Newspapers 2.0: RSS features on British newspaper sites

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 15 May 2007

One of the areas I was looking at in my survey of "Web 2.0" features across British newspaper websites was the RSS options offered by the sites.

I though it would be useful to put down in tabular form a comparison between the features available on each site.

The first table looks at how the feeds are formatted and promoted, and how easy they are made to use.

I must note that although I've listed a number of feeds per paper, I know that in a couple of cases this is not strictly accurate, since the newspapers do not themselves provide a complete overview. Rather than spend ages digging around for an exact number, I've based the count in this table on the number of feeds that the papers themselves present to the public on their "What is RSS?" or "RSS Help" pages.

  Daily Express Daily Mail Daily Mirror The Guardian The Independent The Sun The Telegraph The Times
RSS Feeds
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Number of feeds 27 32 32 24 69 10 24 38
Homepage auto-discovery
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
RSS Link on homepage
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
RSS badge / icon on homepage
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Bespoke "Newsfeeds" logo
RSS Link on story pages
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
No
No
No
Contextual RSS Link on story pages
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
3rd party feed provider No Feedburner Mediafed No No Mediafed No No
Stylesheet applied to feed
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
Yes
No
RSS Help page
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Full content feed
No
No
No
No
No
No
No
No
Own branded RSS reader
No
No
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
Personalised search RSS
No
No
No
No
No
No
No
No

For me the most interesting things to come out of that table are that all of the newspapers now offer RSS feeds, which was not the case maybe two years ago. It is also true that all of the newspapers only offer summary feeds. Nobody has yet taken the plunge to make all of their main news and editorial content available in the mostly advertising-unfriendly RSS format.

I must confess that I was surprised at how few newspapers offered a contextual feed on individual story pages. Only the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror seemed to tailor the RSS link provided on a page to the content of that page. Given that the majority of the sites surveyed have different templates for the different sections of their site, providing an appropriate RSS link does not seem to be a great leap.

I included the personalised search RSS feed in the table just to emphasise that no newspaper is currently doing it. Custom RSS feeds for specific search terms of course require infrastructure investment, but it seems to me they have a great potential in attracting subscribers to click-through to content they are specifically interested in, even if they would not generally read a particular newspaper.

The next table looks at which newspapers provide easy subscription buttons for their users to third party feed-reading software. The number of red crosses in the table indicates that this is not widespread.

  Daily Express Daily Mail Daily Mirror The Guardian The Independent The Sun The Telegraph The Times
RSS feed subsciption buttons No Within feed stylesheet Within feed stylesheet On RSS Help page No No On RSS Help page No
Bloglines
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
No
FeedDemon
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
Google Reader
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
No
My AOL
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
My Yahoo!
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
NetNewsWire
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
Netvibes
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
Yes
No
NewsFire
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
Newsgator
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
Pageflakes
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
Rojo
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
RSSOwl
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
Shrook
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
Windows Live
No
No
Yes
No
No
No
No
No

The Daily Mail dominates that table thanks to the fact that they are using FeedBurner to distribute their RSS feeds. That means the XML comes equipped with a stylesheet that automatically includes an ever-growing list of links to RSS subscription services.

Of the newspapers that include subscription widgets, it should be noted that only The Guardian and The Telegraph have them embedded in their own pages. The other papers that feature them do so courtesy of the third party re-packaging their content as feeds.

It is also interesting to note that whilst The Sun and The Mirror both share Mediafed as the company publishing their RSS feed, they have a different approach to incorporating third-party subscription buttons. Either The Sun has opted out, or The Mirror has specifically opted in, to Mediafed's provision of buttons.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be looking at newspaper RSS feeds in more detail, which will include an analysis of some statistics around subscription numbers. I'll also be publishing some OPML files listing RSS feeds from newspapers, something which they sadly don't provide themselves.

3 Comments

I must confess that I was surprised at how few newspapers offered a contextual feed on individual story pages.

It's true that on Guardian Unlimited contextual feeds don't appear on story pages, but you can see contextual feeds elsewhere on the Travel site, and that will suggest why this isn't such an obvious feature. For example, here's a current article:

http://travel.guardian.co.uk/article/2007/may/15/festivals.serbia

It's about travel, travel in Serbia, and festivals. What does "contextual" mean in this case? Which of those subjects? Which combination? If we delivered a feed of just travel articles, then you'll be disappointed if you expected to receive just content about Serbian tourism. If we delivered an RSS feed about Serbian festivals then you might be waiting an awfully long time for some fresh content.

But from that article there are links to pages about the individual topics of travel, Serbia, and festivals:

http://travel.guardian.co.uk/

http://travel.guardian.co.uk/tag/serbia

http://travel.guardian.co.uk/tag/festivals

and on each of those pages you'll find the RSS feed for that subject. Each of those pages is about a very specific thing, and in each the "context" is much clearer.

As you'll be aware, the redesign of the GU Travel site was part one of a phased reworking of our design. So anything you see there you can expect to see more of over time.

You make some good points there Nik, especially about exactly how granular a contextual feed should be. For me, it was just weird that the sports pages of papers like The Sun or The Daily Mail didn't link to even their generic sports feed, let alone a feed for a specific sport.

I had just had a semi-rant on a previous thread about the independents lack of football and team specific feeds then found your nice comparison table.

With the increase of personalised homepages like netvibes and google reader I would have thought it the newspapers would be quick to adopt and promote RSS.

I still find that even some quite experienced internet users still don't 'get' RSS though so time will tell. I've seen a lot of media centre type user agents to various feeds I help with which suggests more people are taking advantage of RSS on their media boxes connected to TVs etc.

Suprised about those who still haven't implemented autodiscovery, it's a relatively small addition and certainly pushes up feed subscribers!

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