RSS advertising – it is about choice

Wired investigates how RSS is developing as an advertising medium in ‘RSS Feeds Hunger for More Ads‘.

‘Purists’ freak at the notion of incorporating ads into RSS.  David Winer doesn’t go quite this far in the Wired article, but cautions:

“…let’s be kind to RSS; don’t try to exploit it,” he said, adding that readers who were turned off by an ad-laden RSS feed could simply opt out.

This last point IS the point.  RSS ads are neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’.  Those who monetize content have a choice: add ads to RSS and risk losing feed subscribers.  Conversly,  if a subscriber does not perceive there is fair ‘value exchanged’, i.e. content for ads, they can opt out.  Easy.

There is nothing new here from the perspective of the publishers/content/media owners.  They have always had to find the optimum balance between content and advertising whether it be TV, radio, print, web, etc.  RSS is no different. 

An example of how some publishers are risking the loss of RSS subscribers is provided by Tim Bray who points out what he describes as ‘cheating’ by Infoworld….

“The current Infoworld feed is cheating, though. The stories keep changing and coming up again in the aggregator, when all that’s changed is the ad….

So let’s hope that this is just a bug, because if they’re going to switch the ads on their stories, someone’s going to have to set things up so the aggregator knows this isn’t a real change. Otherwise I unsubscribe.”

And that’s the deal.  For Infoworld and the rest of the publishers the choice is simple:  take the p###, lose subscribers.

Comments (5)

  1. Greg L says:

    This concept of "value exchanged" doesn’t imply equity if my only option is to lose my access to the "sullied" information. This is why I feel advertising has left the realm of 1st ammendment protected speech and has become an intrusion into my "private property."

    Imagine a scenario where an advertiser is given advertising rights for billboards in Yosemite (you never know with Bush administration). We’re told, hey, if you don’t like it, you can avoid going to Yosemite. That doesn’t sound fair to me, nor would it to the vast majority of people who’d rather see a advertising-free Yosemite.

    To my way of thinking, this gives a disproportionate "advantage" if you will to corporate America, who has the financial wherewithal to stick their ad dollars in our face wherever they get the chance. I consider the ability to do my job, enjoy my free time, and raise my child in an advertising-free world a right, not a privilege.

  2. InfoWorld actually changed the format of our RSS feeds after reading Tim Bray’s blog post so that the ‘cheating’ would stop. We weren’t consciously cheating, by the way, but he was right that the dynamic ads were creating the appearance of new entries in some RSS readers. We then moved everything to RSS 2.0 which, through the use of the <guid>, helps RSS readers identify an entry as being read even if the content changes like ours does.

    Anyhow, I wanted to set the record straight, as we have been trying very hard to pioneer ways to help leverage RSS for publishers whilst maintaining a valuable offering for the people who want our editorial coverage. If we can find ways to make it pay, then we’ll find more ways to make it useful for our readers, too.

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