October 01, 2003

Holy RSS Batman!

If any blogger or web site owner isn't already including an RSS news feed, here's proof that you should:

Last evening I was reviewing my blog's Webalizer reports. Webalizer is a free service included in my web host package, which does statistical analysis of my raw web logs and gives me meaningful text and graphical usage reports.

This blog went live on Sept. 7th. After little more than 3 weeks, the following stats summed it up for the advantages of providing RSS feeds. (Disclosure: I edited the table's contents to remove a column, add highlighting, and truncate the User Agent descriptions -- the table was just too wide otherwise. The percentages have not been changed in any way.)

Bottom Line: Over 42% of the hits on this blog were by RSS readers, a/k/a News Aggregators or News Readers. Note that I arrived at this number by counting the PC-based readers listed, but not web bots or crawlers. As a side benefit, I learned there are several more RSS readers available, such as the Desktop Sidebar. This is not only a news aggregator, but is better described as a desktop aggregator.

Top 15 of 399 Total User Agents
# Hits User Agent
1 24.28% NewsGator/1.3
2 10.92% Feedreader
3 7.78% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; MyIE2)
4 7.23% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0)
5 6.35% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.5)
6 3.29% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0)
7 2.65% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0)
8 2.29% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0)
9 1.52% Straw/0.19
10 1.47% Radio UserLand/8.0.8 (WinNT)
11 1.46% Desktop Sidebar v1, 04, 52, 0
12 1.21% FeedDemon/1.0 Beta 5a
13 1.17% Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Newz Crawler 1.5)
14 1.16% Googlebot/2.1
15 1.15% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.5)

Note that I've offered both RSS 1.0 and 2.0 feeds from the very first day and placed them prominently on the pages.

Would these people (perhaps you?) have visited this blog without the feeds? Hard to tell, but I'm sure that the number of hits overall would be much, much lower. The absence of RSS feeds would have forced them to make the extra effort to go outside their normal news reader routine and use a browser. For some people, visiting blogs individually is akin to slow water torture: "No, not the browser, not the browser!!!"

My goal is to enable all visitors to read this the way they want to -- be it via a PC-based browser, PC-based aggregator, web-based aggregator, wireless PDA, cell phone, or tablet connection, etc. A few less barriers is a good thing.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips
Posted by Jeff Beard

To All: Thanks for the comments and insightful questions.

I agree that the frequent polling by news aggregators will skew the results. The problem right now, as Rick and others have aptly pointed out, is that we don't know by how much. However, I am encouraged by the diversity of aggregator clients. It proves that it's worthwhile to provide the feeds.

In fact, I'll make the prediction that like the mid-90's "push" technology (remember PointCast?), RSS will take off exponentially, (and especially when more large, mainstream sites provide the feeds) -- at least until it morphs into something else. Remember "Create Your Own Newspaper" (http://crayon.net)? One could easily make the point that this early pioneer was in effect a news aggregator. You selected or added the online newspapers you liked, and it aggregated them into a nice web layout. Not quite RSS, but the result wasn't all that different.

As for varied delivery, Rick's approach to multiple templates for different platforms is definitely one effective solution. Another is to leverage the use of alternate CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) linked to the same template. There's certain pros and cons to each approach. For example, the former approach requires slightly different URL's, whereas the latter doesn't. However, even if you vary the CSS design into alternate styles, you still have it linked to the same underlying template. It all depends on what you want to accomplish and provide.

Posted by: Jeff Beard at October 2, 2003 04:53 PM

Hey Jeff -
I enjoy your weblog so far - think it's great. One note (my host uses the same stats) - RSS feeds don't authenticate, so if someone has his or her reader set to refresh every 15 minutes, you could get many "hits" from just one source. I am big on RSS (in fact that is what I'm using to read your site right now), and I think every weblog should have a feed - but the technology is still in its infancy and not very widely used, so it's probably unlikely that the majority of your true visits are actually coming from the RSS feed.

Posted by: Charles at October 1, 2003 06:33 PM

Scott - Not sure what expenditure you're referring to. In using Movable Type, you have the ability to publish as many "versions" of your site as you want. For instance, take a look at my weblog focused on the Dean campaign. I currently have four distinct versions of my site:

HTML w/graphics: http://www.rklau.com/dean2004/
HTML w/o graphics (for AvantGo users): http://www.rklau.com/dean2004/avantgo.html
RSS 1.0 (feed w/excerpts): http://www.rklau.com/dean2004/index.rdf
RSS 2.0 (full feed): http://www.rklau.com/dean2004/rss.xml

Movable Type is free for personal use and the templates are freely available on dozens of sites around the web. This is the kind of technology organizations used to spend tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars on, and one more reason certain blog apps (like MT) are so compelling for more than just maintaining a weblog.


Posted by: Rick Klau at October 1, 2003 03:42 PM

So do you see the trend to make a page so that the viewer can view it in the way they want to someting that will become more standard, or just for gugus' pages such as yourself? For other blogs and even standard sites (business or otherwise) is the expenditure worth it?

Posted by: Scott at October 1, 2003 01:39 PM

Hey Jeff! You speak the truth. The ability to share information and (ultimately) drive traffic back to your website is greatly enhanced by adding those feeds.

Posted by: Kevin at October 1, 2003 11:16 AM