WTF Blog Clutter Design: How Many Feed Icons Do You Need?

Filed as Guides on August 7, 2008 9:15 am

A question came up during this WTF Blog Design Clutter series asking how many feed icons to we need on our blogs. We looked at feed clutter on your blog but how many is too many and which ones do you need?

How many do you think you need?

The two most popular feed types are RSS and Atom. That’s it. How many feed icons do you have on your blog? Hmm?

These are the types of feed, the code that generates the feeds based upon XML formats. From here, there are different types of content that can go into the feed, various off-site alternatives for handling your feeds (called feed subscription services), and many colorful, cluttering feed icons that promote all the different feed readers.

How Do I Offer All Three Feeds on My Blog?

Most blogging platforms like MoveableType, WordPress, and Blogger offer all of the feed types built-in. You don’t have to do anything. You can promote your feed link, but your feeds are generated automatically.

WordPress has an interesting feed capability, generating all the feed types from a single feed permalink: http://example.com/feed/. From there, you can customize the various content feeds to provide feeds to your readers for your various categories, authors, tags, or whatever.

Should you showcase both types of feeds on your blog? It depends upon your readers and your blog’s design. Most bloggers feature a single feed subscription link, but may also feature the two individual types of feeds in their blog footer.

Since the feed is discoverable through your feed reader’s subscription tool, or automatically when you add the blog’s URL to the feed reader, such links are more a courtesy rather than a design necessity.

Alternative Feed Subscription Services

There is a lot of confusion about built-in feeds and feed subscription services. Many bloggers are told that they must get a Feedburner subscription as part of starting their new blog. Do you really need it?

Feed subscription services, like Feedburner or FeedBlitz, offer alternative methods for offering your feed to your readers, and icons for feed readers. They have a interesting features such as statistics tracking and easy subscribing, but if you aren’t into monitoring the stats or all of the customization features, then why bother?

Why bother? I want the feed counter chicklet on my blog!

What does your feed counter chicklet really say about your blog? Feedburner uses various statistics and generalizes them to generate the feed counter score, but is it really representative of the number of people who subscribe to your blog?

If your blog offers auto-discoverable feeds, then your feed reader might be finding those and not the Feedburner or another feed subscription service. Thus, those numbers would not be counted. If they are accessing a specific category or author feed that Feedburner doesn’t list, those numbers are also not counted. There are a lot of ways your feeds are accessed that off-site services can’t monitor.

If your feed counter chicklet lists 26,456 subscribers – wow! Many people think that’s reason enough to add this feed to their feed reader. A lot of people think this is worthwhile stuff, right?

If your feed counter chicklet lists 6 subscribers, does that mean your blog is new? Well, you’ll grow in time. We’ll come back when you’re older and wiser…right? Or does that mean they just added the chicklet and the number isn’t reflective of the reality, history, and value of the blog?

Personally, I have both Feedburner, FeedBlitz (via email), the default WordPress feeds on . is working on their statistics for feeds, so I don’t have an accurate number for those. Still, comparing the number of subscribers on my subscription services with information from when WordPress.com offered feed data, most of my readers are using the built-in feed than the off-site feed subscription services. So the Feedburner Chicklet really doesn’t represent the numbers on my blog, does it?

Still, it looks cool. So why not? Right?

Your built-in feed service is usually enough, but there is something fascinating about that feed counter ticker that sits in your blog’s sidebar as a scorecard for your feed subscription numbers. In the early days, many reported a dramatic increase in feed subscribers when they added the counter, but is the thrill gone? Are you motivated to subscribe to a Feedburner feed because of the counter? Or will any feed do?

It’s up to you to leave your feed clicklet in your sidebar, but if it is competing with a lot of visual clutter, or adding to the clutter, and the number isn’t really high, consider placing it in a less visible spot until it can add value to your blog. And consider changing all of your feeds to a single feed source rather than dividing it up between built-in feeds and feed subscription services.

Then Why Does Bobby Blogger Have 28 Feed Icons in His Sidebar?

The feed icons that clog up many a blog sidebar are not really feed icons. They are icons and badges representing various feed readers, giving visitors a quick way to add that blog’s feed to their specific feed reader.

As mentioned in WTF Blog Clutter: Feed Clutter, you don’t need a feed icon for every feed reader out there. Most of the serious feed reading folks have a favorite feed reader which features a bookmarklet or toolbar that makes adding feeds to their feed reader a simple click or two. You don’t need to clutter up your blog with all of those feed icons. It’s great promotion for the feed reader companies, but your readers don’t need to see all those icons.

There are Plugins and scripts that will shrink down the vast list of feed reader submission links to a couple clicks, but again, why bother. If someone wants to add your blog to their feed reader, let them use their tools and stop cluttering up your blog with a bunch of useless icons that promote the various feed readers available with their logos – they certainly aren’t sending you business?

How Many Feeds Should I Offer?

At the minimum, your blog should offer RSS or Atom feeds for your blog posts, blog comments, and individual post comments (seen only on the single post pageview). If you have a WordPress blog, that’s only one feed link, not two, as WordPress will automatically create the right feed for the feed reader.

If your blog offers categories as bodies of work of all related, informative content, then offer a feed for each category.

If your blog features more than one blogger, offer readers an option to track that author with their own feed.

If your blog uses tags more than categories for blog navigation, offer the top ten tags as feeds.

The more feed options you offer, the more confusing it can get for your readers. Make your feed subscription link go to a feed page listing your various feed options neatly categorized, inviting the reader to choose which ones they wish to follow in their feed reader.

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  1. By Fern posted on August 7, 2008 at 3:20 pm
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    I think you’re overestimating the tech savvy of many blog readers outside of the tech niches. I have “add to Google” and “add to Yahoo” chiclets because a lot of people who read my blog don’t know what RSS is and think “subscribing” costs money.

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  2. By Mary McLean posted on August 11, 2008 at 2:05 am
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    Most of the bloggers like simplicity, Even I like simplicity
    To reduce this blog clutter I just use a single RSS entries button in my blog.

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  3. By Sue posted on September 10, 2008 at 7:14 pm
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    Hi Lorelle,
    I’d like to offer my blog readers the ability to subscribe to the feed with their IM account. Do you know of a WordPress plugin which facilitates RSS to IM?
    Thanks,
    Sue

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  4. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on September 10, 2008 at 8:09 pm
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    @ Sue:

    IM? Instant Messaging? I don’t understand what you are asking. Do you want blog post release information coming across an Instant Messaging service? Or is this a new service with an inconvenient set of initials? :D

    If the service permits feeds, then you just put the feed in the service’s feed option. If it doesn’t, then I don’t know how you would get it in there. What you maybe looking for is something from the IM service not WordPress.

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  5. By Sue posted on September 11, 2008 at 11:59 am
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    Lorelle,
    Yes, I would like to enable a rasasa-type feature for my WP blog, where blog readers could receive instant messages as a feed. I’d like them to be able to do this in WP rather than going to an external service, if possible. The person subscribing would supply their IM platform and user id, and the feeds would get directly delivered to them as an IM.
    Thanks!
    Sue

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  6. By Jamie Allsop posted on September 24, 2009 at 2:27 pm
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    Thanks for the interesting post. I like simple and clear layouts and would only use one or two feed icons on my blog.

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