Burying the Feed

It’s been an RSS day. It started last night, actually, when I was trying to figure out how to get an RSS feed of an entire Google Reader account into a Protopage (still haven’t figured that one out). Then, there was the challenge of helping my wife get an RSS feed of her Twitter messages on her blog. This morning, two colleagues and I were playing with RSS feeds for delicious tags and feeds for Technorati searches. I returned to the office and took a call from the developer of our content management system. He wanted to change the XML chicklet icon we were using to the standard RSS icon. We also talked about adding some explanation of what RSS is to the web site.

I’ve explained RSS at least twice before (here and here). Basically, it allows you to automate the checking of web sites, blogs, and other web resources for updates. When something new gets posted, you see the content in your feed reader.

I always use CNN as an example. You can get an RSS feed for any of their news categories. If I just want world news, or education news, I can subscribe to those feeds. Then, when something new is posted, it shows up in my feed reader.

Here’s the interesting thing, though. Take a look at this image of CNN’s home page from August 29, 2007:

Now, look at this image from CNN’s home page, May 2, 2008:

See what isn’t there? The RSS Feed link. You used to be able to click on that link in the upper-right corner of any CNN page. It then took you to a page listing all of the available RSS feeds. It explained what RSS feeds are, and how you can use them. That link isn’t there any more.

You can still get to the feeds though. All you have to do is scroll to the bottom of the page. Click on “Tools & Widgets.” That will take you to a page that will try to get you to install the Google toolbar widget, and the desktop alerter, and other things you don’t need. Scroll to the bottom of that page, and you’ll see an “RSS Page” link under “Other Products.” Click on that link and you’ll find the old list of RSS feeds available on the CNN site. Easy, right?

So if RSS makes it so easy to share information and aggregate content from multiple sources, why did CNN make it so hard to find?

Of course, I can only speculate about CNN’s motives, but I would guess that it has to do with advertising revenue. See, if I grab an RSS feed from CNN’s site, and I put it on my Protopage, that means I’m reading CNN’s content on my own page. That’s what RSS is for. Maybe I have CNN on one part of the screen, and the New York Times somewhere else, and some other news sources and blogs in other places. But by not going to CNN’s web site, I’m not seeing their advertisements. So they’re getting less traffic on their web site, and generating less advertising revenue. That hurts them financially, so they’re no longer actively encouraging people to do that. At least, that’s my theory.

And I hope it works. The alternative would be to put advertising in the feed, so I would get today’s headlines along with a few advertisements on my page. That would set a very unpleasant precident for news feeds, and I don’t think any of us really want to move in that direction.