I’ve harped on about this before, but I firmly believe that when you publish a URL on the web then it should be permanent. Of course you might want to change the way that your site is set up at some point in the future, but when you do that you should do everything you can to ensure that visitors using the old URLs are seamlessly redirected to the new URL.
And this is true of any kind of URL. It’s not just web pages. The same is true of the URLs of your web feeds. Many people who read your web feeds won’t check that they’re still reading the correct address. They’ll usually just assume that you’re still publishing the feed to the same place. Perhaps I’m not typical, but I subscribe to almost 200 feeds in Bloglines. If one of those feeds goes quiet, it could be weeks before I notice the problem and investigate what has happened.
When I was talking about the problems with the new Sun RSS feeds last year, I mentioned in passing that they had lost a lot of subscribers by just moving them to new URLs, but Martin covered it in more detail.
In the last few days, I’ve seen three instances of the same thing happening. Three places where a web feed just stopped working. Only one of them bothered to tell their users what was going one.
Firstly, I noticed that I was no longer getting updates from my MP’s web site. When I investigated further I found that they had redesigned the site and the URL for the feed had changed. Now I don’t expect my MP or his staff to understand stuff like this. But I expect they paid a lot of money to the people who redesigned the site. It would have been nice to think they were getting their money’s worth.
Secondly, this morning the BBC Doctor Who news site told me that it was moving (again, due to a redesign and change of technology). In this case they told their readers to resubscribe to the new feed, but a simple web redirection could have made it seamless. As a big Doctor Who fan, Martin has also covered this in some detail. I expect the BBC’s web department to have the experience to know that this is a really bad way to handle the move.
And finally, this afternoon I noticed that I wasn’t getting any news from BoingBoing. I only noticed this because I had submitted a story to them and was looking to see if it had been published. Like the BBC web group, the people behind BoingBoing should really know what they are doing and shouldn’t make such basic mistakes.
I think that web feeds are a great tool. They enable me to regularly read far more data from the web than I did before I used them. But it’s clear that many web site owners are publishing them because everyone else is doing it and they don’t really understand how important they are.
Update: Another one. Today (May 1st) I see that the Telegraph have moved all of their RSS feeds. At least the dropped a message about it into the old feed. But haven’t these people heard of URL redirection?