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.

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:

Feed Updates

This weekend has been filled with lots of sprucing up and shifting around of various portions of this blog. The navigation has been streamlined. Author bios have been added to every post. The about page is less about me and more about the writers and content here. And there has been some feed shifting.

Currently, there are five feeds you should know about:

  • Technosailor Feed – This feed contains all content except Spanish and Photoblog content
  • Venture Files – This is all Venture Files content written by Steven Fisher
  • Spanish Feed – All spanish content has been removed from the main feed by request of readers. It can be found in the separate feed. All content is written by Carlos Granier-Phelps.
  • Photoblog – This category is an experiment and an educational opportunity to highlight one of my photos in each post. As I’m a rookie photographer, posting each one provides me an opportunity to learn from others. The feed is not completely functional at the moment as the photo itself is not being included in the feed.
  • Google Shared Items are the items I find in my Google Reader that I find interesting and have decided to share with you

Though I’d like to think the feed shuffling happened transparently, I’m thinking there may have been problems. So if you’re concerned or have questions, just make sure you have the correct feed. And thanks for reading.

Organic Feed Reading

There is so much information shooting around on these interwebs that sometimes I have a hard time keeping track of all the conversations I want or need to be a part of.

Yes, of course I use Google Alerts to do vanity searches on my name, but I’ve found that in the past three or four months, I’ve got more value out of subscribing to search feeds. Now I search for everything – particularly on Google Blog Search. I’ve put much less focus on subscribing to individual site feeds (though I do that too), and instead search keywords and track them around the blogosphere. Actually, it’s been a fantastic way of keeping track of conversations and making sure I’d know about the conversations I need to be in.

I could see PR folks making use of search feed aggregation more than site feed aggregation. Do you use search feeds? Do you use them a lot? Have they begun to take up a significant portion of your reading patterns?

In case you don’t know how to get search feeds from Google Blog Search, this video demonstrates how.

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.

Feed Issues

Excuse the feed refreshes/wonkiness you may have seen here at Technosailor in the past 2 hours. I had to nail down an issue that was affecting HTML being stripped from feeds. It’s all resolved now. Carry on as you were. Anyone who is curious the culprit? PodPress 7.3 was stripping tags a little too aggressively from feeds. PodPress 7.4 has been released and fixes the issue.