Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's an RSS Feed, Not a Calendar, Dammit

I'm in the process of cleaning up my feedreader (currently NetNewsWire), which is wildly disorganized and bloated with redundancy right now.

Now, others have noted why it's a good idea for you to subscribe to your own blog's feed, primarily so you can spot technical problems. For example, in the Small Wars Journal feed some of the longer entries lose line breaks in NetNewsWire -- see "The Problems With Afghan Army Doctrine" -- it's one big mass of text.

(Actually, "full-content feeds with line breaks removed" could be a middle ground between offering full-content feeds and summary-only feeds: It lets you see all the content, but it's basically unreadable unless you click through to the main article.)

For another example, I'm going to call out my friend Susie Felber, whose RSS feed looks like this:
Feb-head, I think you need to tweak your Blogger template a little bit -- you're not populating the TITLE field of your entries. (I, of course, know to read all of your entries since you're such an interesting person. But others might not.)

The other reason to check your RSS feeds is editorial: It tells you when your entry titles are not useful.

For example, here are the recent feed item titles for My Damn Channel (home of You Suck at Photoshop):
I realize that they're announcing new video clips, but that's not an RSS feed -- that's a calendar.

Now of course, sometimes you don't need a super-descriptive title -- you just want to announce that new content is up -- for example, for the Dilbert Daily Strip, "Comic for June 18, 2008" is fine. (Especially for a comic with serial storylines. Though I think that a descriptive name never hurts - look at XKCD's feed.)

Other times, you're announcing a new content update, but one that features a lot of different components, like the DC Blogs Noted and Postsecret feeds, where you might not be able to list out everything in the title.

Where practical, I like to do at least a taste of the content -- you start out with the name of the regular feature, followed by a sample of what's included (a la Things That Are Upcoming: Blog Potomac, Puppini Sisters and More).

The Morning News's feed does a mixed model, where the generically-named feed items ("17 June 2008: Morning") are just a mass of links, but where their original stories do have descriptive titles. (I don't find the "mass of links" model particularly useful -- I might break those kinds of things out into a separate links feed, a la Links, so you don't drown out the original stuff.)

Anyway, this isn't an SEO-entry or anything -- just to say that good titles are good titles, whether they show up in a browser window or as a line in an RSS reader. So check out your own stuff, so you can see it as others see it.


Susie said...

Joe, you are good. And I don't mind being called out.

My blog template doesn't have a titles option. Will need to step that up.

Also, I am going to send this on to friends I have at two of the other sites you mention above.

By the way, know a nice Web designer for a portfolio site?

I'm lookin'. I will pay.

yer pal, Susie

Joelogon said...

Hey Feb -- I don't remember if I've ever used the Minima template, but you should be able to tweak it.

Re: Designers -- I can put out some feelers...