ANN’s Undocumented Feed Feature

RSS and Atom feeds used to be a thing. In a time before social networks, they were an easy way to subscribe to website updates without giving out your e-mail address. They kind of went out of fashion after Facebook and Twitter took over publishing. The cancellation of Google Reader left many feed users no choice but to Like or Follow respective news organizations on social media. The final nail in the coffin for news subscription protocols was when Firefox removed the orange subscription button from default view, leaving uninformed users ignorant of their options. Most websites still generate feeds for us old people, but they’re usually treated as an afterthought.

AnimeNewsNetwork Logo

“Do you want to have anime news … in your favorite news reader?”

AnimeNewsNetwork have offered news feeds since the dawn of time, but they were quick to recognize their limited revenue potential. It was hard to implement more elaborate ads, such as video, and even harder to gauge ad engagement. As a countermeasure to viewing content without visiting the actual website, ANN display only a one-line article summary in their feeds, with the full article being available on their website. Feed programs usually offered poor styling choices, so I didn’t mind clicking the links, instead of reading the articles in my feed app.

ANN’s feeds are problematic because there aren’t enough of them. Once thought as an anime website slowly diverged into a general entertainment website. These days ANN don’t publish just anime, manga and otaku news, they write about all sorts of entertainment, including Japanese music, games and films, western nerd culture, as well as copyright. This content expansion started six or seven years ago. In the beginning they were fair about it because they separated this new content from their News feed into the so-called Interest feed. At a certain point though, it started spilling into their main News feed. This was intentional because they realized a large chunk of people still stubbornly subscribed to it, not giving the Interest feed the attention they wanted. Many third-parties had the News feed, which used to be the site’s default feed, integrated to their websites, so it made sense from a business standpoint to include other articles in it. After all, the Interest feed was started because they wanted more clicks. They saw how popular Sankaku Complex was and wanted to mimic it to a certain extent, but didn’t want to sacrifice their perceived integrity. Effective merging of their News and Interest feeds meant that their RSS and Atom feed subscribers would either find more articles to check out or spend more time sifting through the news, ignoring everything that was never related to anime and manga to begin with.

Personally, I don’t care about gaming, and I certainly don’t care about things that concern this vague notion of nerd culture. I hate those things. What happened was that I started paying less attention to their feed. I’ve written to their support forum, requesting further categorization, but to no avail. In a short episode of insanity I wrote a Python script that periodically scrapped their front page and output a valid Atom feed. Along with titles and article summary it scrapped the listed article categories, such as anime, manga, games, live-action, and what have they. Two hours of coding and I got exactly what I wanted.

Little did I know that the XML file of their Atom feed did have a nested <category> tag for every article. An advanced feed app such as FeedDemon can filter out articles based on category. The problem is that this feature is undocumented. What could have been solved by offering several feeds, one for each category, was quietly tucked away, leaving the feature to be discovered by feed users themselves. This demonstrates perfectly that feeds are an afterthought and at most an annoyance to website operators. Feeds are still valuable to ANN because existing RSS and Atom tools make it easy to integrate their news streams to other websites. For regular users they’d rather they visit the site directly and use filtering features there. And of course get more ad impressions that way.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s