Feeds and Feedburner Part #4 – full vs. partial feeds

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1445908976_9b8d7a509d_m.jpgI’m taking a slightly different route with this part of my series on feeds and Feedburner. I want to touch at least a little bit on a topic that’s been a somewhat large debate out in the blogosphere – whether a blog should publish a full or partial feed. I know there are a lot of pros and cons and that people tend to feel strongly one way or the other. I’m going to try to give a fair and balanced look at the topic and at least a few reasons why you might want to choose either option.

What the heck is a ‘partial’ feed anyway?

Good question! Well, now that you’ve got a feed reader (or inbox) full of great blogs that you’ve subscribed to, you might have noticed that there is a difference in what you’re actually seeing.

Photo courtesy of Tiago Pinhal

For many blogs, you can read the entire blog post in your reader or e-mail without having to actually click over to the site itself (unless you want to comment on a post, in which case you still have to click through). For other blogs, you can read the first portion of the post in your reader, but then it either just stops suddenly, ends with the frustrating yet tempting ‘…’, or you see an invitation link to ‘Read More’. And on yet other blogs, you can only read a synopsis or summary of the post and are invited to click to read the entire thing.

When you have to click through to the actual blog site to read a post in its entirety – this is called a ‘partial’ feed. Every blogger can set whether he/she wants to offer a full feed for readers or a partial one – how to do so depends on the blogging platform used (Blogger, Typepad, WordPress, etc.).

What’s the big deal – why not just let everyone read the whole post through the feed?

Another very good question. And one that’s not quite as easy to answer. There are several reasons why, as a blogger, you might not want to offer a full feed of your site. Here are just a few of them:

  1. The perception (whether correct or not) that your site will get more traffic if readers have to click through to read the end your posts. The idea is that you ‘suck them in’ with a great post beginning or synopsis and make them want to click through to read the rest, therefore increasing your visitor count.

  2. Similarly, the perception (again, whether correct or not) that your comment count will go down since fewer people will take the time to click through just to leave a comment if they can read the whole post in their reader or e-mail.

  3. A phenomenon known as ‘scraping’ – whereby another blogger sucks your words from your feed and publishes them on his/her own site, usually without properly attributing them to you. As a blogger, your words are your own and are protected by copyright laws. Jenny over at Absolutely Bananas recently went through this and actually got into it over e-mail with the individual who ‘scraped’ her posts. There are some ways to try to work around this if you want to offer a full feed, but there is always the risk that someone else will be able to steal your words.

  4. If you use ads on your blog, you probably want them to get the maximum possible exposure, which means that you want more people to visit your site and not just read your content through the feed.

Ok, so I get it. But then why do so many blogs go ahead and offer full feeds anyway?

Just as there are reasons why you might not want to offer a full feed, there are other reasons why you maybe should at least consider it. Here are just a couple of them:

  1. The perception (whether correct or not) that people won’t want to be inconvenienced by having to click through and wait for another site to load before being able to finish reading your post.

  2. The idea that more people will subscribe to your feed because they can read your posts in their reader without having to click through every time.

Well I like the idea of full feeds, but I’m worried about my content getting stolen… And how would I even know anyway if it did?

Yes, it is a concern. But how much of one can depend on you and how you deal with it. Many bloggers put a copyright statement or text at the end of their posts (or within the feed itself) so that if the post is scraped, the proper attribution is automatically inserted as well. Also, those individuals who do scrape content may be less likely to do so if you have a copyright statement.

One tip that many bloggers use in order to know if their posts are being scraped is to insert ‘internal’ links into their posts – or basically put in a link to something on your own site – either your main site URL or another one of your posts. This can be done as part of the copyright statement described above or just in part of your actual post. That way you can check Technorati or other services that track site links to see if these internal links are showing up on other sites. Another way to find out if your content is being scraped is to do a Google search on a topic that you’ve written a post about and make sure that only your post from your actual blog site shows up in the results.

One thing to keep in mind – even partial content can be ‘scraped’ or stolen. Publishing a partial feed doesn’t guarantee that your words won’t show up somewhere else. It is much less likely however.

If my post does get stolen, is there anything I can do about it?

I’m not an attorney, nor do I pretend to even come close to giving out legal advice. I’m going to put some links at the bottom of this post to other blogs that have talked about this issue in more depth. But as a general rule, the place to start is to contact the individual who owns/runs the site where your words have shown up and simply ask them to remove the post. This may solve the issue – or it may not, depending on who you’re dealing with. If this doesn’t help, then where you go next really is up to you and how far you’re willing to go to resolve things. One solution, of course, is to move to publishing only partial feeds to keep it from happening again, and that’s what many bloggers have done.

So what then is a poor blogger to do?

Ultimately it comes down to what you prefer and feel more comfortable with. Both as a blogger, and as a blog reader yourself. It is your blog after all, so you get to make these decisions. Having your content stolen may be a big deal to you – or it may not, especially if you aren’t a high-traffic site. You may decide which to use depending on the way you prefer to read feeds from the sites that you subscribe to. There really is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here. It’s all about what works for you and your readers.

Having said that, there’s a lot of interesting reading out there from various bloggers explaining why they choose full or partial feeds for their sites. I’ve included links to some of them at the bottom of this post – it’s very informative!

Note: Don’t forget that this isn’t a ‘one-time only’ choice! You can switch from full to partial feeds or vice-versa any time you want – how you do so depends on which blogging platform you use. See MamaBlogga‘s post on ‘Advice to Mom Bloggers: RSS‘ for tips on how to switch in Blogger, WordPress and Typepad.

Why do you choose to publish a full feed for Mom of 3 Girls?

For anyone who’s interested (and if not, just move on along – I won’t be offended!), here’s why I’ve chosen to publish a full feed here. It all comes down to the fact that I don’t have a lot of time when I’m out reading the posts in my Google Reader. I greatly prefer it when I can just read or skim through a whole post at once without having to take the time and energy to click through. I do click through for those times when I want to leave a comment, but over time I’ve found myself skipping the partial posts to the point where I’ve unsubscribed from some sites just because they don’t offer a full feed. I still have them bookmarked and check them – just not in my reader, since I don’t see much point if I have to visit the site to see the whole post anyway. So I may not always read those blogs as often since I don’t always have time to do much more than keep up with the posts in my reader. This why I publish a full feed for my readers and subscribers. I haven’t had to worry about content being stolen yet – but if it ever becomes an issue, then I may have to re-think things.

This is my choice – and again, you may choose differently for reasons which are just as valid. I don’t deliberately avoid sites with partial feeds – and there are still several in my reader right now. After all – in the end, it all comes down to what you write and how you write it anyway. If you write great content, people will read it. 🙂

Below is a list of links to posts that talk about this subject. Some come down on one side, some on the other, and some look at both views. Oh and there’s a lot of great discussion in the comments of several of these as well.

What do you think? Do you have a reason why you publish a full or partial feed on your blog? Do you prefer reading full feeds versus partial ones in your feed reader? Did I miss any great posts talking about this subject that need to be included below? Please share your thoughts (be nice now though!)…