No Free Lunch: Ads and RSS Feeds

The upcoming launch of AdSense for RSS has sparked an explosion of outrage throughout the internet (especially in places like Digg). Many of the Diggers complained that RSS is no place for ads, and that the world is coming to an end because feeds will have, the horror, ads in them.

Listen up: Don’t expect to get good content for nothing. If you want to read full content in your RSS reader, expect to start seeing more ads. Many feeds already have ads in them, and the publishers have every right to put them there. Are you paying for the content? Probably not. So why are you complaining about some unobtrusive contextual ads?

The core principal behind RSS is to provide notification of new content. While it’s true that full article content can be offered in a feed, don’t get bent out of shape if it isn’t. You either get summaries, or full feeds with ads. Yes, there are a lot of sites that don’t mind giving away content for free, and aren’t too worried about everyone seeing ads (myself included), but don’t expect everyone to be that way. You’re given ad-free RSS feeds because the publisher wants to; you don’t have a “right” to have ad-free content. If you don’t like it, you can unsubscribe.

In my opinion, the full RSS feed concept is flawed. I believe RSS is supposed to serve as a notification of new content, not a way of getting content without visiting the actual website. (Note that the Webmaster-Source feed is full anyway, as a convenience for people who don’t share my reasoning.) The way I normally use RSS is to have just article titles, which click through to the web location of the article. NewsFire for the Mac OS can be set-up this way, and the MyNT RSS reader works much the same way by default. I prefer to visit the article on the actual website, both to support the website, and to view the content as originally intended.

On the Digg page regarding AdSense for RSS, several users immediately started giving advice on how to block the ads via the Windows HOSTS file, and saying that the AdBlock developers had better get going and write software to remove ads from RSS. (Some of the Diggers have some sense, though, and have left comments pointing out the idiocy of the anti-ad arguments.) Let it be noted that I’ve defended AdBlock on a few occasions in the past. However, there is some merit to the argument that blocking ads is stealing from the publisher. I do not blanket-block ads. I do use AdBlock to nuke particularly irritating advertisements on occasion, but I think it’s rather selfish to insist on not having any ads at all. As tempting as it is to block every network ad imaginable, I don’t do it. Plugins like AdBlock shouldn’t even be “necessary.” It’s the publishers’ responsibility to not place annoying ads. If they don’t keep ads to a tolerable level, by all means, strip the ads out with AdBlock.

There’s a scientific term that’s fitting here: “There is no free lunch.” If you’re not paying a subscription, why are you complaining about some ads? I can see complaining about, but what about a site with reasonable ads?