Is It Finally Time To Dump Feedburner? All Subscriptions Go To Zero...

Is it finally time to suck it up and dump Google's Feedburner for RSS feeds?

The writing has been on the wall for quite a long time that Google doesn't really care about Feedburner. There haven't been any substantive updates to the service in years and in fact they've removed services and integrations.

Tonight Dave Delaney posted an update to Facebook that let us know that Feedburner's stats were now showing 0 subscribers for all his feeds. I logged in and sure enough...

My Feeds

I can't find any mention of an outage or issue on Google's pages... and so we have no clue whether this is a temporary transient outage - or whether this is a sign of a further decline in Feedburner's service.

I'm one who has continued using Feedburner for most of my sites, in part just out of sheer inertia (i.e. having many other things I want to do that take higher priority to fixing things that aren't broken) but also because I've liked the service provided by Feedburner, particularly around statistics. I've tried other services (although not in the last year) and hadn't really found anything that gave as good a view into who is probably reading your feed.

Obviously I can just start promoting the raw RSS feeds that are the ones I added to Feedburner... but they don't give a sense of how many subscribers they may be.

But if the statistics are no longer working, then perhaps there is no longer a reason to stay at Feedburner... and so maybe I do have to actually make the time to make the move.

What do you all think? If you used to use Feedburner and don't, what are you using as a replacement?


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Why does Facebook only let you import ONE blog/RSS feed?

Why does Facebook only let you import ONE feed from a blog or other site? Do they not think that you might have more than one RSS feed you want to import?

Forgetting for a moment Facebook's draconian Terms of Service (which can be summarized quite simply as "ALL your content belongs to us - forever and always." (I wrote about this a year ago or so.)), let's say you do want to import in posts from your blog. This is quite simple (once you can find the Import tab):

facebookimport.jpg

Click on the "Blog/RSS" link, enter in the URL for your feed and... ta da... your blog posts start being imported as Notes into Facebook. Now all your friends who view the world through the lens of Facebook can also see the content you are writing outside of the Facebook walls.

But what if you have more than one RSS feed you want to import?

Oops.

No can do. You get exactly one "Blog/RSS" feed to import.

So what if you are someone like me who writes in a half a dozen different places (also here and here)? Sorry, but you're out of luck.

Your options are really to either: 1) only import one of your various blogs, which is what I have been doing to date; or 2) create an aggregated feed of your blogs and import that.

For #2, you then must go off and create that aggregated feed using Yahoo Pipes, Friendfeed or any of the zillion other services out there. I recently decided to look at this again and immediately thought of my FriendFeed feed at friendfeed.com/danyork since I already use that service to aggregate my online writing.

The problem is that the way I use Friendfeed is as a giant fire hose that aggregates everything I write or publish publicly online. This includes duplicate items such as my twitter and identi.ca feeds (which are usually, but not always, the same). Pointing Facebook to my Friendfeed feed would wind up with all sorts of duplicate material entering Facebook (especially as someday in here I'll sort out the Facebook <-> Twitter infinite loop I've created and get the interconnect happening there again).

Now in Friendfeed you can "hide" certain items from a feed from someone else... but I've not figured out a way in Friendfeed to do that in a feed of your own. So, naturally, my kludgey solution today was to:

  • Create a second Friendfeed account and keep it a private account.
  • Subscribe it only to my main Friendfeed account.
  • Hide the various things in my main feed that I don't want to see (i.e. Twitter, identi.ca)
  • Take the resulting RSS feed from this second Friendfeed account and give that to Facebook to import.

Ta da... blog-only aggregation accomplished in about 5-10 minutes of mouse-clicking.

But what a kludge! (And yes, I could have probably done this even simpler in half a dozen other sites...)

Wouldn't it be so much nicer if Facebook was like Friendfeed and let you import any number of RSS feeds? Take a look at this view of my Friendfeed page:

friendfeedsubs.jpg

All the nice orange RSS icons are for various different feeds I'm importing. Why couldn't Facebook do something like that? It would be great if they would... and probably would result in more content being brought into Facebook (and helping in their continued battle for world domination. :-)

What do you think? What do you do if you have more than one blog or feed you want to import into Facebook? Or do you only have one blog? Or are you avoiding importing anything into Facebook because of their hideous Terms of Service?


If you enjoyed this post, please consider either subscribing to the RSS feed or following me on Twitter or identi.ca.


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Anyone know how to make Facebook Notes import an RSS feed and have it look nice?

Anyone know who to import a RSS feed into Facebook's Notes component and not have it look horrible? Or is this a WordPress issue?

Recently, we created a Voxeo "Page" inside of Facebook and then I edited the settings for the Notes component to have it import the RSS feed for blogs.voxeo.com. Unfortunately, the result looks rather horrid from a visual perspective:

facebooknotesrssimport-voxeo.jpg

What are all those HTML character entities doing there? Shouldn't Facebook interpret them correctly as the appropriate characters?

I wonder, though, if this is a WordPress (or WordPress MU) issue. When I look over at my Facebook profile and my Notes page, I also import a RSS feed there, but it's for this Disruptive Conversations blog that is hosted on TypePad. So a different blogging platform is generating the RSS feed. And the Notes page displays fine. In the image below, I've underlined (thank you, Skitch!) characters that are causing problems in the Voxeo feed:

facebooknotesrssimport-typepad.jpg

So given this, I'm inclined to think that WPMU might be overly aggressive in converting characters to HTML character entities. But wouldn't you think Facebook should be able to properly render those character entities?

Any suggestions on what I can do here? (Thanks in advance.)

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FriendFeed's bug with lumping blog entries together

I've been experimenting a bit with FriendFeed and so far find it quite intriguing, for reasons I'll write about in another post. (Those of you who are already FriendFeed users can subscribe to my page if you wish.)

However, one little detail that I can't seem to find anywhere on their site is - how do you report bugs? I'm guessing it's the "Everything else" on their contacts page, but since I don't want to email in images, I'll post a blog entry and email the link.

So, friendfeed folks, consider this my bug report! I have added the RSS feeds of 5 different blogs to my own friend feed. When I space out my blog postings over time, the posts correctly appear individually in my friendfeed saying "posted a blog post on (blog name)". All is good.

friendfeedglitch.jpgHowever, when I have several blog posts across multiple blogs, the algorithm to collect the data for the friendfeed seems to take the name of the first blog in the title. For instance, as shown in the image to the right, it says "posted three blog posts on Voice of VOIPSA" but in fact only the first post was in "Voice of VOIPSA". The other two were on "Speaking of Standards" and "Disruptive Conversations".

Now perhaps the FriendFeed designers weren't thinking that someone might post rapidly across multiple blogs. The reality is that most times I don't. Today was an exception. I'm not entirely sure how the FriendFeed folks should solve this issue. On the one hand, they could simply put in a new "posted a blog post on (blog)" for each blog. Or they could say "posted three new blog posts" and leave off the blog names if the blogs are different.

All I do know is that this current way doesn't work well. I had a momentary gasp when I read the FeedFriend page and thought that I'd posted the piece about Obama Facebook ads to the VOIPSA blog! (After a quick check of my MarsEdit window my heart rate dropped back down to normal. :-) I would suggest the FriendFeed folks fix this somehow.

My second suggestion to the FriendFeed folks would be to somehow more clearly indicate how we are supposed to report bugs. (Or clue me in to something on the site that I missed.)

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Allen Stern: Would You Pay $1 For A Feed?

Over on his Center Networks blog, Allen Stern asks a reasonable question: Would You Pay $1 For A Feed?

"What if blogs and journals offered a full feed for $1 per month with no ads, mobile access, etc. Would you subscribe for a buck? What I am proposing is the following forms of monetization: standard Web site with ads, partial feed with no ads, and a full feed with no ads for $1/month.

So many of the people I speak with daily subscribe to a ton of full feeds and never visit a site after picking up the feed. Some say that feeds strengthen the interactivity with a site because when they read the post, they are more likely to come to the site to comment. Sure, it's easy to jam an advertisement into a feed, but what if there was another way to provide a revenue stream for a blogger to live off of and for the consumer to enjoy the media knowing they are supporting the content they enjoy?"

Allen's piece and the ensuing comments are well worth a read. It's a good discussion point... if you are blogging as a living is it unreasonable to expect to people to subscribe to your work?

I'm skeptical, given the zillions of other websites out there... but I'm also certainly personally open to keeping on paying for content if it is valuable enough that I can't get it anywhere else. For instance, I do pay for a subscription to LWN.net because the crew there continues to provide the best coverage I've seen anywhere on Linux issues. (However, I had been reading them - for free - for several years before they asked readers to buy subscriptions... so they were already a known (and valued) entity to me when they moved to a subscription basis.)

In any event, it's a worthwhile discussion to have... check out Allen's blog to join in the conversation.

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Don't Make Me Go To Your Website! - The 5 Ways I Consume Information In The Web 2.0 World

Do you ever go to a website on a frequent basis to see if it has been updated? Do you go to a bookmark you have or click on a toolbar icon or even just type in the URL into your browser address bar?

Do you do that for this website? Do you NOT subscribe to the feed but rather just come here from time to time to see if anything new is here?

If not this site, do you do this for another site? How often do you go and visit the site? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Randomly?

I had an exchange today with someone I greatly respect and in the course of the conversation I realized that the reality is:

I don't really go to any websites these days on a regular basis.
I don't go to friends' websites. (Sorry!) I don't go to my employer's website. I don't go to any organization's websites. I don't go to my city's website. Every once in a while I might hit CNN's web page or a weather site, but that's about it. I do go to Facebook's page and Google Apps pages, but I think of those more as applications and communications services.

I don't have time in my daily work or home schedule... even though going up to my Bookmarks menu, choosing a link and then waiting for the page to load isn't a whole lot of time, it is some time... and if I get there and nothing has changed, it is wasted time. So I don't do it.

The only reason I visit a web site these days is generally if either:
1. The website turns up in a search result.
2. I get notified that there's something interesting there that I should look at.
3. Random times when for some reason I decide to go there, perhaps remembering a URL for a site I wanted to check out.

That's it. (Note that I do get the content of many websites through the ways I mention below, but I don't actually go to those websites and see their page.)

As I think about it, my consumption of information online really comes down to five ways:

  1. E-mail, although I get too much of it read it all.
  2. Twitter, where I see links from people or services that I follow.
  3. RSS feeds where my reader pulls it in and I quickly scan through the posts.
  4. Skype persistent group chats where I'm connected to several different groups of people on various topics.
  5. Searching for data, typically using Google.

The key thing is that, with the exception of search:

All the data comes to me!
Email is in my inbox, either on my laptop or my Blackberry. Feeds end up in my newsreader. Twitter I usually read in an IM chat window where I can scan it and search it. Skype groupchats I obviously read in Skype. I whip through and scan the info fast, clicking links if I want to see them and potentially firing off replies. I visit web pages only because I've seen an email with info and a link, or someone's twittered the link or posted it in a Skype groupchat... or because of a link in some item in my RSS feeds.

For better or worse (and I can argue philosophically that it might be worse), that's how I consume data. Funny thing is, I know I'm not alone. This is the "Web 2.0" way. Let me pull your data in some way and I'll consume it.

Don't make me go to your website to get updates. I won't.

So if a website has an RSS feed (or a Twitter feed), I'll subscribe and see when there are updates. Otherwise, I'll probably just only go there on random times when I think of it. Which, unfortunately, won't be often. I'm living in the blur.

Are you?

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Steve Rubel uses Tumblr to build an aggregated "Lifestream" of all his online content (something I've done with Feedburner, Yahoo!Pipes)

image How do you make it easy to find writing that you do online when it is scattered all over a zillion sites and services?  Over on his blog, in a post called "Identity Through Online Lifestreams", Steve Rubel talks about his recent experiment doing exactly that with Tumblr.  Tumblr is a service that lets you create a "tumblelog" (which is essentially a mixed-media blog) and allows you to import RSS feeds of various other sites and services.  Steve has done this (in part, apparently, with directions from Gina Trapani over at LifeHacker) and the result can be seen now at: www.steverubel.com. All his blog posts, Twitter posts (aka "tweets"), Flickr uploads, etc., etc.  Tumblr is of course not the only way to do this, but it certainly seems to have a nice interface to do so. 

I did this myself through a different means back in January when I split my 3-year-old single blog into the current network of separate blogs (and then later added Twitter, etc.).  My first attempt was to use the Feedburner Advertiser Network to create my own "Feedburner network" that aggregates all my feeds into a single "Dan York All Feeds" RSS stream.  This works in that I have the combined RSS feed and then also a web page with links to the blogs and the most recent entry from each.  It's not as pretty as what Tumblr seems to be able to produce and as I note in the blog entry, it was a good bit of a pain to set up.  It helps that I use Feedburner for all my various feeds.

However, creating your own Feedburner network only works with Feedburner-managed feeds.  What about things like Twitter RSS feeds?  Now the kludgey way would be to create Feedburner feeds for those fees and then pull them into the one aggregated feed.

Instead, my second technique back in March was to use Yahoo!Pipes to do this and I did so: http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.info?_id=0DoSGZS82xGxhlBMZoQMOQ  Now, there was a dating issue that was subsequently fixed, and I never bothered to wrap it back into a Feedburner feed, but it works to combine my blog feeds with Twitter.  (And since my Facebook status updates are feeding into Twitter as well, they wind up in this feed, too.)  Now, from a display point-of-view, Yahoo!Pipes may again not be as nice as Tumblr pages, but it does allow for easy aggregation of feeds.

Today, you could apparently also do this same type of thing with Microsoft Popfly or Google's Mashup Editor (or so I am told... not having used either service I can't say for certain, but I am told they would do this).

I will say, though, that Tumblr does make it pretty drop-dead easy to do. In literally less than 5 minutes, I had all my various feeds set to go into:  danyork.tumblr.com.  (Obviously it is starting now and so content will only appear there from this point forward.)

The one thing that Tumblr does not (yet, anyway) seem to have the ability to filter feeds based on certain criteria.  For instance, I write over at the Voice of VoIPSA group weblog, but I really only want to include my postings there in my lifestream - and there is only one RSS stream.  This is something that I can do over at Yahoo!Pipes (and of course if I wanted to I could create a filtered feed at Yahoo!Pipes and then bring that into Tumblr!).

In any event, Tumblr certain looks to be an easy way to aggregate one's "lifestream" of online content.  Kudos to Steve for pointing it out and showing how he used it.  I liked one of his points:

I really like that there is a single place attached to my name that rolls up all of the content that I am publishing online. I also like that in just a couple of clicks I can set up a river of news that I can share at the domain of my choosing.

This latter point is a key one.  Steve has mapped www.steverubel.com to this Tumblr page.  I could easily do that with some variant off of danyork.com. The nice thing with that is that you are not dependent upon the success or failure of the company, Tumblr.com!  If Tumblr sometime ceases to exist, or starts charging and you don't want to pay, or has performance problems, or is acquired by someone else, or.... whatever...  because you control the domain you can simply point it to another site that lets you do domain mapping.  Cool stuff.


Subscribing to this blog via the browser RSS button now works... and an important TypePad/Feedburner lesson for me...

image I have to thank Wayne Smallman for clueing me in to a minor little detail that I'd overlooked back in January when I had first launched this blog.  Wayne, who I have met through a public chat room about Twitter and Skype, IM'd me (on Skype) to let me know that he wasn't able to subscribe to the feed for this blog.

Given that this blog has been in action now for most of 6 months and I hadn't heard this issue at all, I was very surprised.  Feedburner stats do show a good number of subscribers to the RSS feed... but I'm guessing that they (some of you!) must have all grabbed the feed URL from the big orange RSS button or used the "Add to Google" or "Add to Bloglines", because the RSS icon in the browser address bar would definitely not work.

Here's the deal... back when I was looking to split out my writing into multiple blogs last fall, I had another name for this blog and had set up a similarly-named feed in Feedburner.  Wanting to ensure that people got to my Feedburner feed, I went into the TypePad settings and "connected" my TypePad blog to the appropriate Feedburner feed.  Everything was good.  I was getting ready to launch.

But before I launched, I found that "disruptiveconversations.com" was available and since it went nicely with my already existing "disruptivetelephony.com" domain, I decided to rename the blog.  In fact, I changed the underlying TypePad URL... changed all the template names, mapped the domain... and I created a new Feedburner feed with the new name.  All looked good and the various subscribe buttons you see on the right side all worked.    I launched the blog and you all have now been reading it for the past 6 months.

There turned out to be just one minor little detail:

I never went back and updated the TypePad <-> Feedburner connection!

Oops!  Yes, indeed, in the TypePad configuration screens this blog was very happily connected to the old feed at Feedburner.  The problem is - I deleted that feed quite some time ago!

The fix was quite simple: I simply disconnected this blog from the old Feedburner feed and then connected it back to the new Feedburner feed.  Done in just a couple of minutes and I verified that it all works.

I'm just a wee bit embarrassed that I never noticed it and obviously didn't test it.  I'm also a bit surprised that no one ever commented in all this time... are people not using that RSS icon in the browser address bar to subscribe to feeds?

So in any event, thanks to Wayne's query the button should now work fine!  If you tried subscribing in the past and it didn't work, please do try it out now.  And Wayne, if I ever do get over to the UK, I will have to look you up and buy you a drink! :-)

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Sun Microsystems advertising their CEO's weblog through Feedburner's Ad Network?? Huh?

 Because I am fascinated by this grand experiment called "social media", I like to play with various aspects just to see what might happen.  So for the last couple of months, I've been experimenting with ads in a couple of my RSS feeds through the Feedburner Ad Network.  I definitely do not expect to make any money off of it... for me it's more an experiment to see if anyone actually clicks through on ads in RSS feeds!

Due to the higher number of subscribers, most placements have been targeted toward my Blue Box podcast, and it's been both interesting and entertaining to see what ad campaigns are requested.  Because I feel a certain level of responsibility and respect for Blue Box listeners/subscribers, I'm very picky about what I let run.  There have been a few that were appropriate... and a few that weren't.

The newest campaign I was asked to approve, though, gave my head a bit of a spin. As you can see in the image to the right (click for a larger view), it's a campaign by Sun Microsystems to promote CEO Jonathan Schwartz's weblog!  As you'll note, I approved it since I figured it might actually be something of interest to our listeners (and you can see my nice spray paint job in Windows Paint to obscure the campaign details :-).  But think about this for a minute...  here is a very large company spending some of its advertising dollars to promote a weblog through ads in various RSS feeds!

Pretty interesting space we're in, eh?


Yahoo!Pipes and its dating problem... (and a failure of RSS standardization)

In its short existence, I've become a great fan of Yahoo!Pipes, but until very recently it did have a fundamental problem... dates.  If you took a bunch of RSS feeds and combined them together and then tried to sort by date... well, you had a problem.    When I was out at ETel last week in San Francisco, I actually met someone from the Yahoo!Pipes team there at ETel, and we had a chat about the challenge of sorting out the dates, when all the data to work with is very different.

Now, it seems that Yahoo!Pipes has fixed the problem!  As I went to write this post today, it now looks like they have figured out how to sort the dates out.  (My contact out at ETel indicated that they were working hard to try to fix this issue.)

So for those interested in the problem and why it existed, take a look at my pipe combining my various RSS feeds. If you dig down into the actual RSS feed, you'll see the fundamental problem faced by Yahoo (or anyone else trying to mash up different RSS feeds).  Here is the date associated with an entry from Disruptive Telephony, a TypePad blog:

pubDate 2007-03-05T14:37:34-05:00

Here's the date from an entry from Voice of VOIPSA, a WordPress blog:

pubDate Mon, 05 Mar 2007 16:14:52 +0000

Here's the date from an entry from my LiveJournal account:

pubDate 2007-03-01T00:00:00-06:00

Here's the date from a RSS feed item from Twitter:

pubDate Mon, 05 Mar 2007 19:48:48 +0000

Here's the date from a RSS feed entry from Blue Box: The VoIP Security Podcast, also a TypePad blog:

pubDate Thu, 22 Feb 2007 22:39:48 -0600

Are we seeing the problem yet?  Note that different feeds are using different formats for the date.  Indeed even two of my blogs from the same host, TypePad, appear to be using different date formats!  Also note that some are using GMT/UTC (the ones with +0000) and some are using the timezone (although why some are -5 and some are -6 is a bit confusing).   I had another feed somewhere that used yet another time format as well.  Since RSS is entirely text, Yahoo!Pipes has to parse the text and try to make sense out of it... and then presumably convert it to some neutral format that it can use for the actual sorting.  Not exactly a fun task.

When I first noticed this shortly after the launch of Yahoo!Pipes, there also was a problem that each feed seemed to have a different date field.  In some RSS feeds, it was "pubDate".  In others, it was "dc:date".  I think one was "publication date".  This created a royal headache when you were trying to create a filter or sort in Yahoo!Pipes. 

Again, though, this seems to have gone away or at least been normalized by the Yahoo!Pipes team.  All my feeds now seem to have "pubDate", albeit in differing formats.  So kudos to the Yahoo! team for figuring out how to make it all make sense.

Interestingly, though, this really appears to be a failure in RSS standardization.  Perhaps not in the specification, but in the adherance to the specification.  Near the top of the RSS 2.0 Specification, in talking about channel elements, it states:

All date-times in RSS conform to the Date and Time Specification of RFC 822, with the exception that the year may be expressed with two characters or four characters (four preferred).

This would argue for the "Mon, 05 Mar 2007 19:48:48 +0000" format which is also shown in the example for individual item entries in RSS.  So it would appear that some vendors have not exactly implemented RSS feeds per the spec (is anyone surprised?).

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