One of Unread’s most frequent feature requests is a “Readability View” for articles with truncated RSS content. Unlike the similar feature which “mobilizes” the current web page in the in-app browser, a Readability View displays full article content without the user visiting the original site first. This view is named as such because Readability provides the most commonly-used API for the feature, though it is not the only service to do so.
Back when I was using other RSS apps, I used a Readability View all the time. For example, I subscribed to Paul Krugman’s blog at the New York Times. His writing is great, but blogs at the Times strip their RSS articles down to just one sentence summaries. To read the full content, I had to visit the actual site for every article. This was very inconvenient and contrary to the spirit of RSS. Since a Readability View was only a button tap away, I used it with abandon.
When it came time for me to consider adding a Readability View to Unread, it dawned on me how unfair that feature is to publishers. RSS articles aren’t truncated by accident. They are deliberately truncated so that readers will have to visit the original site. The most likely reason for this is so that readers will be exposed to ads, and possibly interact with them. Whether or not I (as a reader) dislike ads or feel inconvenienced by a truncated feed is irrelevant. A publisher does not owe me an ad-free experience. In many cases, ads are the only viable business model for a publisher.
It’s more important that publishers get paid, so they can continue publishing stuff that I ostensibly want to read. If a site doesn’t offer a full-text RSS feed, then I should either accept that I have to visit their site to read it, or decide that the inconvenience isn’t worth it. Maybe those sites should consider monetizing their RSS feeds with a Daring Fireball style sponsorship.1 Either way, it’s not the place of Unread or any other app to make that business decision on the behalf of publishers.
Because, let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much work to understand the target demographic for RSS sponsorship ads. ↩