Jon Udell has an idea:
Authors should think of the first HTML element (normally a paragraph, but could be a list or a blockquote or something else) as special: the lead, or deck, that will appear in a front-page view.
If you write every entry so that the first block-level element is also a summary of your post, then an aggregator can use that as a teaser. If you subscribe mostly to big-J journalists’ blogs, especially journalists “of a certain age,” of course you already have that: once you get in the habit of writing inverted pyramid leads it seems like the natural way to write. However, there’s a whole lot more to blogs than essays written by journalists.
I’m trying to picture an inverted pyramid lead for Steve’s To Furnace With Love, but I just can’t see it working.
Also problematic: Jon probably thinks that the first block-level element of his post is the intro to the blockquote, the blockquote, and the ‘graph afterward. Not so. Blockquote’s a block-level element, so there’s an implied </p> before the blockquote, and his lead for that post is nothing more than:
In his essay Birth of the NewsMaster, Robin Good writes:.
There is an alternative, however. Jon concludes by saying:
By the way, in case it isn’t obvious, the RSS/Atom controversy is irrelevant to this discussion. Actually, it is relevant. For I don’t know how long, maybe 18 months, my RSS feed has had a hand-written excerpt in the <description> element, and the full content of the post in the <content:encoded> element. Anyone who wanted to could build an aggregator that used my excerpt in a broad-brush overview display, and the full content in a detail view. And with a little searching around, they could hard-code it to display the dozen or so other feeds that do it that way. Unfortunately, since an RSS <description> is whatever someone happens to want to put in it, from a few words to tease people looking at My.Netscape in 1999 to an onslaught of HTML-soup, there’s just no way you can write an aggregator that will behave well trying to treat <description> as a description. atom:summary and atom:content? Unless they get debased by too many autogenerated excerpts and full-content that doesn’t belong, you’ll know just what they are: a short summary for your overview view, and the content for your detail view.
Yeah, I’m trying to force people to write my way, too, wanting them to write an excerpt for anything that’s too long to be self-excerpting, but I bet I’ll have better luck getting them to add a separate field than Jon will getting them to change the way they write their actual posts.