I feel more strongly than ever about a theory I’ve pushed in conversation for quite some time: Full RSS feeds are superior to partials.
“But, Sean, partial feeds entice click-throughs and drive Web traffic!” some may counter. True, but RSS feeds are not intended to be text ads for content, and if you use them that way, you are missing a giant marketing opportunity. The true purpose and power of RSS is product distribution.
Just one man’s mantra, so take it for what it’s worth: If your blog or other media offers only a partial RSS feed, you risk subscribers like me foregoing your products altogether. Of the 163 feeds I subscribe to, only three are partial feeds.
TechCrunch is one of those 160 full-feed sites. I hardly ever go to the TechCrunch site directly, but I am acutely aware of the brand because of the large amounts of TechCrunch content I have consumed via their feed. As a result, I turn to TechCrunch immediately when, for example, I need to learn more about the Google-Yahoo advertising deal. And when someone asks me for advice on chat software or if I need to learn what startups are in any given content category, it’s the TechCrunch feed consumption that has made me aware of — and caused me to directly visit — their companion CrunchBase site. What’s more, I evangelize CrunchBase often to colleagues and peers.
TechCrunch, via their full RSS feed, has turned me not only from a casual to a loyal user, but I am now a marketing vessel for them too.
Are your RSS feeds doing that? Shouldn’t that be the measure of their success, rather than mere click throughs? The degree of difficulty of achieving the former goes way up if you’re only populating your RSS feeds with headlines and summaries.
Jott Feeds has amplified my belief in the power and importance of RSS feeds — especially now as an everyday commuter. Suddenly, there is a service that can make my commuting time more efficient and seem to pass more quickly, all powered by RSS (put aside for a moment that it’s simply Audiotex reborn).
Guess which feeds I unsubscribed from after today’s experience? So long, Autoblog and Boston Globe. The former’s feed was not optimized for the medium, and the latter’s was not only unoptimized, it was incomplete and useless. Kudos for trying, but those feeds need a redo.