Feedly: Biting the Hand that Feeds

With the demise of Google Reader many publishers recommended to readers that they check out Feedly. Now they might be regretting that decision. Feedly seems to have taken a turn that is decidedly unfriendly to publishers. This started with them pointing URL shares to their own copy of the publisher’s content, instead of the publishers original content. Now they appear to be stripping publishers’ clickthrough tracking tags and replacing them with their own.

Feed Wrangler’s David Smith, a Feedly competitor, has spoken out against these practices and others that might be good for the feed reader service or provide a better experience to the end user, but are harmful to publishers.

The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a little excerpt I found particularly interesting:

I am not, nor should I be, in the business of making unilateral changes to the chosen business models of content publishers. As a reader I love it when publishers provide full-text, unencumbered feeds for all of their articles. I understand, however, that not all publications choose this route. When they don’t, I believe my responsibility as a reading service is to respect that choice.

This statement not only sets Feed Wrangler apart from Feedly’s questionable practices, it actually sets them apart from read-it-later services like Instapaper and Pocket. RIL apps are definitely in the business of (as David puts it) “inserting [themselves] into the experience the writer had decided to present to their audience”. They are without a doubt improving the reading experience in many cases, but arguably doing so at the “expense of the publisher’s relationship to their readers”.

There is a continuum of businesses that are built on top of the work done by writers and publishers. Instapaper is not completely benign, but is definitely closer to that end of the continuum than the increasingly malignant Feedly. For publishers the question is what to do about the continuum as a whole. As I’ve said in the past, I believe the answer — easier said than done, I know — is for publishers to provide an experience so compelling that readers want to consume their content in situ and not on someone else’s platform.

The question is whether publishers can find an economic model to support this. Ads, at least in the form of their current race to increasing distraction and intrusiveness, don’t seem to be it.