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It’s time to wrap up the month-long trial of truncated RSS feeds on Above the Law. I had somewhat put the conclusion cart before the research horse, in that I marked the last day of this experiment in my calendar with the phrase “eat humble pie re. RSS.” And if you wait just a minute I will feed myself at least a small slice, but first let me share our findings.

One of my key concerns about the full RSS feed is that it is used by web scrapers to steal our content, which not only means they derive entirely unjustified benefit from our editors’ efforts but also leads to duplicate content that can hurt SEO efforts. On this front, the anecdotal evidence suggests that truncating the feed helped. In the earlier months of this year we had identified anywhere from 2-6 scrapers stealing all our content, but during May when we were truncating the feed we found no new examples. One of the perpetrators we’d already identified continued scraping the content, but was now getting just the abbreviated stories.

Of course the most common complaint from publishers about full RSS feeds is that subscribers get all the content in their readers, don’t click through to the site, and therefore aren’t monetized in any meaningful way. In the case of ATL, truncating the feed definitely increased the number of people clicking through to the site. Visits from our full feed were about 4% of our total traffic before we truncated it, but jumped to about 7% of total traffic in the month of the truncation trial. In our case this translated to something in the region of an additional 100,000 impressions, which isn’t going to make us rich, but would be worth more dollars and cents than we could make running ads in the RSS feed.

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On Monday, May 10, President Barack Obama announced his nomination Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court, to fill the seat soon to be vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens. Kagan — the current Solicitor General and former dean of Harvard Law School, and the first woman in each of these offices — is a distinguished lawyer and a worthy nominee. Expect her to be easily confirmed.

Elena Kagan Princess BriderOn Above the Law, we’ve covered the Kagan nomination with our traditional high-low mix. The highbrow fare has included a personal essay by my colleague, Elie Mystal, on the experience of studying under Kagan at Harvard Law School; a thoughtful, historically informed analysis on the required credentials for nominees (fun fact: you don’t need a law degree); and an exegesis of a 1995 law review article Kagan wrote, in which she described Supreme Court confirmation hearings as a “vapid and hollow charade.”

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The notion of online privacy may be nothing more than a “fallacy,” as one New York judge recently opined, but anyone concerned with both the free-flow of information and with being fair to the subjects of news coverage will confront this question:  Do bloggers and journalists have a responsibility to protect the identities of the subjects? We know that sources enjoy all manner of ethical protection, but what of the people we write about, many of whom who are public figures only in the broadest definition of the term?

This issue hit home just last week when a Harvard law student became famous on the web. Or infamous, rather.  After a conversation with a few friends last November about affirmative action, she raised the possibility that race may be a genetic determinant for intelligence. Unwisely, she made this suggestion via email.

Crimson DNAWhen she had a falling out with one of those friends, that friend-turned-enemy disseminated her old email, including her name, campus group affiliations and the fact that she would be starting a federal clerkship in the fall. It quickly went viral, spreading through the Harvard Law community and among Black Law Student Associations at several top law schools, many of whose members sent it along to us at Above the Law. (Fuller back story on this here.)

If nothing else, it was certainly a lesson in being careful about what you say in emails.

What was of interest to us when we broke the story was the reaction on Harvard’s campus, the propriety of disseminating a private email, and the response from recipients of the email — some of whom suggested that her clerkship be taken from her. Engaged by those issues, we chose not to include the student’s name and instead called her by a pseudonym — “Crimson DNA.” Her identity did not seem integral to the story, and our policy, as we’ve stated before, is to maintain the anonymity of law students. We only name names if (a) the name is already mentioned in a public record (like a police report), OR (b) the name is already mentioned in a mainstream media outlet.

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One of the most commonly available brands of social-media snake oil now available is the kind that will help you grow your Twitter following to Greg Odom-like proportions. It’s a rare day that my inbox isn’t violated by some multi-step program that will have thousands of folks hanging on your every 140-character burst overnight. Usually the bulk of the advice is either platitudinous–Be authentic, Engage your community, Provide value–or so highly technical in nature as to miss the point of Twitter, which is simplicity. If you want a platform to game, try Google. At least, the search engine’s algorithm is complex enough to warrant some thinking about how to beat it.

Not so for Twitter. Sure, you might be best off posting at certain times of day and there might be convincing, data-driven grammatical guidance on how to earn those precious re-tweets that will give your Tweets a better chance to go viral. But that’s not what really matters.

I can say that with dead certainty because we have a site whose following has exploded over the past four months–and not from two to eight or 100 to 400 or even 5,000 to 20,000. Since January, Fashionista.com— whose Twitter handle is @fashionista_com— has gone from about 23,000 followers in January to more than 124,000 today. And it did so without relying on any gimmicks, research, or profound social-media advice unless of course you count mine. Which you probably shouldn’t.

Fashionista.com Twitter ChartThe site’s editors, Lauren Sherman and Britt Aboutaleb (who is unfortunately leaving us), have built (unofficially) the third-largest Twitter feed of any fashion news brand, trailing only Women’s Wear Daily and Elle.com, both of which have staffs that dwarf our  operation. They’ve done it by taking the sensibility that informs their blog and applying it to their Twitter feed. A radical approach, huh? Though it’s best you check out the site for yourself, I’ll try to capture their approach here: Fashionista is smart and high-curated, enthusiastic without being frothy, critical without being catty. And, importantly, I can say it’s personal without being totally subjective because it pulls in hundreds of thousands of readers every month, some of them fashion’s leading lights. And some of those, Elle Creative Director Joe Zee, fashion PR maven Kelly Cutrone and Glamour Editor Cindy Leive, have even thrown us a few retweets.

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Fashionista, recently recognized by the Daily Beast as one of the fashion industry’s most influential blogs, is looking for an editor/writer. We want someone who can stay out until 3 am in a quest–or maybe mad scramble–for industry gossip, be the first with designer moves, put together a smart slide show, and bring a personal touch to the site. This is an amazing opportunity for someone who wants to supercharge a career in fashion journalism.

The perfect candidate will have the following qualities:

1. Strong reporting and writing abilities. Preference will be given to previously-published candidates who come with a network of industry sources.

2. An encyclopedic knowledge of fashion history and familiarity with the industry’s major players.

3. Experience in online publishing. We want someone who’s excited to become a master in WordPress, who knows how use social media effectively, and who will consider how to write copy and headlines for search engines.

4. An entrepreneurial attitude. Breaking Media, Fashionista’s parent company, is a fast-growing company with a start-up vibe so the ability to live without a car service and Frank Gehry-designed cafeteria is a must–as are smart ideas on how to grow Fashionista.

If you think you’ve got what it takes, send a cover letter, resume, and writing samples (Links are fine.) to jobs (at) fashionista.com.

Matt Creamer is executive editor of Breaking Media. You can follow him on Twitter at @matt_creamer.

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.

AboveTheLaw.com's shortened RSS feedWe’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:

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