Vetoing FeedBurner

I’ve been a fan of FeedBurner for a long time. Going all the way back to the early days at b5media when they were a good company. Then they sold out to Google, and I warned any who would listen exactly who they would become. It was denied, though (most likely in good faith), and then they went down hill. Since the Google acquisition, they have slowly ported over to Google servers and infrastructure – an enhancement that was supposed to help. I can honestly not say if it has or it hasn’t. What I do know is that they are not noticeably better.

Then, of course, they had an outage today.

I’d call that the equivalent of calling out sick on the third day of a new job.

In the next 30 days, I have decided to remove all of my content from FeedBurner. They no longer have my vote of confidence, nor do I trust their competence. It’s probably a management thing more than technical. Much of the same team is still in place as was prior to the Google acquisition. You know, when they were good.

Please ensure that, if you subscribe to this feed using a feed reader (You really should use a feed reader… it does make blog reading so much easier. Despite my clear disdain for Google in this matter, I swear by Google Reader), you are subscribed to

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http://technosailor.com/feed

For the time, this URL redirects to FeedBurner, but it will soon not and you don’t want to lose the feed subscription.

For a very long time, we have needed a viable alternative to FeedBurner. I don’t think we need all the bling that FeedBurner offered necessarily. But we do need an alternative to FeedBurner that will take a feed, normalize it for the most feed readers, provide some insight around readership (such as number of subscribers) and an extensible framework/API for using and publishing that data.

I’d very much like to talk to anyone who is developing options around this concept.

Google Predicting the Future?

Geeks among us will recognize the term “chaos theory”. It is a highly philisophical, and yet scientifically unproven, theory of physics that says, among other things, that there is a natural order to the universe that cannot be observed directly, but can be seen in patterns. Popularly known as the Butterfly Effect, it theorizes that though there appears a dissonance and disorder in nature, nature actually behaves in an orderly and predictable way. Examples of chaos can be seen in weather, the flow of currents and even the natural cycle of economic conditions. Though no two iterations of an event happen exactly as they happened before, there is a pattern that is distinguishable if charted or mapped.

Ike Pigott requested my input on a theory he floated last night on his blog. The theory is that Google, in their attempt to meet their stated mission of “organizing the world’s information”, is attempting to predict the future. He framed his argument around the dissolution of many Google services over the past week, in an effort to economically streamline their business and Steve Rubel’s prediction that their Google Reader product is next on the chopping block.

Ike’s argument was that, through Google’s monitoring and recording of key behavioral patterns – such as reading and sharing of stories, commenting, time of engagement, and subscriber base numbers – that Google is able to create a massive database over time that “learns” the patterns of human information engagement. With these patterns (and a nod to Chaos Theory), Google can accurately predict a large number of events, or cultural shifts before they come to be. Additionally, as the only owner of multiple copies of the internet in their massive server farms, Google positions itself to be the one and only benefactor of such information. It could be argued that “the Machine is among us” (in another nod to common science fiction themes),

It has long been my assertation that the tendency of the internet world to easily trust and adopt to Google efforts is a dangerous precedent to set. Increasingly, people rely on Google for mail, calendaring and even productivity. New bloggers tend to setup blogs on Google-owned Blogger and the saturation of video content is due, in no small part, to Youtube. Why? Because Google makes products that are easy and ease of use is more important than virtually any other factor that consumers might think of.

Without raising the alarm bells, folks should be cognizant about entrusting Google with all of their data. Personally, I use Gmail, FeedBurner, YouTube and other services, but the data is yours and should be diversified as much as possible.

Question of the Day: Is this theory of future prediction fact or fiction, good will or conspiracy? Isaac Asimov outlined the rules for robots in his book I, Robot:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Food for thought.

Feed Subscriptions Are So Important

When I left b5media, I had established a base of over 1300 feed subscribers on this blog. I was proud of that because, let’s face it, if you aren’t a news site breaking news all the time, people are not as inclined to subscribe to a feed.

The feed at that time was hosted via FeedBurner with whom the network had an enterprise account with. As a member blog of b5media, and one of the folks that tested and pushed FeedBurner on the network, my blog was one of the first hosted under their CNAME policy. The CNAME policy allowed us to brand feeds with b5media (http://feeds.b5media.com as opposed to http://feeds.feedburner.com).

Obviously, I had some branding concerns to deal with and I contacted FeedBurner for a solution that would allow me to take control of my feed and retain the subscriber base I had established over a period of time.

FB: Simple. We can transfer it under your Feedburner account if you’d like
Me: Yeah, let’s do that.
FB: Oh wait, your feed is under the Feedburner Ad Network and so because of financial logistics involved with b5media owning that feed URI, we cannot transfer it. But, you can burn a new feed, delete the old and use 30 day redirection to send people to the new feed.
Me: Okay, that makes sense.

And off I went. I burned the new feed, deleted the old with redirection, and looked at numbers over the next few days. My feed subscribers had dropped to almost a third of what they were (down to about 400 subscribers).

By the time I realized that I had been nipped in the bud by the CNAME issue, it was too late and all those subscribers were gone with no way to communicate to them about re-subscription.

Over the past 3 months, I have rebuilt to around 850 – still a large distance from where I was, but slowly getting there. If you haven’t re-subscribed yet, please do so now.

Takeaways

Feeds are our bread and butter in blogging. Knowing that there are people subscribed to a blog, provides direct value to bloggers. It helps us understand the dissemination of our content and the reach of our audience. We value page-views, obviously, but feed subscriptions may be the most tangible metric of actual reach available.

When you find a blogger that you enjoy, vote with your feet (or clicking finger) and add their blog to Google Reader or one of the other many feed readers (most of which are free). We really do appreciate it. It makes us feel that the work we’re putting in is actually making a difference.

Other feeds that we provide:

Google Cannot Fix Twitter

Jeff Jarvis thinks that only Google can fix Twitter’s woes.

Google hasn’t fixed Blogger since acquiring it in 2003. In fact, it’s a spam sieve full of usability issues and lack of innovation. Meanwhile, Movable Type and WordPress keep plugging away at innovative approaches to blogging platforms.

They haven’t innovated on Jaiku since acquiring the Twitter competitor late last year. Jaiku-since-Google is largely a FAIL, though it might still be too early on this.

Feedburner has become thoroughly Googlefied, going from one of the easiest, brightest and best companies to work with to arguably the worst of all the Google properties. Responsiveness has dipped to near nothing. Innovation has ceased. And I knew it was going to happen, but was soundly told that I was smoking crack, or something to that effect.

Google is not a sexy company. At all. They know how to do innovative things that I liken to trinket teasers. Others might call it “Shiny toy syndrome”.

Microsoft is also, not an innovator, to be fair. Their Windows product is largely a conglomeration of technologies inspired or directly acquired from other companies. Their was a Novell Netware long before there was an Active Directory, for instance.

Not the point.

Jeff, besides the feel-good story that Google reuniting with Evan Williams, the creator of Blogger and now Twitter, what can you point to that aligns well for a Google acquisition of Twitter? There’s not a lot of evidence that Twitter will be better if acquired by Google. Sure, it’ll probably be more “up” than down, but really… Google?

Operation: 1000 Subscribers

There is a major milestone approaching here at Technosailor, and since I don’t really feel like writing anything of any real substance tonight, I figure now would be a good time to point out that we are approaching 1000 RSS subscribers here at Technosailor. In fact, I’ve made it easier than ever to subscribe to three different feeds here at Technosailor – the English language feed (which is also the main one), the Spanish language feed, and my Google Reader Shared Items feed – by providing those options in the sidebar.

Notably, however, I’m also displaying how many active subscribers there are (according to FeedBurner) in the sidebar as well. For me, it will be a monumental milestone when I break that elusive 1000 subscriber number. Help me get there if you aren’t already subscribed. :)

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.

Open Letter to Google, Feedburner

Dear Google Executives:

I think it’s very interesting how you have chosen to acquire FeedBurner. I think it’s a wonderful investment for you as you can further solidify your offerings.

For instance, you’ll have more reach into feeds to push your Google ads via the FeedBurner Ad Network. For you, this is a fantastic opportunity.

As your mission is to index all the data in the world, to have a window into feeds and how those feeds are consumed in a multiplicity of environments is literally huge. We know that publishers aggregate their feeds and collection of feeds in a variety of different ways, so for you, this is good.

From a platform perspective, your relatively powerful invasion into data presentation with so many major accounts like Dow Jones, AOL and even b5media is nothing but genius.

I write this letter to you, though, as an account holder. Not just an account holder, but an Enterprise account holder. b5media currently powers over 200 blogs through your newly acquired service. We use it to aggregate channel feeds and power various aspects of our network.

FeedBurner is an important partner. Google, however, has not historically been a good partner and Jeremy is even offering a cash prize to anyone who can show us differently. Chad also tells us why he hates Adsense. Granted, this has been on the advertising front, but forgive me if I remain skeptical.

You are effectively taking over our entire feed platform and there’s not really a lot that would prevent us from creating our own feed platform. b5media has historically created things when we find we’re not happy with what’s already out there, so I’m not averse to doing it again.

We can certainly enhance what FeedBurner already offers us in terms of API. The problem is that we have a great relationship with FeedBurner. I feel like we work in the same building regularly. We know these guys. We know you too. Frankly, I’m concerned.

The standard line provided by corporate marketing folks at this point is to assure the customer base that “nothing will change”. I appreciate the fact that that is your job, but really time will tell. I want to trust you, Google. I want to believe that you are not evil, but you have to show me something or I don’t mind considering alternatives.

We start all over. Square one. Day one. Make me trust you.

-Aaron Brazell

P.S. Steve Fisher sees the FeedBurner exit as quite a good example for entrepreneurs.

P.S.S. Andy Beard tells us the 7 good things and 7 bad things about this acquisition. In fact, Digg him.

My Calendar Mashup

Here’s a mashup I just instituted here at Technosailor after some months of trying to figure out how to do it. First, the premise though.

I keep everything calendar related in iCal on my Mac. That is my point of origin and that is non-negotiable. I also need to have my stuff on my Blackberry as well as Google Calendar, because I share several of my calendars with my wife who uses Google Calendar. I am able to sync my Blackberry with iCal in a pretty straightforward way using PocketMac for Blackberry. The problem always came in keeping my Google Calendar automatically updated with iCal.

I tried several things. Gcalsync was a Blackberry application I tried that I hoped would sync the Blackberry Calendar with Google but I could never get it to work the way it was supposed to. There were always java libraries missing or something. Then, Scrybe looked promising but as of this date, I have yet to hear anything more on its development or when and if it will be released. I waited for awhile until Spanning Sync came around. This was sweet and the missing link in my calendar problems.

I downloaded the application and setup syncing between my FIVE calendars and five Google calendars and have been monitoring it for about two weeks now. Everything is getting sent to Google Calendar every half hour like I wanted.

Now the trick was getting my Google Calendar into my blog. Google has this obsession with Atom feeds that I can’t explain and the native WordPress feed parsing library, magpie, doesn’t have Atom ability in the version that is bundled. I could hack something together with SimplePie or some other feed parsing library but I’ll admit to being lazy and not wanting to do it. So I didn’t.

Yesterday afternoon, however, during my podcast with Rick Klau (to be released on Monday), I realized that Feedburner could supply the last little bit of magic I needed. A feature that came out of their Hack Days was the Event Feed under the Publicize tab. It could turn any calendar feed into a chronologically ordered, future-dated only event feed. Then with Buzzboost, under Publicize > Buzzboost, I could grab code necessary to display the HTML rendering of that feed on my blog.

So, using that, I am now displaying my Public Appearances calendar in the sidebar of this blog. While everything is getting a bit cluttered over there, I expect to make more prominent use of this ditty in my future theme that is being developed.

Tell me what you think and if you think this feature could be useful for you.

Feedburner Releases Site Stats Package

This morning, Feedburner announced that they have added Site Stats to all feeds. There is no fee necessary and is available to any Feedburner feed, regardless of Pro Stats status. Of course, the service must be activated (Under Analyze > Site Stats) and takes some time to collect data (A small piece of javascript must be added to websites to collect data).

The Feedburner stats package comes from Blogbeat, which was acquired by Feedburner earlier this year.

For foundry account folders, it is still not possible to activate the service en masse.

As you may recall from my previous post about Feedburner, I like it when they apply API to their services. When asked whether Site Stats has API, Rick Klau said:


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<cue rel="standard response">Not at this time, no</cue>

<cue rel="forwardLookingStatement">stay tuned</cue>

I am staying tuned.