When Floated Figures Attack!

I recently began publishing full entries in the RSS feed for SimpleBits, figuring that if people would rather read the entire Notebook post in the comfort of their aggregator, they could go ahead and do so. Personally, I enjoy reading content in its intended environment, with all the site design around it, and find myself skimming NetNewsWire for interesting articles to pull up in a browser later on.

Publishing full posts has got me thinking more about what unstyled entries look like when read in an aggregator, and specifically how floated figures are treated (or untreated in this case).

Floating an image that’s related to a certain paragraph (and letting text flow around it) is normally done with CSS (we’ve left the ol’ align attribute behind with other presentational artifacts). Take that CSS away, and depending on how you’ve marked up those floated figures, the display can be awkward — and usually not quite as intended.

How I float figures on SimpleBits

Currently, I use a combination of classes set right on the <img> element to float the image left or right, with or without a border. So, as far as markup is concerned, the image is set inline within the desired paragraph:


<p><img src="image.jpg" alt="giraffe" />Just the other day, I saw a giraffe crossing the street.</p>

Then by adding a class, or combination of classes, I’ll direct that image to float left or right.


<p><img src="image.jpg" alt="giraffe" class="thumb" />Just the other day, I saw a giraffe crossing the street.</p>

The thumb class is the default (a potentially inappropriate class name, but one that’s been used on this site for years), and floats the image to the right, adding a small amount of padding as well as a single-pixel border around the image. To override this, I’ve created two other classes that will alternatively float the image left, and omit the border if desired:


<p><img src="image.jpg" alt="giraffe" class="thumb alt plain" />Just the other day, I saw a giraffe crossing the street.</p>

The alt class floats the image left instead of right, while the plain class removes the default border around the image. Additionally, there’s an alone class for images that I don’t want to float at all. By mixing these mulitple classes on a figure, I can place them where I’d like throughout the entry.

Awkward Rendering

Getting back to viewing all of this through an aggregator, since <img> is an inline element, it’s bottom will sit alongside the first line of text in the paragraph, pushing preceding paragraphs up as far as the image is tall. Not exactly an elegant reading layout (see below).

figure example

Alternatively, you could markup up figures with a block-level wrapper, such as a <div> (or perhaps more controversial — a paragraph, as I’ve just done in the example above), assigning a class to the wrapper instead. This will at least place the image on its own line, separated from the paragraphs of text. Occassionally, I use a definition list to mark up figures that have a caption, floating the entire list to one side. Like any given design requirement, there are appoximately 5,834 ways to meet it. But with most of these ways, without CSS — it’s still not going to present as intended (floated).

With RSS fever sweeping the web, it’s brings up some interesting presentation/content questions. I’ve noticed some feeds (even those that show full posts) choose to strip out images altogether. But those that read only within an aggregator may completely miss the entire picture. Without a “read more” flag (or equivalent), they might assume they’ve digested the post, 100%. I don’t wish to change my meaningful markup choices based on how things might “appear” in certain situations, but it’s certainly something that helps in the decision making.

microFigure?

Perhaps a microformat for figures would be helpful — one that aggregators or custom user stylesheets could tap into in order to align images as they were intended. For instance, if NetNewsWire knew that class="figure" meant: float the image left (or right). This class could be utilized not only on one’s proper web site (like I do here at SimpleBits), but also by feed readers and other devices that normally strip style away. A brewing thought.

Ideally, we apply meaning first and foremost to content, and it’s interesting how markup choices can absolutely affect design in hidden, invisible ways. The many environments in which content is (and will) be read in the future may end up revealing previously unforseen results more and more.

How much should we care about the appearance of content presented in XML feeds? If we’re worried strictly about meaning, then perhaps we should be content with however those elements are displayed in the aggregator (by way of its own default or custom user-defined stylesheet). But with more readers relying on feeds rather than a beautiful CSS-ified site to get their information, it has me thinking.

Oh, and by the way, are you reading this in an aggregator? :-)

59 Comments

  1. Casey Gollan says:

    I do the same, I pop open articles being NNW to read when I’m done skimming. I read this on the site and found the experience much better too.

  2. Arjun says:

    Personally, I hate reading posts in aggregators, so I use Firefox’s LiveBookmarks. When I see that there is a new SimpleBits post, I just open it in a new tab and read it as it was designed (with images, formatting, and everything else). To those blogs with ads (including AdSense), I just ad-block their iFrames or images so that I can observe the content in its natural setting with no loss of quality.

  3. Maura says:

    I like reading full posts in aggregators (as I did this one), although I frequently make a trip to the updated site as well. I can usually tell if I’m missing out on some CSS-styling, and then I go check it out.

  4. fotiboss says:

    Thanks for the COOL “tic tac” template that I use in my blog! :D
    /Simone
    http://www.fotiboss.blogspot.com

  5. Mike D. says:

    My personal opinion is that RSS is best used as a notification technology and should not be a substitute for absorbing content from the more appropriate and able environment of a web browser. I will never offer full-text RSS for this and several other reasons, mostly related to copyright and theft issues… but potentially related to revenue issues in the future as well.
    That said, I think if you offer full-text feeds, you should keep all styling out… including floats. The more the newsreader becomes like a browser, the less useful the newsreader becomes.

  6. I read most of my selected feeds in the aggregator (NewsFire), but am forced to open some in a browser due to obvious not getting the full-story in the feed (eg. I always opened your posts in a browser – that may change now).
    There are some posts that you know when reading them that you are missing the full “picture” so then I follow-up with a browser link to see what I missed.
    I used to use Shrook which had a neat feature that let you specific which feeds you wanted to view as a webpage which was really handy (then the trial ran out :-( ).

  7. Glen C. says:

    “Personally, I enjoy reading content in it’s intended environment, with all the site design around it [...]“
    Couldn’t agree more. It’s nice to have the site design supporting the content. And with most of the feeds I have (design journals and the like) it’s even better to have the intended design. I could have read the whole post in Bloglines, but I like your design so much I’d rather just read it here.
    And now I don’t have to scroll back up and click the link to get to this page and make this comment.

  8. Eduardo says:

    “Personally, I enjoy reading content in it’s intended environment, with all the site design around it […]”
    Couldn’t disagree more!
    It’s ok to read in a site like yours, but not when you have banners, sense-ads, artifacts, all sort of things between your reading.
    On the css image management: Why don’t you use plain HTML to format the image? Do we forgot HTML? HTML is not good anymore?

  9. Toad says:

    As RSS becomes more emphasized everyday, its my hope that eventually it is simply phased out in favor or well formed (x)html, which can easily be read by aggregators if it supports a certain namespace. RSS is nothing but a wellformed standard for your content, if your site is serving valid xhtml, its already wellformed, all thats lacking is a standard. The problem discussed in this article would probably remain however, but it just got me thinking… I think I’m going to try generating my RSS feeds by parsing my own page (with no other information whatsoever)

  10. Martin S. says:

    I totally agree with Mike D.
    I see RSS as a possibility to notify someone of something. I don’t want to read a full length text in my RSS reader – I want to read the text on the web site the text is located at! If you ask me RSS should only be used for summaries. Hate when some sites serve RSS and don’t serve RSS summaries – only full length text. :(

  11. nortypig says:

    I too prefer to read the page in it’s proper environment but provide full content feeds for those that like it. The full feed still ‘notifies’ does it not? It doesn’t compel people to read it in the actual aggregator.
    I also think that soon enough these things will evolve into much more sophisticated and prettier environments too. It’s inevitable we’ll get better at what we’re doing and find new and improved ways to format and utilise the technology.

  12. Kenneth says:

    Maybe a new media form is required. In addition to screen and aural and the others, we should have “feed”. I suppose that would work best when you either embed styles in the XML document or provide some sort of XSLT information with it.
    (oh, and partially read in Safari’s RSS view, mostly read in the browser. Safari makes that insanely easy, obviously)

  13. daniel says:

    Wow I never even entertained the idea that someone would NOT like to see full feeds in their aggregator (mine is nntp//rss just for context).
    I don’t have the problem described because I still use “align.” Is there something I don’t know? Is that why I get all those emails asking if I ever wanted to impress my girl with a huge image class?
    Reasons I much prefer full posts in a feed:
    - fewer clicks to get to content
    - fewer distractions (no matter how well designed)
    - offline reading (since with my aggregator, once downloaded, the feed remains in its local database) …yes, it’s hard to believe, but WiFi does not exist everywhere
    - easier search
    Reasons I may still go with an “excerpt” feed myself:
    - My poor design feels ignored and is threatening to leave me for a blogspot blog with its ATOM feed disabled

  14. Knut Karnapp says:

    Having the time, I always prefer reading (and ofc providing) blogin´s fully styled. I myself think, the surroundings on a specific site make the blog and its entries special so why not enjoying all, that´s provided?

  15. Matt Round says:

    In my own site I convert the XHTML to HTML 4 for the feeds, with classes on images replaced with align="left/right" and a bit of hspace. It’s hacky, but does make things look tidier.
    As for the whole reader vs. browser thing, well I end up reading full feeds through Bloglines wherever possible purely for speed, but there is certainly a loss of character involved when a site’s content is no longer associated with a certain layout and colour scheme.
    Perhaps it’s time to face up to that loss and consider allowing feeds to somehow suggest some basic styling (e.g. fonts and colours), to fine-tune the balance between the reader’s need to control what they see and the writer’s need to convey their personality?

  16. Like Matt Round, I use Bloglines, but only to preview the article content before deciding whether to open it in a browser window.
    My FireFox middle-click setup allows me to open the article in a background tab, so once I’ve built up a few articles I just move through the tabs and read them.
    The advantages are full functionality (the comments and comments form will be available) and I can see the article in its natural habitat! I think content loses its ‘personality’ when separated from the site design. If not, you’ll be missing Flickr feeds, del.icio.us links and other content.
    Again, I use RSS more as a notification technology than anything else.

  17. Rogier says:

    Since I use the Sage Feedreader extension for firefox, I’m already in my browser :)
    But I only use it to check for new updates on a site. If there is an update I just click on the link to the specific page and read the content on-site. I wouldn’t wanna miss all these great site-designs ;)
    And besides: I don’t like reading it in my feadreader.

  18. Peter Akkies says:

    I’m with some of the others; I prefer reading text in it’s “original” environment – on the site it was published on. I don’t like news aggregators, it gives me the feeling that I am missing things.

  19. andr3 says:

    I was just thinking about this the other day, when you made the post about microformats.org
    And yes, this time i stumbled on this article on livejournal’s syndication.. sort of an aggregator ;)
    @Kenneth:
    I’m with you on that.
    I don’t think one should include the full article in the rss feed because it limits the user experience to a non-formatted ambient. Maybe specifying a stylesheet for aggregators would make me include full posts on my feeds. Right now, stripped down and smaller versions with a note saying “there’s more” ;) seems the best way.. at least, imho.

  20. I much prefer to read full feeds in Bloglines. I don’t care one iota about the orginal environment of the article/post/what-have-you.
    On images, I wouldn’t bother doing special markup. User’s of aggregators, if they care, should request their aggregator developers to implement their own style-sheet on the text their displaying, to make images display:block, or something like that. The less presentational information in the feed, the better, in my opinion.

  21. Publishing full entries to RSS is just good manners and shows respected for your readers.
    If you provide partial articles or teasers, you need to ask yourself why? Can there be any other reason apart from ego? We all love visitors to our expertly-styled, beautiful new sites, but dragging people in isn’t cool.
    Publishing full entries does not “[limit] the user experience”. Limited RSS feeds limit the user experience!

  22. Kyle says:

    I like your microformat idea. A standard or suggested markup for specific objects that are being delivered in feeds would be good. Images are the only objects besides text that are delivered in feeds so it should be pretty easy to come up with some simple ideas of how to mark them. Also, since they’re the only other object, it would be nice that they fit the display of the content well instead of sticking out like a sore thumb and being more of a distraction.

  23. > are you reading this in an aggregator?
    Yes I was ;-).

  24. brandon kish says:

    > are you reading this in an aggregator?
    yup =P

  25. Jack says:

    Another vote for full feeds, for the reasons given by others above: speed, ease of use, avoiding ads (and, with apologies to the good designers, the desire to have more control over how sites look). One thing I’d add though – full entries are best, teasers or summaries are fine, but feeds that cut off an entry at an arbitrary point make my blood boil – so frustrating, so rude.
    Back on topic: the “microfigure” suggestion is a great one, I reckon. It’s not a great problem when the occasional image breaks up text, but when reading, say, a how-to with lots of screenshots, a post can become incredibly hard to fathom.

  26. Good article Dan,
    I was reading the article in Bloglines.com. When reading an article from Bloglines.com I can usually tell if the article is missing something void of it’s original design because it usually doesn’t make sense with out the photo or looks funny with the photos not aligned how they were intended. If the article looks like it needs it’s original design to make since I will then open the article in my browser.

  27. Neil says:

    I’m currently reading the fully rendered article in a browser window of NNW. Yes, I could have read the entire article in the preview window, but I wouldn’t have been able to read the comments. So for most feeds, I open them as a tab in NNW and see the articles on their respective sites.

  28. Jake says:

    I only read short entries in aggregators, and even then I occasionally will pass that over to my browser if I need to remember it for commenting later. Sometimes I think I should be “flagging” those entries instead.
    But regardless, what I do with my feeds is unique. At least as far as I know it is. A while ago my compatriot remarked he didn’t want to send all the images with a post out to newsreaders. He just doesn’t like the idea of making lots of requests to the server.
    And since I wrote the backend scripts myself I just came up with a solution. When my scripts generate the differrent feeds they pull out the image references (pretty easy since they’re modified on the fly anyway). And at the bottom of the post it builds an unordered list that contains the titles and alt information along with the text “n images accompany this post, they are…”
    Does anyone else do something like this?

  29. Shawn says:

    I would second Daniel’s opinion that RSS helps with a lot of valid problems like reading feeds offline or over very low bandwidth connections. Also, Toad is probably right about a hybrid XHTML/RSS emerging. Atom especially specifies a lot of very useful metadata, and there is no reason that XML cousins shouldn’t learn from each other.
    However, emerging hybrids mean that single-sourcing web writers will need to think more about the balance between text and images. Not just for RSS, but for all low-res situations and for back compatibility. These readers deserve access to the images, but part of the reason for RSS is that it doesn’t force images onto the reader.
    ie, It’s a short jump from images in RSS to advertisements in RSS … and then layout in RSS … and then is there any reason to use RSS and not, say, updating bookmarks?
    I think the solution is for web writers to acknowledge that images may not be inline. Rather than refer to images in text as on the left, right, below, or above, but with a meaningful link.
    Linking to the image (an anchor in XHTML, a link to a thumbnail or raw image in RSS) would help with all single sourcing, would give more help to those using text-browsers or with trouble seeing, and gives a patient writer an opportunity to add more information.
    Since you’re already giving classes to your images in the XHTML, it shouldn’t be hard to automate the link change for the RSS. You can strip out the images and change over the anchors in one swipe.
    I admit, this is kind of a dodge on the RSS layout issue. RSS readers will have a different experience (aren’t they already, though?) and have an extra click. But they would gain a choice about images, and they wouldn’t be missing out on content.
    Moreover, what point is there in replicating the page layout of a rich site in RSS? If a reader wants a well designed page, then the feed links to the page. The point of single sourcing isn’t just to syndicate the same thing in every medium, but to tailor the content to the reader’s medium. Laying out RSS strikes me as similar to (though not as bad as) companies that think “putting information on the web” means slapping up a pre-existing PDF. If you really want consistent layout, you could just screengrab your page and put it in the RSS …
    But back to the topic at hand …
    Making images standard links would be almost universally back-compatible (this would help with low-res and low-bandwidth devices). However, If feed providers or language designers developed a standard for classing image links, then aggregators could tell the image links from the plain hyperlinks. Then standards could emerge for specifying what an RSS reader wants to do in the feed layout (ignore, left, right, cache for pop-up, etc.).
    In the meantime, a written-in, plain link is universally compatible and gives RSS readers choices. Moreover, it doesn’t turn RSS into an (unneeded) “XHTML/CSS lite.”

  30. pjm says:

    Yes [I was reading in an aggregator], but I clicked through to the entry to comment in answer to your question.

  31. Tero says:

    As a content provider, I guess it boils down to a matter of priority. Which is your main content that you’re providing: the text and things you discuss, or the visual experience of seeing the site? If the former, then I think you should go for the full feed.
    Some reasons I prefer to get the full content in the feed:
    I can sync the contents to my Palm device and read when I’m not at the computer (for example, I automatically sync some news sites every morning for reading in the bus).
    I can download my feeds quickly and read them offline on the laptop.
    When I want to find a text I read a while ago, I can search for it on the RSS aggregator (which indexes the feed texts, but not all the sites they refer to) – A site whose content I can find later is a site I go back to.
    I can read the text in a font style and size I find most comfortable on my environment. Not that many designers take into account there are 14″ monitors with 1600×1200 resolutions, for example. With full feeds, they don’t have to.
    I like to navigate and read stuff using the keyboard rather than the mouse. My RSS client has much better support for this than web browsers & sites.
    I like it when the content provider offers me a choice instead of trying to force his view on me. After all, even if the feed contains the full text, I can still choose to get only excerpts on the reader and read the full text on the web browser if I prefer.

    I track quite a number of feeds on my aggregator, and the easier a site makes it for me to follow it, the longer it stays on my feed list. When a site makes it easier for me to read the contents my way (instead of “the author’s way or not at all”), I’m much more likely to keep reading it, visit the site occasionally and recommend good articles to colleagues and friends.

  32. Summerville says:

    Most of the time I read the full article in the news aggregator (NewsGator – and yes, I read this article in it!). But then, I still usually open the article’s site to view comments (especially the blogs I read).

  33. Personally I like to read most of my content in the RSS reader. I don’t want to download all the graphics and style just to read the text. Most of the time the text is too small, or the text is too light to see clearly. Then there is the sites with loads of advertising that I can do without. In the RSS reader, it’s simply the content that I want to read.
    If it’s a web design site, then obviously I will go to the site to see the design details.

  34. Since you asked, yes I am reading this in a newsreader (Shrook) or at least I was until I came here to post this comment. Dan, I’m really glad you’re providing full text feeds because I do most of my blog reading offline in Shrook. I’ll often visit a site anyway, particularly if I feel I’m missing out on something visual.

  35. Ryan says:

    I need to disagree with Mike D..
    I think limiting RSS to a notification technology is probably not very forward-thinking, in my opinion. Web designers, I know, are against this flow towards fully fed content. I understand why. But as you see the environment around you change, you’re best to adapt, not resist.
    And then there are the usability issues. I thought forcing users to do things you want them to was about as passe as table-based layout. No?
    As far as copyright and theft issues, I don’t understand that. What’s more secure about keeping your content in a web page?
    Also, why is it so bad if the newsreader becomes more like the browser? Doesn’t that just give you, the designer, yet another outlet?

  36. Ken Kolano says:

    Adding a CSS StyleSheet to your RSS Feed
    http://www.petefreitag.com/item/208.cfm

  37. Daryl F says:

    I love the suggestion of a new media type.
    The way I see it, generating RSS feeds is essentially duplicating content. Why bother having content on your nicely-designed website if people prefer to read the RSS?
    I agree that RSS is better used as a notification method, like Firefox’s LiveBookmarks. Partial items in the feed are not teasers, but simply motivators… If you like the post, continue reading at the site; get the full experience as the author has intended.
    I believe that

  38. Keith says:

    I love the Web. I was just thinking on this very topic when this came across my reader (FYI – I tend to skim in my reader, then read via the browser with most sites) and I’m really interested in these kinds of discussions.
    Mike D. made a good point. But I don’t see how that’s a good solution long term, at least for many. I can see a time, maybe it’s already here, when people simply don’t subscribe to partial feeds.
    Then again, I can see lots of reasons why you’d want to force eyes to the site. Advertising is one of them. I actually just wrote about that. The thing is, you have to have some high quality content and something people find really valuable to get that to work.
    I think Mike is one of those people who could pull it off. But even then, what I feel is needed is better ways to display feeds and better ways to deal with situations like Dan brings up here. As more an more people get turned on to RSS, you’d hope that we’d adapt as opposed to trying to control.
    In other-words, expect better styling in feedreaders, more options that inject advertising INTO the content (I know readers hate it, but…) and more options for publishers to help them maintain that balance between the reader and the content creator.

  39. David House says:

    I tend to read summaries, or the first paragraph if people post full entries, then open up the link in my web browser and read there. Bloglines ain’t pretty.

  40. W.H. Bent says:

    Eoghan McCabe said:
    “If you provide partial articles or teasers, you need to ask yourself why? Can there be any other reason apart from ego?”
    (and other strongly-worded opinions) Personally, I prefer short feeds. I use Sage on Firefox as a “summarizer,” and I read the feeds in the same way that I skim print media – I’m presented with a bunch of articles, some or all of which are “continued on page 2.” Short feeds allow me to fairly quickly get to what interests me, and skip what doesn’t.
    In other words, why would an author force entire articles on me, via the RSS pipe? Can there be any other reason apart from ego? :-)

  41. I love your idea of an microformat (microfigure). I was reading about microformats two weeks ago for the first time and was since then infected by the new way of thinking about data.
    But in this case I think its better to concentrate on the slimmest content as possible for RSS – content as text and hyperlinks. Images only in case that they’re important to get the message.
    For me personally, I like to visit my faves or css-beauties “live” with all that tiny graphics or other stuff around directly on the website. Other contentdriven websites I’m mostly reading at Bloglines.

  42. Britt says:

    I want the ability to choose between partial or full feeds, because it largely depends upon the source. For some sites, I never need to visit the site to get what I need. For other sites, I just want an idea of the latest posts to see if I should visit.
    For my newsreader, I don’t want something that is trying to become a browser. I just want text, speed, and a great user interface so that I can organize my feeds to fit my needs.

  43. monkeyinabox says:

    I’m definately favorable to sites that offer full posts in RSS feeds. If you try and read a large number of posts you simply must use an aggregator. I like the ability to quickly scan the full post and see if it’s worth reading. If it’s ready good I’ll view the full site and bookmark it. I love having this level of control.

  44. Mike D. says:

    Ryan: Here are my responses to your comments –
    “I think limiting RSS to a notification technology is probably not very forward-thinking, in my opinion. Web designers, I know, are against this flow towards fully fed content. I understand why. But as you see the environment around you change, you’re best to adapt, not resist.”
    I actually think that expecting freely consumable, ad-free, monetization-free content, full feeds is not very forward thinking. I don’t oppose full-text feeds so much for the reasons you think. Yes, I like my own design surrounding my content, but for me, it’s more about what is mine and what is yours. RSS, to me, is everyone’s. Pull it automatically every 10 minutes, aggregate it, syndicate it freely, do whatever you want… it’s yours. But when it comes to my full content, that’s mine. Sorry, but it is. I maintain full copyright over it and I reserve all rights. You cannot do anything with it without my persmission.
    “And then there are the usability issues. I thought forcing users to do things you want them to was about as passe as table-based layout. No?”
    Not sure what that has to do with usability, but if you’re saying that forcing users to view my content in a browser means that they aren’t free to use it and re-use it in any way they’d like, then yeah, I’m all for that. We need to get over this idea and when someone creates content, everybody in the world has the right to do whatever they want with it. They don’t. If I thought it was an unreasonable thing to ask my readers to view entries in a web browser, then I wouldn’t do it. But it’s not unreasonable, so I’m fine with it.
    “As far as copyright and theft issues, I don’t understand that. What’s more secure about keeping your content in a web page?”
    What’s more secure is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of automated processes running out there on the web pulling down all RSS feeds they can find, analyzing them, indexing them, republishing it, and monetizing them in some cases. The same is not true for standard web pages. Web pages come in so many different forms that one parser could not possibly scrape them all with the same algorithm. That’s part of the beauty of bad code: it protects us a bit. Hell, I even turn off Google caching for my site. I don’t want Google keeping a full-text copy of my stuff for public viewing… don’t know why anyone would.
    “Also, why is it so bad if the newsreader becomes more like the browser? Doesn’t that just give you, the designer, yet another outlet?”
    The mere fact that we’re talking about the newsreader being a superior experience to the browser is exactly the answer to your question. Browsers have become shells in which we can contain content and surround it with whatever monetization vehicles we wish. People accept 728×90 banner ads in browsers. They accept Google Ad Sense ads. They accept navigation designed to distract the user and coerce them to other sections of the main site. A newsreader is “plagued” with none of this. It’s a quick and easy way to tell you when there is new content from a source you trust. If you, as a user, aren’t willing to click over to the site of this source you trust, in order to register an ad impression, you aren’t supporting your source. You are quite frankly, being a selfish consumer of content.
    Now, the *BIG* caveat to all of this is that they clearly *ARE* people out there who have zero interest in monetizing their content, zero design skills, and zero motivation to get you to actually visit their site. In the case of these sorts of people, sure use full-text feeds if you wish. Just beware that once you publish it via RSS, people will assume they can do as they please with it.
    In my opinion, RSS is best kept as a lean, mean, and clean way to notify people of new content. The feed *IS* the ad.

  45. Mike D. says:

    Man, my brain must be on the fritz lately. So many typos! Sorry.

  46. Dustin Diaz says:

    It’s funny how people get different things out of the same post.
    My original thoughts after speed reading the article was how to float your images left/right and have it not effect the rest of your site design, and have it be flexible from page to page.
    So with that said, I’ve used the very same technique, perhaps with different classnames, and it’s turned out well over the course of blogging for quite some time.
    I did, however, make a gamble and plugged in a generic rule like

    #content p img { float:left; }
    #content p hr { clear:left;display:none; }

    This way I could avoid the className’s that I’d have to plug in almost all too often. As a programming philosophy, you should generally code to what you will most likely be doing first, then acommodate the less likely afterwards.
    In that case, for the times I didn’t want my images floated, I would append a class:

    img.thumb { float:none; }

    Putting all things together, this by no means would be the best way; but it was best for my needs for my own website.

  47. Ryan says:

    Thanks, Mike. As necessary, here are my thoughts:
    I had a nice response written up, but realized that we are discussing in parallel. I now see where you are coming from. I don’t agree with you, but I don’t have to either. So, I’ve tailored my response to be more engaged in your point-of-view.
    I’m glad you clarified your stance in your last comment because I now see that your entire argument is rooted in financial and intellectual property interests. I’m not sure that I agree you’re in the right medium, but that’s up to you to fight the current. You have every right to, don’t get me wrong. I just hope you can see how full-text feeds could actually help monetize your content even more. If RSS readers are the new browsers, it’s the same thing. Another avenue for you to monetize your content. There are subscriber-based full RSS feeds out there that use authentication. This sounds exactly like what you would want.
    Now, that being said, I think your argument is eerily similar to the one the music industry made back during the height of Napster. They cursed – flat out – downloadable music, until they realized (with much help from Apple) that they could work it in such a way to cash in. I think you’re making the same mistake. What we hate the most, is usually the most beneficial.
    And I think you should clarify this para:
    Now, the *BIG* caveat to all of this is that they clearly *ARE* people out there who have zero interest in monetizing their content, zero design skills, and zero motivation to get you to actually visit their site. In the case of these sorts of people, sure use full-text feeds if you wish. Just beware that once you publish it via RSS, people will assume they can do as they please with it.
    You’re not saying what I think you’re saying, are you? Surely not.

  48. Mike D. says:

    Ryan: Cool, yeah, I agree with some of that. My opinions on full-text vs. summary are definitely not rooted in graphic design or HTML/CSS. It’s much more of a long-term technology thing.
    When I look at where browsers began, and now where they’ve arrived, the capitalist in me is happy. It’s carte blanche for advertisers and content producers. You can throw whatever you want in there. The newsreader, to me, has sidestepped that so far, and I’m just trying to do my part to see to it that things stay that way.
    You brought up authenticated pay-per-feed RSS, and while I totally wish this was viable (or becomes viable in the future), I just have major reservations about it. Most contemporary media for the last several decades has been advertising-supported and very few have succeeded at charging membership fees. I like your optimism and I really do hope things change in the future, but thus far, advertising accounts for more than an order of magnitude more revenue on the net than paid content does (if you take porn out… sorry Scrivs). Heck, even big-time magazines and newspapers don’t make anything off subscription fees. It’s all about circulation and advertising.
    You said you thought I might be in the wrong medium because I care about rights issues, but I think rights are an issue wherever you go. Sure, it’s not an issue for your average joe blogger who launches missives like paper airplanes off a cliff wondering wide-eyed where they may land. But it’s an issue for real content producers… including individual bloggers.
    Finally, with the Napster thing, I don’t know. We don’t consume writing like we consume music. Songs are listened to time after time (sometimes hundreds of times within weeks if you’re talking about the latest Decemberists stuff) and so we feel like we must be in possession of them or something trivially similar at all times. This is why trading became so popular. The more you traded, the more you physically possessed, and thus, the more freedom to listen you had. But text and other still content is much more ephemeral. Heck, even *video* is more ephemeral than music. The average person watches their favorite movie only about 5 times in their lifetime. I’ve listened to songs more than five times in a day. Anyway, my point about your Napster example is that the fundamentals and history of audio content are pretty different than most other types of content and I don’t think the same model applies. If your argument is that you think bloggers can profit by doing something similar to what the record companies have done with Napster, I’m all ears. Let’s hear it. Maybe there’s a great idea out there that could work. I’m just skeptical about paid text content at this point.
    And the last line of your comment really quick:
    “You’re not saying what I think you’re saying, are you? Surely not.”
    I don’t think I know what you think I’m saying. To clarify, what I’m saying is that when you publish a public RSS feed, it tends to show up in places you might not want it to show up. I came across one of Todd Dominey’s full-text feeds republished as an article on a site I didn’t recognize. The only reason even *I* found out about it was that it showed up in my referrer log. I e-mailed Todd, he promptly had it taken down, and then he switched to summary feeds. I’m not saying people necessarily have the explicit right to do whatever they want with RSS feeds… it’s just that people do it anyway. I prefer leaving feeds as free-for-alls, from a rights perspective, and keeping full content sacred in the lair of its creator.

  49. François says:

    I float just about the same way, it’s just a bit more understandable when looking at the classes’ names :
    img=”" alt=”" class=”on left”
    img=”" alt=”" class=”on right”
    and also
    img=”" alt=”" class=”framed on left”
    img=”" alt=”" class=”framed on right”
    etc.

  50. As a matter of fact I was reading the entry through an aggregator, itself being pulled through avantgo into my very old Palm III, which doesn’t handle images anyway, doing my technological watch whilst on the train back home… phew… :)
    I think I’d leave things the way they are. After all, one knows that aggregated content is not meant to be designed —or does one? It sounds a bit like you’re looking for a headache (a kind of like when someone asks “how about doing an all-HTML newsletter that would display exactly the same in all clients”), don’t you think?

  51. be OH be says:

    Picaresque is an instant classic.

  52. First off, props to SimpleBits for coming up with a topic that gets 50+ responses in the blink of an eye.
    I find myself nodding in agreement at several responses, and when I look at the author of them, it’s always Mike D. I’m totally with him on this front.
    I want people to visit my site. Right now, there are no advertisements on it. But I plan to have them at some point, and I want people to see that. I don’t think that’s a crime. If I provide full text RSS feeds, there’s a good chance they won’t visit the site, just view the feed. Which isn’t what I want people to do — I’ve created a *web site*, not a collection of web content. My product is this web experience. My product is not solely the text of each post. I know that people love ad-free, no charge content. But bandwidth isn’t free. It comes out of my pocket right now — I’d like to make that back (and if a profit happens, then I will celebrate the day). The only way to do that is via advertisements. It’s the way of the web, of television. I’d love to make everyone happy and just provide content because I’m in the mood. At best, it’s naive to expect me to provide this no-strings-attached content. At worst, it’s selfish to expect it.
    To me, RSS is a notification tool. I provide summaries in my RSS feed. I want you to know that I have new content, and if the topic interests you, go check it out. If it doesn’t? That’s ok. You’re not obligated to read it.
    But I’m also not obligated to provide it for any use other than the uses I want. Mike D makes a good point about feed stealing.
    I wish there were an ideal solution. RSSing full content for a portable reader is an example for which I’d like to make an exception. Unfortunately, I don’t see a way of doing that while still encouraging people to visit my site.
    The idea of paying for full text RSS feeds is a great idea in theory — but people simply won’t go for it, I don’t believe. Newspapers and magazines with an established long-term reputation have a hard enough time getting people to simply register for their content — let alone pay for it. Why would someone pay for my content when there’s so much free stuff out there?
    I sympathize with people wanting the control of the content, but I want that control to remain in my hands, as the copyright holder. I want to skip commercials on TV just like everyone else, but I realize that I don’t have to pay to watch Law and Order because of those commercials. (I don’t have a DVR.)
    I know full text feeds changes user behavior — when I’m given a full text feed, I often just read the feed, and skip the full page (unless I’m leaving comments). When given just a summary, if the summary is interesting, then I’ll load the page and read the whole article. In the latter case, the site just got one more set of eyes. And I click on Google AdSense ads regularly — I’ve found some good services through it.
    To me, RSS is perfect as it is. I don’t want big RSS feeds showing up in my reader, and I don’t want to provide big RSS feeds. Really Simple Syndication. Keep it simple. If I want to load a page, I’ll open my browser. In my aggregator, I just want things simple.

  53. I was reading this post in a webbrowser, not in a newsreader.
    I still prefer reading blogs and other content on the web in my browser, and open websites from bookmarks or from the address window, typing addresses by hand…
    I guess I am simply “old scholl”, I guess;-)

  54. Ben says:

    Nope, I personally come and visit the site whenever there’s a new post. I use a LiveBookmark to find out when that is though.

  55. shorty114 says:

    I read this in Bloglines :)

  56. Flag says:

    I agree that RSS is better used as a notification method, like Firefox’s LiveBookmarks. Partial items in the feed are not teasers, but simply motivators… If you like the post, continue reading at the site; get the full experience as the author has intended.

  57. Oz says:

    I also agree. I’ve tried various RSS aggregators, including the interesting Bottom Feeder developed in Smalltalk. But notification methods seem to be my preference, and then I can just visit the original site.

  58. Ollie says:

    Recently I had a look towards tackling precisely this problem in my NetNewsWire stylesheet.
    What makes this tricky is the number variations that arise from seemingly very few factors. For example the basic decision of whether or not to have the image appear on it’s own line (clear the following text) could be affected by:
    - Width of the image compared to the text block width.
    - Height of the image compared to the number of lines of the paragraph which contains it (again dependent on text block width).
    Basically it all stems from placing an element of fixed dimensions within an otherwise flexible text flow.
    As much as I love the idea and potential power of microformats for this problem – I can’t imagine what it would take bring something, which is so trivial to most people, into sufficiently common use to take hold.
    At the same time I am a fan of consistent plain text in feeds, where does one draw the line?

    I read this article in NetNewsWire styled with my own CSS.

  59. zcorpan says:

    Also, disable CSS and images to see if it makes sense. Does “giraffeJust the other day, I saw a giraffe crossing the street.” make sense to you? The image should probably be in its own paragraph, and have either a much better description, or just an empty string, as alternate text.