The Value of Google Reader Subscribers

While bloggers almost universally publish RSS feeds that include the full content of their blog posts (text, images, audio, video, polls, etc.) most of the mainstream media sites (and new media sites run by people with mainstream backgrounds) continue to work under the mindset that it’s better to limit the content shared in their site’s RSS feeds.

Generally, the argument from people who enjoy consuming content via RSS programs like Google Reader goes something like this: The kind of people who read your stuff through an RSS reader may visit your site less often, but they’re also more likely to have a blog and link to you, thus sending traffic to your site to make up for their own lack of visits. Give them access to your content so they’ll read it and write about it.

The one shortcoming in this argument – if their is one – is what happens as more and more people consume content through RSS? Will a point be reached where everyone is getting their content through RSS? And if so, what happens then? That’s a fair argument, although it ignores the safe assumption that no matter how many people read content through RSS, it won’t come close to the traffic generated through search engines. That’s assuming the site’s content is accessible through SEO friendly site architecture and doesn’t do something idiotic like bury the archives.

Here’s one other thing to consider: If you’re a Google Analytics user, click on Traffic Sources, then “All Traffic Sources” then click “google.com / referral” among the list of traffic sources. This slice of your visitors is made up primarily of people who clicked over to visit your site from a link in Google Reader or a custom Google homepage (but not Google search, pay per click ads, or other Google ads). When I look at this traffic for The Deets, here’s what I see:

Avg Time on Site (vs a typical visitor): +101.18%
Bounce Rate: -41% (less is better)
Avg Pages per Visit: +27%
New Visits: -41% (regular visitors)

I also measure the sources of traffic that generate comments. People visiting The Deets from Google Reader comment 1000% more often than a typical visitor to the site. I see similar results when I run the same test for bloglines.com referrals.

Loyal readers through RSS click over to read stories in context, catch up on stories they missed, read back stories linked to from current stories, read comments, leave comments, and generally engage with the site. This seems like the kind of people you’d want to have reading your stuff. If you’re only offering them a truncated feed, you’re probably costing yourself a good chunk of would-be loyal, engaged readers.

There are some tricks to making this work well. Things that help get people out of their readers and onto your site. That’s a topic for another day.

RSS and Sliced Bread. Tough To Explain. Never Go Back

If the bread slicer was a recent invention, I imagine a conversation like this would take place somewhere in the world:

Guy #1: “Dude, you have to try sliced bread.”

Guy #2: “Why would I need that? I can slice my own bread, thanks.”

Guy #1: “Dude, you just have to try it. It’s so much easier and gets you to sandwich status so much quicker.”

Guy #2: “Man, how long does it really take to slice bread? You can’t be serious.”

Guy #1: “Forget that I ever brought this up.”

And so goes RSS evangelism in 2008 where, according to Forrester Research (via MicroPersuasion), of the 89% of people who don’t use RSS feeds already, on 17% are interested in using them.

Polling people on their interest in trying something they don’t understand will certainly generate some odd responses.

Of course, many of these people are already using similar technologies such as Tivo where they can subscribe to shows that interest them. Had the same respondents been asked, “would you like to have a ‘Tivo for the web’ that lets you easily subscribe to the latest content from your favorite sites?” I think you may have seen a more enthusiastic response.

Pushing Google Reader's Limits

Don’t try this at home.

I bumped up my Google Reader subscriptions last night from around 350 to 7570 for a work project. Fortunately, the blogs are very low volume so the increase in blog consumption wouldn’t be that significant.

However, it turns out that Google Reader had some problems with this:

Google Reader Subscriptions

Or, more specifically, Firefox or Safari would both time out before opening my subscriptions.

Luckily, Google offers a subscription management page under the Settings tab so I was able to filter for, and unsubscribe from, the newly added large batch.

Now I’m looking for other ideas on how to make this work. I tried using Yahoo Pipes to generate a single RSS feed from a 7000+ feed OPML file but ran into time-out issues with that as well.

Do you have any ideas worth trying? I’m sure Google Reader can handle the post volume – just not the individual feed volume – so how can I generate an aggregate feed of a large OPML file?

Valleywag Sex Ban Filter Launched

I’m no prude, but the idea of speaking at a seminar about RSS only to have a post about Silicon Valley escort services pop up in my Google Reader doesn’t turn me on.

For that reason, I whipped together a filter for Valleywag that filters out the posts from their new sex columnist, Melissa Gira Grant. No offense, but like escorts, there’s a time and a place for this sort of thing.

This filter will give you all of Valleywag’s full-post feeds with the exception of posts from Ms. Grant.

And I threw in a bonus filter for sponsored posts. You probably see as little value in those as I do, so you can knock those out by filtering for the word, “Sponsored.” If you DO like sponsored posts, just knock out the value in the first text field.

Resubscribe to the site using the feed generated at the above link and you’ll be all set.

Paul Schmelzer’s Eyeteeth Blog is 80% Better

The majority of the content I read online is read through one website: Google Reader. This site allows me to pull in stories from blogs and news sites that interest me, so rather than bouncing through a bunch of bookmarks every day, I simply go to my Google Reader account and read through all of the new posts from sites that interest me.

How many sites and stories? According to the trends reporting within my account, I’m currently reading around 375 stories per day that are generated by 353 unique feeds.

I’d have to clone myself many times over in order to directly visit 353 unique websites every day.

Which brings me to Paul Schmelzer’s Eyeteeth blog. I love the stuff Paul writes about on that site. However, it was absolutely painful for me to read his site because he was truncating his blog’s RSS feed. When I went to read his stories in Google Reader I’d only see a headline along with the first couple sentences of his posts.

In many cases, I just unsubscribe from sites like this. In Paul’s case, I added him to a purgatory folder within my Google Reader account I’ve labeled “Truncated.” At the end of the day after reading everything else that interested me, I’d either take a peak into the truncated folder or click the “Mark all as Read” button to wipe it clean.

But something recently changed at Eyeteeth. Paul stopped truncating his feed! In my opinion, this makes his blog 80% better since I can now read 100% rather than 20% of his posts from within Google Reader. Or would that make it 400% better?

According to Paul, he made the change after Aaron mentioned the truncated post problem to him. And Aaron mentioned it to him after Aaron and I had a beer inspired bitch-fest about how much we liked – yet hated – Paul’s blog because it was truncated. Which proves that beer makes the world better.

Holy Crap: DeRusha’s WCCO feed isn’t truncated anymore? People, you need to put the word out about this sort of thing. I’ve gone 6 months without Jason!

Now, if only MinnPost would give me more than a headline and 2 sentences to work with . . .

Truncated RSS Feed Purgatory

As much as I HATE truncated RSS feeds, there are a few blogs with content that’s SO exceptional that I’m almost willing to put up with truncation.

For those of you who don’t know what the heck that first sentence means: when reading blogs and news sites through RSS readers like Google Reader, you’ll generally have access to full stories (title and story content) but sometimes you’ll only get the title (or a title with a short snippet from the story). Once you get used to reading full stories within an RSS reader, it becomes PAINFUL to have to click out to read stories from publishers who choose to restrict (truncate) their feeds.

In general, this is done to increase page views. As I’ve explained before, this is a risky proposition since you’re pissing off your most loyal readers.

Back to purgatory:

I’ve come to the realization that some sites are worth reading even if they’re truncated. Here’s a screenshot from my Google Reader account that shows how I’ve dealt with this situation:

Truncated Feed Folder

Notice the folder called “Truncated.” That’s where I store feeds that publish less than a full feed. It’s the last folder I view in my reader. I grabbed this screenshot at the start of the day where I had 208 new items to read. In this case, I would read 189 stories before considering hitting the Truncated folder. But that’s assuming that no new stories come in throughout the day. In many cases, I just mark the Truncated folder as read without review, or quickly scan through the headlines without clicking out.

Cullect.com Feed Aggregation Mystery Site

I’ve noticed a spike in hits to our RSS feed from a site called Cullect.com and decided to do some investigating.

Here’s a shot of the site’s “Welcome” page:

Cullect.com

That raises a question for me: if the site is pulling our RSS feed without explanation, am I supposed to be there or not? What uses should be disclosed?

A check of the domain’s Whois shows that Garrick Van Buren is behind this project.

Cullect also has a Twitter profile with the following bio: “Minimizing Feed Aggrevation.” Links from Cullect’s Twitter Profile seem to discuss an RSS reading application Garrick’s building called FeedSeeder.

A little more digging – in this case, checking Google’s cache for pages from before they password protected the site – found this:

Cullect.com Sneak Preview

To me, this looks like a community based RSS reader where you’ll be able to read RSS feeds that are recommended to you by your friends. I could be wrong, but that’s what it looks like to me. The idea being that you’ll find better content to read by tapping into the shared knowledge of like minded colleagues.

Time will tell.

Google Reader Now Displaying Subscriber Counts

While many bloggers, including Technology Evangelist, publish their RSS feed subscribers on their blog, not all do. So that made Sunday’s news about Google publishing subscriber counts within their network particularly interesting.

While this doesn’t represent the total subscribers to a feed by any means, a few spot checks I conducted showed Google’s subscriber count representing 1/5-1/3 of a site’s total subscribers. However, as Matt Cutts points out, it’s important to make sure you’re counting the subscribers to each feed when checking sites that have split feed distributions (RSS & Atom, for example).

How do you check subscriber counts on Google Reader?

Browse over to the directory page within Reader and search for a site that interests you. The resulting page will include the subscriber count.

RSS vs Atom for Blog Syndication

I’m looking for some help understanding the benefits of both RSS and Atom from a blog publishing perspective.

From what I can tell, there is little difference between the two syndication formats when it comes to syndicating text or text with images. And most blogging platforms generate feeds in both popular formats, so any compatibility issues at the reader level can largely be overcome by picking the most compatible feed for the reader. This also is hardly an issue with popular RSS readers.

But what if you were in a position where you were forced to choose between the two formats? Or, if you had time to build one format with plans to come back and support the other format at a later date. Who would win out in that decision?

As far as I can tell, the answer would be RSS 2.0 today since it appears to offer more flexibility for publishers for things like podcasting.

While Atom appears to offer a lot of capabilities unrelated to publishing a feed for syndication, from a blog publisher’s perspective, I don’t see the benefits.

Educate me.

Filtering a Blog by Author using Yahoo Pipes

Steve Rubel Twittered last night saying:

Checking out blognation. Like it but wish I could subscribe to individual bloggers. http://us.blognation.com/

He raises a great point. It can be annoying on multi-author blogs to have to read everything when you’re only interested in the perspectives of some of the authors. On Technology Evangelist, we address with with individual author feeds on each author page.

However, another way to achieve this is to use Yahoo Pipes to filter a blog feed by author. As an example, i created an Yahoo Pipes feed filter for Blognation that creates a filter for the author of your choice. I arbitrarily chose Marc Orchant as the default author, so clicking the Run button will filter the feed for Mr. Orchant unless you switch out the name with other authors.

Giving people control over what they consume is going to happen whether you enable it or not. Clearly, few people are filtering RSS feeds on Yahoo Pipes today, but stuff like this is going to happen.