RSS/Atom Feed Best Practices

I'm an avid user of RSS/Atom feeds.

Several years ago, I developed a system for downloading full-text RSS/Atom feeds from 40 online magazines that allowed me to craft targeted questions for my interviews. I also developed a platform for journalism conservation that featured a serious full-text search engine.

Currently, I have 399 technical blogs in a feed reader for everything from game design to automated testing.

I've encountered bad practices aplenty, such as integration issues that regularly knock feeds offline or effectively offline, or paying zero attention to the design and formatting of feed content. But there are two bad practices among the worst that are nearly universal:

  • Delivering excerpts-only content; and
  • Delivering a limited number of recent articles.

Editorial conceits: For this piece, I will use the term "publisher" to refer to both amateur bloggers and commercial publishers. I will use the term "business" to refer to the organization that extracts value from content. I will use a first-person voice to address publishers specifically. I will also assume that publishers share analytics and advertising goals.

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The World Behind the Curtains

I have not Googled my books in years, but after watching Oprah's speech at the Golden Globes, I decided to see if anyone still cared about the work I did. I chanced upon an interview with The Minds Behind the Games author Patrick Hickey Jr. who mentioned my first book Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play. He was asked to compare his book with mine.

RetroGaming Books: Compared to Gamers at Work by Morgan Ramsay, what makes Minds Behind the Games different?

Hickey: I love Ramsay's book. But it's all pioneers in the industry. There are no "bad" games featured. Or cult games. And zero indie titles. My book takes pieces of every single genre, has developers from all over the world and several female developers. I don't think there is one featured in GAW. All lend their voice to the discussion.

If you're like me and in your 30s, this book touches on nearly every stage of your life, your childhood with the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System, to today with the PlayStation 4. Several of the games featured in my book have large communities of gamers that love and hate them but don't know why. Some of the games featured in my book you may not know, but you’ll run to after reading.

So, ultimately, my book is different from Gamers at Work because it doesn't just give you interviews with people you already know and respect; it introduces you to developers you should know and tells you why you should respect what they did for this industry.

I disagree with his assessment of the differences; he has some facts wrong. There are women represented. There are indie developers. There are cult games. There are "bad" games. There is genre and platform diversity. There are unknown and controversial figures.

But I think this question was a trap. Hickey was asked to compare apples and oranges.

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In Defense of the Press Release

Dean Takahashi, lead games writer at VentureBeat and author of Xbox 360 Uncloaked, lamented on Facebook that publicists are sending out less press releases.

I detect a trend where PR firms are no longer bothering to write press releases. That's hip with the times. But I find they're writing blog posts instead. Or sending over slide decks. Or arranging Webex briefings. And sending white papers. This is not an improvement because it doesn't get me the most important information quickly.

In this post, I will discuss how we arrived here, and reason why public relations agencies are wrong to discontinue the production and distribution of press releases.

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The Three Types of Cofounder

There are three types of cofounder:

  1. Legitimate cofounders, who have invested blood, sweat, and tears, and time, treasure, and talent, toward building their companies from day one;
  2. Honorary cofounders, who are granted the title by the legitimate founder or cofounders as part of a strategy to leverage the reputation of a prominent individual to raise capital, secure coverage, or otherwise add strategic value; and
  3. Shameless liars, who are usually early employees but sometimes employees who are quite far from being among the first. They independently lay claim to being cofounders to elevate their status and advance their own interests.

Over the years, I have asked and interviewed some entrepreneurs about the latter.

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Interviewing Entrepreneurs

Most startups, especially small enterprises, are immensely personal endeavors. Entrepreneurs feel the tremendous weight of every decision. While the right moves at the very least bring about one more day in business, a single wrong move can spell disaster for the people involved.

And, yet, startups are treated by outsiders, especially the financial press, politicians, and critics, as paths to equitable returns, engines of innovation, or symbols of corporate greed. When interviewing founders, one should remember what they, as human beings, have sacrificed, or will sacrifice, for not just success but their dreams.

Here are some of the best questions to ask entrepeneurs…

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The State of the Interview

In my last post, I called out Pulitzer Prize winner Alex Haley and his 1966 interview in which he was able to capture the time and place through not only his first questions but his 547-word narrative introduction to "the fanatical führer of the American Nazi Party," partially quoted below. The final Q&A itself was comprised of 117 questions and weighed in 11,712 words.

Warned about my Negritude, he registered no surprise nor did he smile, speak or offer to shake hands. Instead, after surveying me up and down for a long moment, he motioned me peremptorily to a seat, then sat down himself in a nearby easy chair and watched silently while I set up my tape machine. Rockwell already had one of his own, I noticed, spinning on a nearby table. Then, with the burly guard standing at attention about halfway between us, he took out a pearl-handled revolver, placed it pointedly on the arm of his chair, sat back and spoke for the first time: "I'm ready if you are." Without any further pleasantries, I turned on my machine.

Nevermind the interview; the introduction alone is longer than many articles today. Wow!

In this post, I discuss the state of the interview, specifically the longform interview, and why I think the conversations we are having with celebrities are getting shorter.

I believe there are three main reasons:

  • there is less space because there is more content overall;
  • there is less money coming into publishers, so there is less money going out to writers; and
  • many publishers and editors thumb their noses at the Q&A.

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Interviews in History: Alex Haley

Playboy has published many of the greatest celebrity interviews of all time since September 1962, starting with an interview by Alex Haley with jazz legend Miles Davis. Having set the stage for generations to come, Haley became one of the best interviewers in history.

Alex Haley (right) on the cover of Time magazine (February 4, 1977)

I highly recommend Haley's tense interview with the infamous George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, one year before Rockwell's murder.

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