Category feeds and Control

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Tyler talks about the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the panels at Gnomedex and takes issue with something I said while on stage. That was me — the one who said I don’t provide category feeds because I want to provide some editorial control over what the reader sees. I write relatively infrequently and on a wide variety of topics. If I were to provide a feed for my Movable Type tips category, there would be thousands of people reading it but never see the other things I write about. In my mind that would be bad, because I’m a bit more well-rounded than my knowledge of Movable Type.

If I were posting 20 items a day on a few distributed topics, I would likely publish category feeds. But I like to provide my readers the bits of serendipitous content that comes from only publishing a full feed. When I say that I want to control the user experience on my site, what I’m attempting to convey is that I write the way I write for a reason. And I publish the way I do to provide the reader with certain things.

Every author, by the very act of choosing to write on a given subject is exercising a bit of control over their readership. By choosing to provide lots of hyperlinks in their posts, by choosing to write long posts or short commentary on other posts, the author is controlling the way a reader interacts with their words and thoughts.

Tyler says he “strongly disagree[s] with the presumption that the distributor of media should control how the consumer may and may not interact with it.” I’m not controlling how you interact with my words; I’m only controlling the format in which it is delivered. Once he has it, he can choose to read or ignore anything I have to say. If on the other hand, he thinks that the control of deliver formats shouldn’t be restricted by a publisher, that’s a provocative viewpoint.

That suggests not just that you should be allowed to take the music you bought on CD and listen to it on your computer as an MP3, or even that you should be allowed to create compilations or mixes of different songs from different CDs, but that the artist should be the one to create those for you. That they should make it easier to do so. Imagine an artist that decides the music that they write should all be experienced as a single work. That the third song doesn’t stand on it’s own, but that it is complemented by the second and fourth songs. So this artist releases their CD as a single track, much as David Lynch releases his DVDs without splitting them up into chapters.

The control still belongs to the consumer. They can still rip the CD and then split the MP3 up if they want. They can pause the CD, fast forward through portions, or stop listening in the middle of the song. They can even exercise the ultimate control and refuse to purchase the music altogether.

Likewise, I publish my feed the way I want it to be experienced. You can do what you want with it within the limits of copyright (side note: feed readers should do better to expose the copyright information contained in a feed). You can choose to only read every fourth item. You can choose to view the excerpts or the full posts. You can choose to stop reading it completely. Although I choose what I publish and how I distribute it, you choose what to read.

October 3, 2004 11:07 PM

I've actually been toying with the idea of category feeds as well, and will most likely implement it. But I agree with your summation that category feeds are really only useful when the author is posting on a wide variety of topics. I feel that Planet Geek is primarily a geek-topics site, where I post and chat about cool toys and things I'm doing. But I also like using it for very Livejournal-esque postings (here's what I did today), because much of my social circle uses this medium to keep in touch. Should they have to see all my geek articles, and should the geeks see all my "THis is what I had for breakfast" articles? I don't think so, hence the split feeds. So, as in many things like this, "It depends". YMMV. Contents may settle during shipping. Etc etc.

Trackback from
October 4, 2004 6:53 AM

Category feeds - and other feeds

Excerpt: Kalsey on category feeds: If I were to provide a feed for my Movable Type tips category, there would be thousands of people reading it but never see the other things I write about.... I thought a bit about my own feeds as I'm slowly moving through the...

October 4, 2004 9:36 AM

He said: "As a user, not a representative of industry, a digital publisher, or an advertiser, I’m annoyed" I agree. From a user standpoint not having category feed is annoying. The less I have to scroll through posts I'm not interested in the more I'll look forward to, pay attention to, and share your feed. But I understand your point as a publisher, but consider the better experience you can give your readers.

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