Headline Fallows

The Atlantic rolled out some big changes to its website a couple of days ago. Normally, I wouldn’t notice something like this, because even though I’m a regular reader of James Fallows’ blog, I almost never visit the site itself. As I do with all my favorite blogs, I subscribe to his RSS feed and read his posts in Google Reader. But since the redesign, I can’t do that anymore.

Oh, there’s still a feed, but it provides only the headlines of Fallows’ posts, nothing more. Not even the first paragraph or two to give a you a decent sense of the post’s topic. I assume the idea behind this change is to force us to go to the main site, pumping up the pageviews for The Atlantic’s advertisers. It won’t work; you can’t force someone to follow a link, and readers who’ve jumped on the RSS train will not be jumping off.

Merlin Mann has written a couple of tart posts today about the stupidity of this change. I’m more disappointed than angry, but the source of our displeasure is the same: we like reading Fallows, and we will read much less of him because of the anemic new feed. I sent this email to Fallows:

Is there some way you can prevail upon the Atlantic’s webmasters (and their masters) to return the RSS feed to providing the full text of your posts? I understand the need to make money and would not complain if the feed included ads. Many of the feeds I subscribe to have ads (Talking Points Memo, for example), and I stay subscribed to them. But I won’t continue to subscribe to a feed that provides only headlines.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this. People who do a lot of reading online have gotten used to using RSS and will not go back to the old way of clicking back and forth between dozens of sites. Especially since much of our blog reading is now done on our smartphones.

I mentioned Talking Points Memo because I know it’s a site Fallows is familiar with. I could just as easily have mentioned Daring Fireball or TidBITS. They’ve all figured out ways to get ads in their feeds, meeting the advertising requirements necessary to keep their businesses going while still providing articles in a form their readers want.

Update 2/28/10
Fallows sent me (and, apparently, about 800 other people) a polite response, agreeing with our complaints. Later came this post, acknowledging the RSS feed problem, and this one, telling us that it’s been fixed. I’m not sure that it has been fixed just yet—the “fixed” post still hasn’t appeared in my RSS reader—but it’s clear that a fix is at least on the way.

Interestingly, the headline-only feeds were not a bad commercial decision; they were just bad programming. Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.