Addicted to novelty since 2001

McLuhan, Trust and the RSS Subscription

I’ve been a long time reader of Alex’s blog at She only blogs occasionally, but her posts are worth the wait. I do all my blog reading in Bloglines, so I rarely click through to actual  websites. Tonight I clicked on an item (about an interesting-looking  Web 2.0 babysitter finder) in her feed because I wanted it open in my browser to blog about later. When I visited the page just now, I found that the post lived not on her own site, but on Change Everything.

Messages, Mediums and RSS

I gather, at some point, that Alex rolled her ChangeEverything feed into her feed. It’s a non-issue in this case, because I want to read what Alex writes, regardless of where it’s posted. I did, however, experience a tiny bit of cognitive dissonance. How much is the medium the message when it comes to blogging? I expected the medium to be this site, but in fact it was that one. Does it make any difference at all?

In the past, I’ve cross-posted entries to both and I think, in some subtle, way, there’s a difference between your experience reading the same words on one site or the other. In this case, Alex’s decision to post her entry about finding caregivers on Change Everything suggests that she hopes CareSquare will help, well, change everything. Or at least a little something.

Mind you, when we read RSS feeds, we lose the original medium and it gets replaced with a new, generic one. Jeremy changed the design of his site today (suggestion: when you publish a new design, include a screenshot of the old one for comparison). I might not have noticed if he hadn’t pointed it out. But then, which medium is Jeremy (or me or any blogger) primarily writing for? The all-purpose RSS reader, or his specific site design? 

Terms and Conditions

I also started thinking about trust relationships around RSS subscriptions. Alex certainly isn’t the first to change what I get in the feed to which I subscribed. In fact, her shift is tiny compared to others I’ve witnessed. Bloggers have suddently integrated, say, photos and links into what was a traditional blog feed. I’ve had to go and request a blog-only feed, because I didn’t want all that other stuff.

In other cases, the change has been less obvious but more profound. Like any long term creative projects, blogs evolve. And so, of course, do readers. The blog I subscribed to two years might be quite different today–it might have more content, less content, shorter posts, longer posts (guilty as charged, I think) or an entirely new focus.

What are the terms and conditions of the contract we sign when we subscribe to a blog feed? Are there any at all?

6 Responses to “McLuhan, Trust and the RSS Subscription”

  1. Michael Klassen

    RSS is an evolving, and still overly complicated tool – it’s only a matter of time before terms of use statements are updated to reflect the use of feeds. Even website design is becoming less important as we become accustomed to browser through news aggregators.

    I still get pushback from clients who don’t think it is important to have a feed, whereas like you my ability to keep up with the web relies upon my Bloglines.

    RSS will evolve into a more integral part of the browsing (and media consumption) experience. I’ve lately wished that I could track my favourite TV and radio programs with RSS. Maybe Apple TV or Tivo could adopt an RSS standard? How about iTunes?

    A request from another Bloglines user to you, Darren. Change your feed so that it has the full post, not just the opening paragraphs. I do this now as a rule with all my Movable Type feeds. Not sure how you change your feed template in WordPress.

    As much as I like seeing your mug, I like the convenience of browsing entries in my RSS reader. :-)

    If PPC ad revenue is a concern, Kedrovsky and others show that you can put ads in your feeds without offending the user. Personally, I very rarely click Adsense content ads.

  2. darren

    That’s odd–I’ve always thought that I was publishing full feeds. I just subscribed to my blog in Bloglines, and it definitely grabbed the full entries, not excerpts. Are you definitely subscribed to

  3. jspad

    If I click on a subscribe link on a blog, I’m generally not that happy to get other things in the feed. Other than perhaps the generator’s own convenience, I’m not sure I see the value in those aggregated mega-feeds.

    If I want to see your flickr photos, music-listening notifications, twitter pings, etc I’ll subscribe to those separately if I want them. (Unless I see them all posted on your blog: then I’ll expect to see them in the feed, too.) As for as terms and conditions, I haven’t thought of it much past “what you see is what you’ll get.”

    [btw, I can see your full posts using the Vienna reader.]

  4. Michael Klassen

    Ha! You’ve just helped me to find a new feature of Bloglines…

    Under edit subscription you can choose “Complete Entries” under Display Preferences. I just chose whatever the default was.


  5. Derek K. Miller

    I think the terms and conditions are generally, “by subscribing to this feed, I expect to get updates from you as soon as they’re available.” What those updates are is up to the author.

    I’d only be REALLY cheesed if it turned out the original site or blog was being updated but the feed wasn’t — and that has happened to me on occasion when people change blog software and don’t either redirect the old feed or post something to it noting what the new one is.

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