Sorry to inflict this on you—it's just administrative BS—but I'm trying to figure out what to do with my feeds, and it's a headache. A couple of days ago I switched over the feed from "Full" to "Partial." That, I've learned, is the internet equivalent of whacking a wasp's nest with a hockey stick.
A feed reader, for those of you who might not know, is a service that adds the content of a blog or website to your home page or a special reader page or device. It brings up the content of the sites you choose without obligating you to actually visit the site. The publisher—me in this case—can choose to allow people to see the entire blog post in their feed reader (full feed), or just the title and the first few lines (partial feed). (If you're looking at the actual web page right now, see that little orange symbol in the right-hand sidebar, just above "ARCHIVES," where it says "Subscribe in a reader"? That's where you click to set up a feed.)
Here's how my feed from TOP looks on my home page (it's at the top, naturally):
I've been learning a lot about feed readers in the past couple of days, and a lot about feed reader readers, too. Turns out there's a whole raft of controversy around the full vs. partial debate. Some people who keep up with many blogs find it much handier to read entire posts in their feed readers—as I've been hearing. Other people prefer to read partial feeds—just an indication of what the post is about; if they want to read the whole post they click through to the site. (This group includes me. I prefer partial feeds; I like to go to the actual sites to read the content.)
The deeper issue is pretty fascinating. Many times, I've said that anyone is welcome to read TOP at any time without ever doing anything to pay me for it. And that's true. But that's primarily because that's the current model of the way a weblog works. I don't actually want to work for free. The way I make the blog pay is by selling ads and linking to affiliate sites*. I accept the fact that most people will never click on an ad link or buy a thing through my affiliate links, because they're part of the price I pay for attracting the people who do contribute. It's a standard trade-off. So far so good, right?
But now, technically, if I publish full feeds, a person could read the entire content of this site without ever seeing a single ad or clicking on a single affiliate link—meaning, they'd be getting the full benefit of my work without giving me even the possibility of earning anything for it. That doesn't seem quite fair.
Ah, but not so fast—"full feed" readers are quick to tell me that they often do click through to the site, and many have even gone out of their way to buy things from my affiliate links, thus supporting the site like anybody else.
What's more, they tell me, if I don't publish a full feed, then they're not going to read the site at all! And I will have lost the income opportunities I gained when they used to click through. They make a further argument: that people who read exclusively through feed readers are more likely to be "power users" with outsize influence on the wider web. That is, they're good for my "brand."
To those people, the full feed is just a convenience for them, and by denying it to them, I'm being selfish and crass. I'm trying to force them to click through to the site in order to get my content. I'm doing this to raise my page count (well, that's kind of true) and benefit my advertisers (true. Why charge somebody to display an ad and then make it easy and convenient for people to avoid looking at it?). In other words, I'm just thinking of myself and my own greedy motives, and not thinking of their convenience.
Some people suggested going back to full feeds but adding ads to the feed. No can do at the moment—Google just bought Feedburner, and you have to transfer your account before you can add AdSense ads to feeds, and there's a backlog of people requesting account transfers, so they're not accepting any more requests right now. (Deep breath.)
The really sad thing here (well, to me!) is that if each person who subscribed to a full feed from TOP were to pay me 5¢ a day for the privilege, I'd be making a very handsome living. In fact, if they just paid 2¢ a day, I'd be making more from the website than I do now. If I could find some way to hit each of them up for that 2¢, I imagine they'd pay it, don't you think? Two cents just really isn't that much, even to a poor student, much less to a mature working man or woman. But maybe not—one reader told me that if I stop publishing full feeds, then it will "cost" him two mouse clicks and an extra minute of his time every time he wants to read one of my posts, which is apparently more of a price than he's willing to pay. (He still might pay the 2¢, though, presuming his time is worth much more than 2¢ a minute—most peoples' is.) But there's no way (that I know of, anyway) to set up such an arrangement. Too bad.
One thing that's definitely true is that I don't want to alienate any of my loyal readers—and many people who had been reading through full feeds are just that. I'm not trying to set up an antagonistic situation here. Still, I'd kinda like people to at least come to the actual site when they want to read it, and it doesn't seem like a lot to ask. But maybe I'm wrong.
And here's a further monkey wrench in the works: since I went to a partial feed, the hits on the website are up, but so is the number of people subscribing to the feed. Huh?
Anyway, if read TOP through a feed, please take a second to let me know which of the following you prefer. The bottom line is, I'm still looking into this. I'll keep you posted.
*And by the way, to whoever ordered the plasma TV yesterday through our links, bless you.
(That's one year at 2¢ a day, if you're not getting it. Heh! A guy with a sense of justice and a sense of humor. —MJ)