Gaming RSS feeds

If you have even a decent number of feeds you’re tracking, you might notice a few of them being gamed. By gamed I mean feeds that time an entry for some period in the future so it shows up at the top of the feed list. It’s really annoying. One of the reasons why people […]

If you have even a decent number of feeds you’re tracking, you might notice a few of them being gamed. By gamed I mean feeds that time an entry for some period in the future so it shows up at the top of the feed list. It’s really annoying.

One of the reasons why people do this is legitimate: they have killed off the URL of their feed and they want to let you know about it. This has the desired affect: it annoys me until I switch the URL to the correct one (even though I still get content on the old URL because they still provide the feed). A better way to kill off a feed would be to send along an HTTP 301 response meaning that the feed has permanently moved. Feed readers usually know what to do with a 301.

The other reason is to simply get attention at the expense of others. I’ll update a feed and there will be entries on it that are in the future, and so show up at the top of the list. Not only is this annoying, but it borders on unethical because, well, its lying. I consider people who do this spammers, even if they only push the post out an hour or two into the future. (On some systems, like Bloglines, this won’t be as big a deal, because feeds aren’t shown all together by default)

That said, however, there have been a few cases in which this happened to me, I got angry, and then I realized that it was some sort of compatibility issue between my feed reader and the timestamp on the feed, instead of some hideous plot to game it. This happened to me recently with the Signal vs. Noise feed: for some reason their version of RSS (1.0) doesn’t display right in my feed reader (Shrook). As a result, their posts seem to occur in the future, and it really can’t be more annoying. Here they are trying to post a lot to keep up attention, and here I am seeing their posts even more than they can hope for. I have to unsubscribe to keep my sanity, and resubscribe when they finally move to an RSS 2.0 or an Atom 1.0 feed.

But for those few who do game their feeds, please stop. I hope I speak for others when I say we’ll unsubscribe if you don’t.

Published: August 31st, 2005

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