Care and RSS Feeding

Mea culpa: I messed up on the feeds for this site during my move over to ExpressionEngine. It’s embarrassing, really, how badly I underestimated how important the RSS feed for this site had become in the many intervening years since I first set it up. It’s funny, too: countless hours were spent on tidying up all of the many, many Web pages that make up this site, and yet it’s really the nearly invisible — and in many respects, design-free — RSS feed that is the most critical lifeline for readers.

The fact is, I just don’t have enough expertise to competently manage and edit my feeds beyond very basic editing of existing templates. For the most part, I’ve always stumbled my way into some kind of acceptable solution, and that was my approach when I re-launched this site on Monday evening. It’s true that there were many things throughout that needed further attention and that I thought that was perfectly fine — there was no way I’d ever launch if I waited until they were all done — but a defective feed should not have been one of them.

Unringing the Bell

As soon as I started publishing, the poorly-formed XML started delivering broken content to readers everywhere. Combine that with the tendency for major aggregators like Google Reader and My Yahoo to cache posts, and even my attempts at quickly remedying the situation left it in a mess for most of the day yesterday. Over the past thirty-six hours, I’ve seen thousands of subscribers unsubscribe, which is a major disappointment to me. I’m not disappointed at users who simply want to turn off the noise of a malfunctioning feed (one can hardly blame them); I’m disappointed at myself for not realizing this was a make-or-break detail.

By now, I hope, the feed for this site is more or less in good shape. It works okay for me in Apple Mail and NetNewsWire, anyway, and I’ve checked it various online RSS readers successfully.

Rolled into One

Most everyone will notice, though, that this is not exactly the same feed as I was publishing before the switch to ExpressionEngine. This new feed pulls together both the ‘main’ entries as well as the more frequently posted, blogroll-style Elsewhere links. The reasoning for this goes back to something I wrote a few months ago:

Put more simply, I just want to roll everything into a single blog. Whether they’re longer posts or annotated links or even just visuals, I just don’t think there’s a good argument for segregating them. And, to put a finer point on it, for the vast majority of users who come upon my site by chance, or who don’t spend hours and hours poring over the structure, trying to understand the formal distinction between the various kinds of content that I’m producing, it just doesn’t matter. For all intents and purposes, there’s no useful difference between what I write in one blog or in another. There’s only the stuff I write, period.

I realize that the increased frequency of the postings may turn some people off — while I never felt like I was blogging enough before, this may cause people to start feeling like I’m blogging too much — but I’m willing to gamble that more people will like it than dislike it. Plus, I should add, I’m trying to add as much value as I can to the Elsewhere links by writing more descriptive commentary, rather than just posting simple links with a word or two of explanation. Hopefully, each time I ask for your attention, I’m justifying it with something original. However, the feed is really a tool for readers — if you object to the changes, or want to see a second kind of feed made available, let me know.



  1. Yeah, figured something was going on, but since I knew you were switching to EE, I knew it wasn’t a big deal. Glad you’ve got things settled in, and hope you can pull back in those feed subscribers you’ve lost!

  2. Like many people, I read many of my news feeds while offline — on subways, mostly. Having more descriptive text on link-focused posts is a good idea …perhaps a editorial guideline should be that such posts should provide value even if the link is not clicked.

  3. I’m looking over the changes to your site and some of it, well, I’m really not sure about yet. Like those stars. If it has more stars is going to be more interesting? Do you rate them yourself and on what criteria?

    You’ve earned a lot of credit with me so I’m willing to give you some time to sort this out. Seeing numbers by your RSS feed in Mail over the past couple of days has just let me know you’re working on it. I’m happy to see numbers there, really!

  4. As I read both feeds (Elsewhere and Substraction), it won’t make a difference for me, if there is only one feed or if there a several. But as I think choice is nearly always good, I’d prefer two, or even three feeds.

    A lot of Blogs I read, have one feed including everything. One feed which includes only the “main” posts and one for the tumblr-like posts as links.

    As I said, in my opinion one feed is good. But probably the possibility to choice won’t hurt anybody and satisfy some.

  5. Khoi –

    I’m a fan of the new feed, and am already paying more attention to it than I was before.

    Having the Elsewhere links rolled in was a great idea, and I like the extra attention you’re giving them. Keep it up!

  6. It’s very odd (and I’m sure frustrating for you) that people would unsubscribe because of some glitches when you clearly stated you were moving platforms. Patience would be nice sometimes. I for one am happy to see you attending to the site again. I’ve always enjoyed the diversity of your posts.

  7. I’m actually liking the new feeds, especially the redirection of the Elsewhere entries directly to the url in question. As for the unsubs, they’ll likely come back in a few months once they’re sure the feeds are stable.

    Not everyone likes to be the guinea pig =)

  8. The new combined feed doesn’t bother me – but, it would be nice if there was a way for you to differentiate between posts written by you, and links. Sometimes I don’t have time to browse everything, but I wouldn’t want to miss one of your posts in the clutter.

  9. Congratulations on your final move to EE!

    As I’ve mentioned before I was finally inspired to convert all my blogs over to one way back in January when you first brought up EE.

    I still have one left to go – but as you say – life does get in the way!

    On my character animation blog I managed to create two feeds – one with just the major “important” posts and another one of just links. I’m sure you could create another feed for just your major posts (in fact, I know you could since EE is so cool about making this happen) and then another feed for everything combined.

    I’m sure you already knew this, just wanted to add in my experience.

    Now I’m all inspired to work more on mine!

  10. I think the new combined feed is a good idea, it’s much simpler and easier to follow one great feed than two good ones…

    I don’t know if anyone else had this problem but in NetNewsWire for some reason the Elsewhere feed kept duplicating itself over and over until I had an extra thousand or so feeds and had to end up unsubscribing to it.

    Another strange happening is some Elsewhere style posts are opening in NetNewsWire, showing the blurb and then loading the link in the same window without clicking through first. One example is the ‘NYT: New York City, Tear Down These Walls’ post…

  11. Khoi, Really like the thinking behind the new feed, I think that this will work well for you as long as you don’t trick youself to thinking you are publishing often but its just what would used to be Elsewhere links, so don’t forget your well thought out almost essay like posts. Also, the main page flows really nicely and nice picture on the about page.

    Be well, Ethan.

  12. I would not presume to “give you a chance,” essentially to prove some worth. I would visit if you used no styling except <blink> tags. It’s about content.

    Now, your Comics category’s getting a little long in the tooth. +)

  13. Hey Khoi, I was apparently unsubscribed for a few weeks. Just noticed I wasn’t getting my regular dose of Subtraction.

    Everything is peaches and cream now. Take it easy!

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