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RSS advertising

Unlike the BBC and Salon, many media companies are not providing public RSS feeds of their headlines. For the news-hungry armed with RSS readers, this is not so good. I suspect the reasons are many but largely financial: “when we make our content available via this channel, where’s the money coming from?”

There are a number of potential solutions, but one of the easiest (which I have yet to see) would be embedding text ads into RSS feeds like so:

Today’s news is sponsored by Jaguar:
The Jaguar S-TYPE. Dramatic, flowing lines. Inspiring to look at. Thrilling to drive. With power that reaches awesome heights in the 390-horsepower supercharged.

2 Americans Awarded Nobel for Economics
Two Americans have won this year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for trying to explain idiosyncrasies in people’s ways of making decisions research that occupies the nexus of psychology and economics…

For sites like Obscure Store that survive on tipjar donations, the first item could be a mention of that with the appropriate link to PayPal or Amazon’s Honor System.

Is anyone out there doing this already?

Reader comments

Steven GarrityOct 09, 2002 at 6:48PM

It's a pretty good idea. Probably inevitable (as good ideas often are). Still, we're all going to blame you when our news readers fill up with ads.

Steve MillerOct 09, 2002 at 6:59PM

For a while I thought I saw MacCentral doing this, but I can't seem to find it now...

I get almost 80% of my news now from NetNewsWire, I wouldn't mind a small text ad, if I could get actual descriptions instead of just headlines....

HansOct 09, 2002 at 7:03PM

Very Paul Harvey-esque.

John BeimlerOct 09, 2002 at 7:19PM

It's already happening. Look at Glenn Fleishman's RSS feed, the supporter gets included too:

>title<Vernier Networks>/title<
>description<&lt;p class="borderdiv"&gt;&lt;b&gt;Today's 802.11b Networking News is sponsored by &lt;a href=""&gt;Vernier Networks&lt;/a&gt;, enabling companies to rapidly deploy and operate secure, scalable, and mission-critical 802.11 wireless networks.&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/b&gt;&lt;/p&gt;
&lt;p class="small"&gt;&lt;i&gt;The above is a paid, sponsored link. &lt;a href="http://[email protected]"&gt;Contact us&lt;/a&gt; for more information.&lt;/i&gt;&lt;/p&gt;>/description<

John BeimlerOct 09, 2002 at 7:20PM

whups, regexp screw up, s//g and s/>/

Carl BeethOct 10, 2002 at 4:48AM

I think it depends on how you look at RSS. If you look at is as a way to drive traffic to your site you don't need the ads. But if you look at it as an extra service ads could be an option but would lower the value of feed by inserting what is essentially noise.
Personally I think the main reason they don't have RSS feeds is that their thinking is front page oriented and they don't yet understand the value it can bring them.

Mark PaschalOct 10, 2002 at 5:51AM

The MetaFilter feed I make for my own consumption includes a text ad, but that's because I want to read them.

Frank SteeleOct 10, 2002 at 6:04AM

The problem is that many of the big sites aren't making their money from advertising, so the addition of a new sort of ad inventory won't motivate them.

I used to work at, and I've heard through the grapevine that part of their reason for not offering their own RSS feed is that they fear it would impact their (lucrative) web affiliate program, where they provide web news feeds to paying news sites (typically local TV station web sites). For more on the topic, here's a link to the discussion on my site.

I also wondered there: Is it okay to use RSS headlines in a different medium? I used to work for a company that put headlines on LED signs in transit stations, and we spent a lot of money paying for content, and then a fair amount more developing custom software to grab news from whatever format our partners offered. Could we just have broadcast the BBC RSS feed? Why or why not?

Also, I noticed MacMerc is already doing this with a twist, putting a text ad at the bottom of every individual entry, like this:

iStorm 1.0 ReleasediStorm is an innovative collaboration tool allowing users to collaborate together on local area networks. iStorm features real time updating, a clean interface, support for RTF documents, and even (unofficial) internet support. --ADVERTISEMENT--Support MacMerc: Mac OS X: The Missing Manual

Olivier TraversOct 10, 2002 at 6:59AM

At The End of Free, I'm posting ads through Blogger Pro in the same way I publish content, so they're in our RSS feed as well.

Jon GalesOct 10, 2002 at 7:52AM

Yep, MacMerc is doing it.... We had some sales the first few days but it seems to have already gotten old. I'm going to sit down and write a decent text ad system to do some more complex things... Jason's idea has merit. I'm welcome to hear ideas, just email me!

Jake HowlettOct 10, 2002 at 8:35AM

The BBC don't use advertsing as a source of revenue anyway. They use the Great British public who have to pay a license fee to turn their TV on....

BenOct 10, 2002 at 1:29PM

I thought about advertisements in RSS feeds myself not so long ago. Seems to me that once you know the format of a site's RSS feed, i.e. which items in a feed will be advertisements, it would easy to filter the ads out. One of the aims of XML is to make information easy to categorise and sort, making an RSS ad-blocker a heck of a lot easier to code than a browser ad-blocker.

Olivier TraversOct 10, 2002 at 3:27PM

I for one am not going to reformat the underlying XML to tell apart ads from content. I'm a strong RSS supporter, but publishers should be able to sustain their business model through their feed without user filtering. It's text damn it, not pop-ups.

Chris WillisOct 10, 2002 at 4:13PM

One of the great advantages of RSS is that it can provide specific information to be integrated and used any way you like. Diluting it with content that makes it less effective for your special use seems inconsistent with this.

I'd suggest a service that creates just the advertising feed you want. Go to Banana Republic, enter your sizes and wait for the right piece of apparel to scroll your way. That would be useful. Sign me up.

Martin ConaghanOct 10, 2002 at 5:01PM

Hi Jason,

I work as a producer for BBC Online, but I don't know of anywhere at BBC News where you can get RSS feeds of headlines.... we're planning to introduce XML syndication to non-orofit organisation in the near future, but there's no RSS feeds that I know of - unless you know different?

My own weblog at the BBC, Scotblog ( provides an XML feed of the headlines, here:

but that's about it....

Oli YoungOct 10, 2002 at 6:15PM

Mr Left Hand, Meet Mr Right Hand ..

Martin, BBC has had publically (althought obscured) available RSS news feeds for some weeks now ..


They may be in beta versions, but they seem to work fine for me

jkottkeOct 10, 2002 at 6:54PM

BBC has had publically (althought obscured) available RSS news feeds for some weeks now

Tis true. Matt Jones has the scoop on the Beeb's RSS.

Chris WillisOct 10, 2002 at 8:18PM

If the BBC doesn't have and RSS feed of headlines, what have I been using? ;-)

Martin ConaghanOct 11, 2002 at 2:22AM

Ah ha..

This is what I didn't want to say, publicly.

I've known for months that the RSS feeds and XML syndication have been in the pipeline (I attend the BBC Operations meetings every month, so I generally find out about stuff like this before most people do), but it seems that BBC News Online have gone ahead with the public beta without making it common knowledge.

It's interesting nteresting how Matt Jones was at one time part of the initial team that designed the architecture of BBC News Online. So, naturally, he'd have a scoop on something like this.

Thankfully, since he's not a BBC employee any more, he was able to punt his insider knowledge to the general weblog community.

Myself, on the other hand, am not at liberty to do such things for fear or breaking the terms of my contract...

Shayne BowmanOct 11, 2002 at 8:58AM

The BBC feed comes as a default subscription on NetNewsWire from Ranchero.

That's how I found out about the feed, not from Matt Jones or anyone else. Besides, if it's available on the server, isn't it public.

Pete GontierOct 13, 2002 at 2:31AM

This was the first thing I wondered about when daniel over at waferbaby told me about RSS browsers and showed me the fabulous NetNewsWire. It does seem like a problem that needs solving sooner rather than later, because while the BBC is nice, I want my CNN, too. (Thank you, UK television owners, for allowing me to enjoy the Beeb's net presence as a side effect of your tax payments.)

It strikes me that ads will have to be embedded in RSS feeds, but it also strikes me that publishers are going to be largely unwilling to identify ads as separate RSS items, which would be too easy to block or pass over. It seems likely that publishers will embed ads within the items we actually want. If this is the way it works out, it's going to feel even more irksome than it does with web pages, because RSS is more likely than HTML to be correctly perceived as a content description language as opposed to a page layout language.

If there is a solution RSS thinkers can offer advertisers which satisfies their desire to shove ads down our throats while preserving the structure of a feed, I hope it's offered soon.

SebOct 14, 2002 at 7:38AM

It is trivial for anyone to republish a hand-filtered RSS feed on their website for everyone else's benefit. Such a feed could get more subscribers than the original one. Of course I suppose there's a potential for lawsuits...

Mark KraftOct 16, 2002 at 7:02AM

This is something I have thought about for over a year, really. When I first started promoting the idea of creating LJComics and actively offering accounts to comic strip creators, I thought a lot about syndication... not only through LJ 'friends lists', but through RSS.

Even before LiveJournal started putting out RSS feeds, we had artists 'syndicated' through LJ's friends lists - some of them added ways to link back to their website in their posts, so that people could order merchandise, read thru their comic strip archives, etc. Surprisingly, many of the artists have since removed ads in their posts, and have found unexpected uses for weblogs. Shannon Wheeler, the artist behind the nationally syndicated "Too Much Coffee Man", sometimes runs ideas by his weblog audience first to get their opinions on strips he is working on. That's how he decided on the punchline for his last strip, in fact.

It always seemed inevitable to me that with RSS feeds and the potential for greater readership, advertising would become a bigger deal, though I suspect that advertising through RSS will have to be approached in a somewhat low-key, helpful manner. After all, you're competing against content that is not only just free, but *ad free* as well.

paulOct 17, 2002 at 10:17PM

I used to work at, and I've heard through the grapevine that part of their reason for not offering their own RSS feed is that they fear it would impact their (lucrative) web affiliate program, where they provide web news feeds to paying news sites (typically local TV station web sites).

I used to work at as well (hi, Frank), and I setup the broken RSS feed you can find there now (unsupported and not updated since shortly after 9/11: equipment shuffling broke something, evidently).

While I understand the argument that making content available for free may undermine some business agreements, the affiliates must be chumps to pay for content that is no different from what everyone else sees for free. If the affiliate program adds some value specific to a region or city, that's another matter. I'm not getting the sense that's the case.

FWIW, I've found one place where you can find RSS files for many media companies:

It's not like it's hard to write a screenscraper -> RSS generator.

The reason I did this in the first place was because I was responsible for the search engines we ran and as part of that, I looked for evidence of others crawling the site. When I noticed Moreover crawling quite persistently, I set up an RSS feed to deliver lists of newly updated, driven by the process that fed our own search engines.

I would think that RSS feeds and aggregators would be a way to drive traffic to a given site, based on how well done the feed is (good headlines, useful summaries). If advertising is part of that, but doesn't detract from the content, I'm OK with it: the bills have to be paid, after all.

I am surprised media companies don't try to make sure they own the RSS space by creating and updating their own feeds, rather than let anyone run with their content. What better way to keep usurpers out of your business than doing a better job than they can?

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.