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Summarizing content (excerpts)

On Twitter today I noticed a comment I thought would be good to address in a blog entry. WebFwrd says:

Seriously, 9rules should enable at least summary in their Feeds instead of just title.

I’m going to explain why we don’t do that.

On 9rules we use the writer’s RSS feed to pull the information. Usually summaries pull the first 50 or so words in an entry to display to the reader as a “preview” or lead-in for what the article is about.

Using WebFwrd’s blog as an example, this is the feed for the blog that is listed on the Twitter profile. The first entry (as of this writing) is an image, so no summary or excerpt would show. The second entry is a normal entry. Let’s pull the first 50 words of the article:

Well, I have not been able to release any update for Diana at all this few weeks. All due to increasing projects and workloads that I do not have any available time set for Diana’s updates yet But it is not going to die this way, probably I will set aside…

This is what happens most of the time when the first X number of characters are shown as a summary. The summary doesn’t show enough information to give the reader a clear understanding of the article. This can go two ways. Using the example above the reader could see the article is about lack of updates and move on, completely missing the plans the writer stated in the entry (the meat of the article). Or the reader could see the title of the entry (Updates for Diana) and if interested in that topic, click over and see the upcoming plans detailed in the article. Let’s look at another example, my last 9rules article:

I might not be processing the new members for the next couple of days. Ike did a job on my city and I’m at a library sending this. They are estimating a couple days until power is restored. No clue when it will be restored.
I am keeping track of those

Forget the formatting issues with this and notice the same thing happens. The important information (do not send a second email) is in the second paragraph. In both cases the user could read the summary and think he/she has enough information to make an informed decision to click through but in truth, the “important stuff” is lost. Most bloggers do not write their articles so the important information is in the first 50-something words. Those that post images for an entry wouldn’t display anything at all – their profile page would look empty in comparison to the other members.

An example of a site that has excellent summaries is Ars Technica. Look at their feed. They write excerpts for their entries so people click over to read the article. That is the ideal situation for summaries.

WebFwrd asked a good question and the reason I decided to blog about it: you might want to consider adding excerpts to your entries. Some content management systems use the excerpts for search results as well. If you use partial RSS feeds over full feeds using an excerpt would most likely help your click-through ratio because the reader would see exactly what the article is about, not what happens to be the first 50 words.

That is why 9rules does not have summaries…we would not want to place further requirements on our members. We used to have summaries but the only time they are of value for the reader, across the board, is if all members adopted the Ars Technica style of creating them. You might want to consider trying them out on your blog, especially if you use partial feeds or full feeds.

Thanks WebFwrd for bringing the topic up! 🙂