Answering Scott Gatz

Scott Gatz of Yahoo! poses a few questions on his blog that came up during a private dinner Monday night. I think some of the questions already have answers so I’ll post them here. It’s a bit feed geeky and may have an intended audience of about 20 people.

No index flag. We need a way to mark an RSS feed as “OK to aggregate, but don’t show in search results.” For publishers who output a different feed per user, you don’t want to see 100 different feeds that are basically the same thing.

I think the robots meta tag “nofollow” directive already communicates this preference for link alternates listed in the page head and a rel value of “nofollow” communicates the preference at the link level. Search engines should pay attention to these user preferences when discovering new feeds.

The easiest path to personalized feeds is to ask for a username and password over HTTP Authentication. You would also have exact tracking methods for that user since you are basing unique readers on a username instead of something like a unique IP address and User-Agent combination.

Tracking statistics at the item level remains elusive since most feed aggregators load every feed item at once. One possible solution is to track “focus events” such as a mouse pointer hovered over the post area or an item marked as unread. Aggregators would have to gather some of this data and send it to a central location for marketers and feed publishers but there are currently no incentive models to drive such a flow of information.

Update: Greg Reinacker of NewsGator added his own thoughts and prefers a namespaced additional element in the feed.