By John Gruber
Flatfile: Never format messy spreadsheets again.
Here’s how Daring Fireball’s syndicated XML feeds worked, up until today:
The main feed, freely available to everyone, contained the headlines and a brief description of each full article. This feed did not contain any content from the Linked List, just the full articles. My best guess is that there are about 40,000 readers subscribed to this feed.
There are other feeds which are only available to paying members; these feeds contain the full content of both streams: the full text of each article, and every item posted to the Linked List.
There are several problems with this setup.
Problem One: Many readers were confused. Especially, I suspect, new readers who’ve never seen a post where I describe the members-only feeds. On most weblogs, everything that appears on the web site also appears in the RSS feed; it’s reasonable to assume things are supposed to work that way here, too.
So what happened is that whenever I’d go a few days without posting a full article, but during which time I posted a bunch of items to the Linked List, I’d start getting email from readers asking if my feed is broken, because they saw a bunch of new stuff on the front page of the site but their feed reader hadn’t shown a new item in days.
Problem Two: Members with access to the full content feeds are frustrated. The members-only feeds are protected from public access by HTTP authentication; you need a username and password to access them. Most feed aggregators support authentication, but some of the ones that don’t are exceedingly popular, including Google Reader and the new .Mac Reader for iPhone’s MobileSafari.
So, here’s what I’m trying: As of about an hour ago, the main feed now contains the full content of the site, available to everyone free of charge. Every item posted to the front page of the site now appears in the feed. If you’re already subscribed, you should already see the results in your aggregator — the URL for the main feed has not changed. Article titles are marked with a star (★) to visually separate them from Linked List entries.
For now, let’s consider this an experiment for the month of August. I’m hoping it goes well, though, and can be made permanent. I may tweak the format and exact details of the sponsored messages in the coming weeks, but the goal is simple: to make it as easy and convenient as possible for everyone who wants to follow Daring Fireball via a feed subscription.
My thanks to Rogue Amoeba, the debut sponsor of the feed.
Web page ads for Daring Fireball are handled through The Deck, a small but growing network of top-notch independent web sites. The Deck kicks ass — but, all ads on The Deck are network-wide. Sponsoring the RSS feed is a way for companies to promote their products and services specifically to Daring Fireball’s audience.
For now, the members-only feeds continue to work, unchanged. As stated above, however, this experiment with an open-to-all full-content feed is as much for the benefit of members as it is for non-members. By far, the single most common request for the member feeds is to find a way to make them work with Google Reader. This is it.