A few days ago, Amy Gahran posted on her Contentious Weblog (no, I don't mean it's an unfriendly weblog, that's the blog's title) a response to Google's sending a cease-and-desist to someone who'd been providing a service to convert Google News searches to RSS. As much as I'd love to see RSS feeds of Google News, I have to admit, I understand their position. So today, I'll write a counterpoint to my esteemed fellow blogger's post.

OK, here are a few basics I wish news publishers and aggregators really would understand about RSS feeds....

OK, here are the reasons why I don't expect Google to be convinced to provide or allow RSS feeds:

1. People want RSS feeds! ... For very good reasons. ... RSS is a much more organized and time-efficient way to keep up with what's new online. And it's spam-proof.

1. People want everything for free. Google has figured out how to make money by providing free web searching, so it makes business sense to do that. But how are they going to make money with free RSS feeds? Once there's a good answer to that, Google will probably give people what they want.

2. Every online publisher can, and should, offer RSS feeds.

2. I agree, because I can see how RSS feeds can be used by online publishers to increase revenue. But since Google isn't the publisher of the news--clicking a headline takes you to the site the news came from, not Google News--I don't know that this applies to them. If Google made their own feed and clicking it did take you to Google's site for the full articles, then sure, it would make sense to have a feed. But what would it take to make that happen? Google would have to have agreements, probably involving lots of money, with each news publisher whose news they syndicated. Google would have to make lots of money off the service to make that worth it. And they'd probably drop a lot of small news sites that you can currently find through Google News.

3. If you don't offer RSS feeds, don't punish people who create them for you! If ... some programmer has gone and created an independent feed for your site, ... [t]hey are delivering readers, and ultimately Web traffic, that you would otherwise lose as your audience increasingly turns to RSS.

3. This goes back to the previous point. If the scraped RSS feed brings readers to Google's site, then I agree. But if it circumvents your site (which was that case with the service that was cease-and-desisted), then it's stealing readers, not delivering them.

4. It's more about audience than syndication. ... syndication (re-displaying feed content on other sites) is only one way that RSS feeds can be used - and I strongly doubt that it's anywhere near the major usage. ... When most people subscribe to an RSS feed, they're doing so in order to view it in their personal feed reader, so they can easily find out what new content you're offering.

4. Two responses here: First, I have no idea what the ratio is of syndicaters to personal readers, but I've seen quite a few people syndicating Google News in one way or another. Amy is probably right that more people are using their personal readers. But the point still stands that the feed wasn't bringing people to Google News (except in the event that they decided to go to Google News to search for something else).

Google scrapes content from virtually every site on the Web, ... and displays it on its own site. ... Google does not own the content that they scrape, nor do they ask permission to scrape it. No one complains because everyone wants their sites to be indexed in Google. ... The Google News service scrapes headlines and summaries from more than 4500 news sources. Does Google News have licensing agreements with each of these news sources to acquire and display this content? It's possible, but I strongly doubt it.

This is true. But there ar a few other points worth bringing up.

A. From the "about Google News" page:

I work for a news organization. We have some questions regarding our news content and the Google News service.

Please contact us at news-feedback@google.com. We're pleased to work with individual publishers to ensure their content is appropriately represented in Google News.

They probably didn't ask permission, but if they're asked to stop, it looks like they will.

B. Everyone wants Google scraping their site, because they benefit from that happening. Google doesn't benefit from scraped RSS feeds, so they don't want it.

C. Each news site that Google scrapes makes a small contribution to the whole that Google News publishes. Google News contributes 99% of the RSS feed scraped from them (converting to RSS adds the other 1%...okay, maybe it's not 99 and 1, but close enough--without an excellent news service, the feed would be worthless). Referring to the fair use doctrine in copyright law, whether a particular use of copyrighted material infringes is partly based on how much of the whole derivative work comes from the copyrighted material and/or how much of the copyrighted material is reproduced. That may not apply directly in this case, but the concept does.

At the end of the day, for Google, it's all about what makes good business sense, and rightly so. If we can figure out how RSS could enhance not only the end user's experience, but also their bottom line, then it will be time for them to publish and/or allow a feed.

I look forward to reading the next post from Amy's excellent blog. I'm glad she offers it via RSS.