Yesterday we made a decision to truncate the RSS feeds on AboveTheLaw for the next thirty days. RSS subscribers will get a headline and first paragraph, but will have to click to the site to get full stories.
We’re far from the first to do it. In fact just recently Gawker joined many more mainstream publishers like the WSJ and FT in truncating its feeds, much to the chagrin of Felix Salmon, who has written extensively on the topic. In our case, the move was prompted as much by my annoyance at the growing group of content thieves scraping our content via RSS (I dealt with two yesterday), as it was by a desire to get some commercial benefit from those readers. We’re a small company with limited resources, and I got fed up wasting valuable time trying to track down these parasites who aren’t only benefiting from our editors’ hard graft but also potentially messing with our search engine results by creating duplicates of our content on other sites.
I say “we” made the decision, but it was hardly unanimous. In fact, our executive editor here, Matt Creamer, bets it won’t work. Here’s an excerpt of an email he sent me on the topic:
“The way we’ll increase traffic in a meaningful way on Above the Law won’t be through optimizing how the site gets distributed on what’s looking increasingly like a legacy way of viewing the web. I think there’s a risk that rather than push visits and views you’ll alienate people and simply lose their subscription. It’s subjective, but that’s how I react to truncation. I unsubscribe. I don’t think you can change behavior by funneling in this way. And in Above The Law’s case you probably have longtime RSS subscriptions read by people who are set in their ways and I’d imagine they won’t be terribly happy. They won’t necessarily just do what we want them to do. On the scraping front, there are plenty of ways for anyone who wants to get around the truncation.”
He may well be right, and I doubt it’s going to stop the more determined or sophisticated scrapers from stealing our stuff, although the last couple I’ve dealt with seemed to be just grabbing whatever they could rather than operating particularly strategically. And, of course, we’re already dealing with a flood (well, 30 or so) of complaints from angry lawyers who liked their full RSS feed and don’t want to have to click through to the site and reward us with an ad impression for our efforts. But I think you have to test these things, so we’re going to press ahead for another 29 days with the experiment to see what affect it has on the incidence of scraping and our traffic. In the meantime I can only offer my apologies to the annoyed readers and hope that they’ll consider clicking through to the site.