Google Reader Stats Still Pretty Useless

Did you know this blog has only 7 subscribers? Me neither. In facts, I’m solidly in the 800 subscriber range according to all authoritative stats on such things. However, Google Reader is reporting 7 subscribers. Keep in mind that these are subscribers to a feed using Google Reader, so expect some skew. But a 793+ subscriber skew is beyond a skew and more in the neighborhood of Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky”.

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Oh wait, I have 55 subscribers to my Atom feed as well. Doesn’t really matter since all my feeds redirect to my FeedBurner feed anyway. How are these feeds different? Why doesn’t Google Reader respect 301 redirection which explicitly says “this feed no longer exists and is moved to this other location” (i.e. FeedBurner). Web browsers and in fact search engines including Google see this standard code and respect it. Google and the search engines purge all references to the old URL and index the new one. Browsers don’t cache 301’d pages. Yet Google Reader is handling all these feeds as different feeds. Why?

If you look at Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble’s posts where are they are fruitlessly frittering away at trying to track the nuances of these numbers, you’ll notice a couple more problems with this whole Google Reader subscriber number problem.

Everyone is having to tally up subscriptions. Why can’t it be boiled down by host names for a total. And even worse, Mashable does an uber-nice hatchet job on the stats pointing out that many of the top blogs are top blogs because they are default feeds in feed readers.

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Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

3 thoughts on “Google Reader Stats Still Pretty Useless”

  1. Aaron, now if you had read my article yesterday, you would realise that the atom subscribers reported are from people subscribing with a javascript bookmarklet.

    When you click the GR subscription button, Google Reader displays the following in the toolbar.

    http://www.google.com/reader/view/feed/http%3A%2F%2Ftechnosailor.com%2Ffeed%2Frdf%2F#stream/feed%2Fhttp%3A%2F%2Ftechnosailor.com%2Ffeed%2Frdf%2F

    Far from being a bad thing, this can be quite useful

  2. I think that investigating and then accounting for the nuances of this and other data sources is useful for those who want to understand the business side of blogging.

    A manual trackback: Excellent point about the 301 redirect. I linked here from my roundup post, adding an alternate way to search, details on counting multiple feeds, and other bugs & hidden features. Subsequent posts covered Mashable’s critique and added a “long tail” chart.

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