This study was constructed to determine which news outlets use RSS well—which outlets give users the range of information that most closely approximates what can be found on the outlets' websites.
This is NOT a media study that assesses which news provider covers international events the best. One should not conclude from the results that because Fox News scored higher than the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times scored higher than Al Jazeera that one should shift one’s allegiance to the higher ranked outlet. What one can conclude, however, is that the LA Times and Fox give the users of their RSS feeds more of what those users would get were they to go to the LA Times or Fox websites—and that the New York Times and Al Jazeera gives those who use their RSS feeds only a small fraction of the range of news that can be found on their websites.
This study looked at 19 of the top global news online sites to see which ones gave the users of their RSS feeds the same number of stories, the same range of news sources, in as timely a fashion as could be gotten if those users went to the individual website.
The chart on the Main Results page provides a quick glimpse of the findings.
Greater details on those ratings can be found by clicking on the name of each publication in the chart.
Rather than RSS, many users should just stick with Google’s Top Stories
RSS provides convenience and purports to save time—the idea behind pulling RSS feeds onto a Feed Reader home page or a PDA is that by the RSS automatically delivering the news, users don’t have to click their way to multiple web pages to track down the most current news on their topic of interest.
This study found that depending on what users want from a website, they may be very disappointed with that website’s RSS. Many news consumers go online in the morning to check what happened in the world overnight—who just died, who’s just been indicted, who’s just been elected, how many have been killed in the latest war zone. And for many of those consumers the quick top five news stories aggregated by Google or Yahoo! are all they want. But later in the day some of those very same consumers will need to access more and different news for use in their work—they might be tracking news from a region or tracking news on a particular issue.
It is for that latter group of consumers that this RSS study will be most useful. Essentially, the conclusion of the study is that if a user wants specific news on any subject from any of the 19 news outlets the research team looked at, he or she must still track the news down website by website.
The problem is that many news outlets don’t want to share…
Now it is true. An RSS feed is not exactly the same as search—it should send to a Feed Reader not everything that is on the home website, but should only send what’s new on the topic of the specific feed selected. The RSS feed sends only the articles the user hasn’t already received from days or weeks before.
But what the research team found intriguing is the differences in what news outlets wanted to share with users via their RSS feeds. The fact that most of the news outlets did a good job of continuing to send archived material through their feeds (especially useful if one is a new subscriber) suggests that those outlets were not especially concerned with keeping all their archives behind a subscription or paid wall. But many of the news outlets made a decision that they were not going to send on their RSS feeds any content that was not staff-generated.
That last decision the research team decided was pivotal in determining how useful a news outlet’s RSS feeds were. If one surfs to the New York Times website in the middle of the day and conducts a search on, say, “Iraq,” for example, the first ten or fifteen articles that will come up (often more than a page of results) will likely be from the Associated Press and the Reuters wire services. Well into the search results will finally be the New York Times stories, way down in the chronological list because they were written the previous day. But if one subscribes to the New York Times RSS feeds, one does not get any of that AP and Reuters content—all that comes through the feeds is the New York Times-written articles.
By contrast, USA Today (or CBS or ABC) don’t have such compunctions—they send AP and/or Reuters stories through their feeds. Why does the New York Times not do so? Well one reason might be that the wire stories don’t carry the New York Times brand. But what is lost by the Times not sending the wire service articles are valuable updates on stories—and a breadth of stories that the Times can’t hope to duplicate with its own staff…which is, after all, presumably why they make the stories accessible on their website in the first place. It is that breadth, that timeliness that has made the New York Times the top news site in the world. But their RSS feeds don’t give users the same quantity and quality of news.
How do you know that you’re getting what you want? You don’t.
Another key issue that this study illuminated is how difficult it was to get even all of the staff-generated stories from “today” via RSS feeds. Some news outlets only send out a certain number of stories per feed, no matter whether it’s been a slow news day or a busy one. Some news outlets idiosyncratically tag their stories and send out the major stories on breaking events, but not the secondary, more feature or analytical stories on those same events. And others do the reverse—they are better at sending out the stories on places and events that are not at the top of the news. The problem is that a user doesn’t know exactly what is NOT being sent via the RSS feeds without going back to the homesite and checking—exactly what RSS users are trying to avoid doing…taking the time to click around beyond their Feed Reader.
There’s no standard for what goes on the feed
Another problem the study uncovered is that RSS feeds are all different—there is no single standard of what goes on a news feed. Just because two news outlets both have feeds labeled “International” doesn’t mean that have decided to send the same type or quantity of news through their feeds. And for those consumers who are interested in a particular region or topic—rather than just interested in the top stories of a given day—it is usually necessary to add many feeds to one’s reader. And how to choose which feeds to add is complicated by the fact that some news outlets have less than twenty news feeds in total. Some have well over a hundred feeds to choose from.
So, again, if one is interested in following the news in Iraq, one would certainly want to select the “International” or “World” feed, but probably as well the “Middle East” feed, and the “Iraq” feed if there was one. But one shouldn’t really stop there, if one wants to see how the issue is playing out domestically—so one might want the “National Security” and the “Military” and the “President” feeds, and maybe the “Editorial” or “Leader” feeds. And if one subscribes to all of those—and from multiple outlets—one’s Feed Reader may well get rather too full.
RSS feeds should say when a story was written, who wrote it & from where
A final conclusion that emerged from the study was how little information most news outlets gave out in their teasers to their news stories. All the RSS feeds from the news outlets previewed their stories with a headline and a line or two of description, but very few of the outlets gave additional important information: the date the story was from, the story’s byline (author) and dateline (where the story originated), and the time the story was posted. Those are all essential bits of information that might well help users decide if the piece is of sufficient value to click on and go to. Such information does take up a half a line or more of valuable screen real estate, but if a story dates from last night rather than this morning, or from Washington versus Baghdad, users should know.