Do publishers like syndication as much as readers?

Last week I wanted to do a post on Wallpaper Juggler which is nice wallpaper changer, that I remembered for ability to download and store images from Interfacelift. Turned out developer had fallout with Interfacelift and download function is broken since.

By law of attraction more events followed – same evening Interfacelift cut their RSS to single item and few days later I discovered my Interfacelift RSS to Media RSS extension silently killed (waiting for explanation from Yahoo).

My first opinion was that Interfacelift is self-destructing by obliterating value of its syndication functions. But is it?



State of syndication

It took years but RSS and Atom feeds are de-facto and omnipresent way to syndicate content for updates and other functions.

Numbers of users is very roughly estimated (and some say frozen) at 10% of all Internet user base. Which is freaking lot.

Best part is high publisher penetration. Absolutely most publishing engines and platforms provide syndication options and it is common for readers to subscribe even when site owner himself has no clue about RSS. His site has it solved for him.

What publishers get

I get the feeling that most publishers have no clear idea how is RSS useful to them. They use it as default option, sometimes as vague popularity metric, lately there are careful attempts to turn it into additional advertisement channel.

In my opinion content syndication for publishers is contract to read their content readers willingly sign. It is clearly action of commitment even if degree of that commitment may differ. Guarantee that reader will be around until change of mind and opt out.

What readers get

For readers syndicated content is many things:

  • convenient updates;
  • concentrated content without distractions;
  • vast integration and mashup possibilities;
  • mobile and low-traffic friendly.

Really, it can be anything from simply reading fresh posts to sites built around and for RSS alone.

What publishers lose

By letting readers access core content out of site publishers naturally lose some site visits. Some are perfectly fine with that, some are openly furious about loss of page views and advertisement revenue.

It is similar to media piracy craze – just like media companies consider every MP3 copy as lost sale some publishers consider every RSS view as lost banner click.

What latter don’t get – advertisement clicks are counted as percentage of traffic, however readers that subscribe to RSS are often power users least likely to interact with ads. And most likely to actively promote and share resources they like.

What readers lose

For readers danger of feeds is mostly information overload. It is not uncommon to subscribe over realistic capacity to read and end up with complete loss of focus.

And at all times real visit to the site is only click away.

Taming wild feeds

And so some publishers appreciating readers’ commitment but disliking loss of visits come to natural conclusion. Let’s cripple our syndicated content so that it remains barely useful and makes reader come to site for full meal.

And witch hunt begins.

Back to Interfacelift as example:

  • terms of service that aggressively prohibit any kind of access to site except provided RSS;
  • provided RSS is completely crippled and reduced to single item;
  • refusal to adopt relevant syndication extensions such as Media RSS.

By the way it fails to mention revenue. Instead it all is served under glorious dealing with server load excuse. Except that syndicated content is less server load and excessive hammering is relatively easy to detect and throttle – which Interfacelift does anyway as far as I know.

Commitment vs profit

So formula suddenly goes to hell. Instead of getting full benefits of syndicated content for their commitment readers are instead given barely enough to look like real thing.

Which is fine because it is clearly publisher choice. Publisher is under no obligation to provide syndicated content at all.

What is wrong – such publishers seem to expect same level of commitment from subscribers while taking away all of value subscription usually provides.


Interfacelift is wonderful resource. However if their idea of content syndication is actively pursuing and obliterating options of access to their wallpapers except by looking at banners (poorly optimized and irrelevant most of the time, at least those I see served by Google at their site)…

They can forget about people that love fresh wallpapers on their desktops, love to tell friends about them, love to mention them on their blogs and tweet links to them. People like me. Because power users dislike to be treated like thieves for using what is provided to them for free as they deem convenient.

  • By increasing syndication options publishers are buying commitment.
  • By decreasing those they are buying page views.

Which one would you value more?

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  • Jonny #

    I have to agree with your views that - "however readers that subscribe to RSS are often power users least likely to interact with ads." You've hit the nail on the head here. I read a lot of pages in RSS (this page included), but then come out of my feed reader to comment. I am unlikely to click an ad, but I may see your interesting post and want to share it with others or link to it. Great post Rarst.
  • Rarst #

    @Jonny Exactly my point. Power users might not be ad clickers... But they are often those who are willing to spend their time to spread and promote something. If site only wants paying readers then it should ask for monthly fee to access. Wait, then community won't send a thing their way and those who did are likely to pull their work. I understand line is very thin here. I had seen too many sites with ToS so crazy no one cared. How far can restrictions effectively go if you are unwilling to close access?.. Who would care about restrictions you are incapable or unwilling to enforce? I realize might be slipping into grab-it mentality. Again - how wrong is grabbing mentality on freely accessible site? :)