Why your science blog should provide full feeds

People find blog posts in different ways. Some visit the website regularly, some subscribe to email updates, and some subscribe using the blog’s feed. Feeds can be a huge time saver for processing the ever increasing amount of information that science generates, by placing much of that information in a single place in a simple, standardized, format. It also lets you consume one piece of information at a time and keeps your inbox relatively free of clutter (for more about why using a feed reader is awesome see this post).

When setting up their feeds bloggers can choose to either provide the entire content of the post, or just a small teaser that contains just the first few sentences of the post. In this post I am going to argue that science bloggers should choose to provide full posts.

The core reason is that we are are doing this to facilitate scientific dialog, and we are all very busy. In addition to the usual academic work load of teaching, doing research, and helping our departments and universities function, we are now dealing with keeping up with a rapidly expanding literature plus a bloom of scientific blogs, tweets, and status updates (and oh yeah, some of us even have personal lives). This means that we are consuming a massive amount of information on a daily basis and we need to be able to do so quickly. I squeeze this in during small windows of time (bus rides home, gaps between meetings, while I’m running my toddler’s bath) and often on a mobile device.

I can do this easily if I have full feeds. I open my feed reader, open the first item, read it, move on to the next one. My brain knows exactly what format to expect, cognitive load is low, and the information is instantly available. If instead I encounter a teaser, I first have to make a conscious decision about whether or not I want to click through to the actual post, then I have to hit the link, wait for the page to load (which can still be a fairly long time on a phone), adjust to a format that varies widely across blogs, often adjust the zoom and rotate my screen (if I’m reading on my phone), read the item, and then return to my reader. This might not seem like a huge deal for a handful of items, but multiply the lost time by a few hundred or a few thousand items a week and it adds up in a hurry. On top of that I store and tag full-text, searchable, copies of posts for all of the blogs I follow in my feed reader so that I can find posts again. This is handy when I remember there is a post I want to either share with someone or link to, but can’t remember who wrote it.

So, if your blog doesn’t provide full feeds this means three things. First, I am less likely to read a post if it’s a teaser. It costs me extra time, so the threshold for how interesting it needs to be goes up. Second, if I do read it I now have less time to do other things. Third, if I want to find your post again to recommend it to someone or link to it, the chances of my doing so successfully are decreased. So, if your goal is science communication, or even just not being disrespectful of your readers’ time, full feeds are the way to go.

This all goes for journal tables of contents as well. As I’ve mentioned before, if the journal feed doesn’t include the abstracts and the full author line, it is just costing the papers readers, and the journal’s readers time, and therefore making the scientific process run more slowly than it could.

So, bloggers and journal editors, for your readers sake, for sciences sake, please turn on full feeds. It will only take you two minutes. It will save science hundreds of hours. It will probably be this most productive thing you do for science all week.

11 Comments on “Why your science blog should provide full feeds

  1. Couldn’t agree more. It makes so little sense for academic blogs that aren’t dependent on page views and ad-revenue to engage in this sort of behavior. I have limited time each day to sort through my rss reader (which does a great job of stripping formatting and keeping the text consistent for all site) and it is frustrating when I have to click back to the browser to read the full-text. A prominent ecology blog is guilty of this (quite likely due to oversight) and I’ve been meaning to email the author about it.

  2. I already have. It was initially an oversight. They changed it at my request. Then they changed it back. I emailed them again, and that correspondence resulted in this post. So, an email now might be timely.

  3. The feed for Denim and Tweed takes a middle-way approach on this, which may or may not be more helpful: I’ve set it so that it contains the complete text of a post up to the tag that creates a “jump break”—the “read more” link from the main page to the post page.

    My reasoning is that this parallels, on the RSS feed, the decisions a reader might make in scanning the homepage: if she wants a two thousand-word discussion, she can follow the “read more” link, and if she doesn’t, then I’m not filling her screen with text she needs to scroll past to get to something else. The “read more” link is then effectively a cue that things are going to get in-depth, and that’s something I appreciate as a reader, myself.

  4. Hi Jeremy – thanks for commenting.

    I’d still definitely prefer the full post in the feed. Especially with long posts the switching back and forth can be the difference between me getting to finish the article or not. I guess the question is: why not provide full feeds? If I’d rather view something long on the site I can still click through, but if I prefer to keep it in my reader then I can. Plus I can still do full text search later even if I read it on the site.

    BTW, I really enjoyed your Open Access article this morning. Anyone interested in a clear and concise (and also at points hillarious) take on why open access is important and what you should do about it should check it out.

  5. Well, I guess the choice is based purely on projecting my own online reading preferences onto my readership. I tend to differentiate between short posts, which I’ll read in Google Reader over a coffee break, and longer articles, which I almost always either open in a new tab to read later or (more often, now) send to Readability. But I’m doing that almost entirely in the absence of data; I’ll have to add some questions on the subject to my next reader survey.

  6. I do really like that at least your short posts are fully in the feed. That’s something I didn’t mention in the post, but for blogs that don’t at least do that I don’t even know if I have time to read the article if I click through, and if I click through, don’t have time, and get distracted, something can end up being marked as read and I never get back to it (whereas if it’s in my reader I just mark it as unread when I realize it’s too long).

  7. Many thanks to the “prominent ecology blog” that kindly turned it’s full feeds back on.

  8. I love how you guys won’t name the Oikos Blog. It’s like we’re Voldemort or something. 😉

  9. I completely agree as well. One question— what’s your preferred method to:
    “… store and tag full-text, searchable, copies of posts for all of the blogs I follow in my feed reader so that I can find posts again.” ? And do you use the same thing on your computer v. on a phone/tablet?

  10. I use Google Reader, which can easily be used on phones and tablets using either apps or the very nice mobile website. So, yes, I use the same thing on all of my devices with the info stored in the cloud. There are certainly other good options, but Google Reader is what I like and is one of the most commonly used tools.

  11. Pingback: EcoBloggers: The ecology blog aggregator | Jabberwocky Ecology | Weecology's Blog

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