Sending the number of comments with your feed

August 21st, 2004
Web Design, Web Ethics

I had made a couple of small changes to my RSS feeds over the past couple of days and was about to write up something about those feeds when I got my first complaint. Now, some people might say that the choice to add comment information to ones’ RSS feeds (inside the body of the post, not as a seperate feed) should lie with the author of the blog. However, I believe, especially in the case of this blog, that it would depend on the consensus of the readers. Here is the problem.

I had elected to add a comments link along with the number of comments already posted, inside the body of my RSS feed. I was not sure whether it was illegal (code) and whether it would be accepted well by the community. I seem to have gotten my answer, at least from one reader who voices their concern.

…please remove the Comment option and the slashes out of the RSS feed. They make stories pop up several times with a number of RSS readers who go after unique and/or updated stories.

Now I have two three questions for my readers. They might be related, they might be unique, depending on your perspective.

  1. Should the comment links be removed from the RSS of this blog?
  2. Should we offer a full feed (with the comment link and everything else) and an “excerpt” feed with none of the frills?
  3. Is there a place (more of a general question, blog ethics) for comment links, or even a short list of recent comments in the main feed? (note that there is a seperate feed for comments already)

And while on the same thought, what about sending your whole feed as an image? I have seen feeds where the comments link is made up of a PNG that has been crafted using a dynamic image generator script. The image stands out and is quite out of place in my opinion, but does it belong there at all?

These thoughts and questions are on a more basic level. However, in being technical, do any of the feed formats solve this problem in a semantic manner? Am I missing the boat completely?

I use feed readers quite often. As a matter of fact, I have been using FoF frequently as of a few weeks ago. I really like the product and personally prefer to see feeds that are relatively complete with most of the information about a post being available through the feed. Many bloggers like to get people to click through their blogs by providing a “teaser” in their feeds for each post. I used to do the same, unknowingly of course and this has been rectified in this recent set of updates/changes.

In spite of all of this hoopla, I still prefer to visit all of my “reads” through a browser at least once every few days when I get a few minutes. It sure beats any feed reader out there!




  1. James E. Robinson, III (5 comments.) says:

    In short, put whatever you want in your feed, aggregators should be using GUID, not MD5, to look for new posts.

    Using MD5 results in flagging new posts if someone removes some whitespace, fixes a comma or perhaps a spelling error. All of which are annoying…

    See also:

  2. helge (4 comments.) says:

    1. should be removed again. (thanks for fixing #1 in this list: but: read the end of paragraph #4. this is really deteriorating the subscription experience.)

  3. Mark says:

    I have removed the number of comments for now and will just include a comments link for those interested.

    However, in spite of my conformity, I disagree with a few of your thoughts. It is the task of the feed reader to correctly understand and interprit the feeds just as it is the task of the feed author to provide semantic material. Caching readers should take updates into account and should allow the confiuration of feeds to either follow or disregard minor changes in posts.

    The difference between disguised links and otherwise is a limitation of encoded content and excerpt.

  4. Nik (5 comments.) says:

    I agree with you that the reader should indeed take into account the guid or any other identifying IDs (most readers, rawdog included, handle different formats and therefore they may support formats with different ids or no ids at all). Seeing that they don’t, even if the error is at the part of the reader, I really appreciate you removing the comment numbers. :) Thank you very much.



  5. Jesus (5 comments.) says:

    I like the feed as it is now. I think it is the “standard” way, and for me, it is the best.

  6. Nik (5 comments.) says:

    Thanks for bringing up this issue for public discussion. To illustrate the problem it brings, each new item indexed becomes an md5 hash or similar, and is marked as new when that hash is not already shown before. The reader I use is rawdog, and to give you a sample and a look at how this will lead to the post being shown every time a new comment goes in, do see my bookmarks and news feeds.

    Now, do comment links have a right in the RSS feed? I think not. Reason being, when I read a blog entry (like this one), I simply click on the entry and I get right to the page, ususally (like this one) including a place for me to leave the comment. Thus, that link is a duplicate and adds no new functionality.

    So, to answer your questions:
    1. Yes, I believe it is duplicate and adds noise, so it should be removed.
    2. I prefer feeds with the entire story, but I realise that some places need to show their ads and thus only post an excerpt. If your message is more important than the actual visit to your site, you may not want to use excerpts.
    3. If getting to a comment for some reason isn’t the same as getting to the page, there may be a reason. But this link should then not changing thus indicating that the news has changed. Allowing a reader to subscribe to the comments for a discussion he finds interesting is good. Most blogs I read (ok, I read mainly wordpress blogs) send me new comments by email when I post a comment like this, but giving the possibility to subscribe to a comment-series without commenting definetly has its merit. But not in this incarnation with links like Comment(0), Comment(1), Comment(2) etc.

    I’m sorry if my writing’s a bit unstructured and/or unclear but it’s getting late and I’m off to bed. Good thing you bring this up. :)


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