FIR Interview: FeedBlitz CEO Phil Hollows on RSS and the future of Feedburner

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feedblitzlogosmIn May, Google quietly announced it would shut down the API for FeedBurner, the most popular tool for managing and measuring RSS feeds. While the service will continue to process RSS feeds – only third-party apps that use the service will be affected – Google has been quiet about the service’s future, telling TechCrunch as recently as September 24 that the company had nothing to announce.

Meanwhile, speculation is rampant that the long-neglected service for which Google paid $100 million back in 2007 will eventually be shuttered, leading many to explore alternatives and others to take action, migrating their feeds to alternative services.

One of those services is FeedBlitz, “The All-In-One Solution for Email & Social Media Marketing Automation.” Since concerns arose over how long FeedBurner will remain viable, FeedBlitz has been marketing itself as (among other things) a reliable FeedBurner alternative, even providing a step-by-step guide to importing your existing FeedBurner subscribers to your new FeedBlitz account.

In this FIR interview, co-hosts Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz speak with FeedBlitz founder and CEO Phil Hollows about the vital role RSS continues to play, the situation with FeedBurner and the various options (not limited to FeedBlitz) available to bloggers and others who rely on RSS feeds.

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About our Conversation Partner

philhollowsPhil Hollows is the Founder and CEO of FeedBlitz, an email and social media marketing automation service and premium FeedBurner alternative.

Building on his high technology experience, consulting and marketing leadership since graduating from Oxford University in 1987 (The Queen’s College), Phil started what became FeedBlitz in 2005. Phil is the author of the free FeedBurner Migration Guide, and the e-book List Building for Bloggers.

Before creating FeedBlitz, Phil was Vice President Product Marketing for enterprise network security management company OpenService (now LogMatrix), and before that he was the Vice President of Technology at the web testing company RadView Software.

Phil’s international career also includes being a Director at enterprise workforce management software leader Kronos, and Managing Consultant for the US office of UK-based niche executive financial consultancy Metapaxis. He has a post-graduate diploma in Accounting and Finance from the UK’s ACCA.

Follow Phil on Twitter as @phollows.

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(Cross-posted from For Immediate Release, Shel’s and my podcast blog.)

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Moving on from Feedburner to Feedblitz

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After seven years, it’s time to say goodbye to Feedburner and say hello to Feedblitz.

A week ago, I wrote about my worries that RSS feeds delivered via Feedburner might not work after October 20, after a note on the Google Developers’ Feedburner website said that the Feedburner APIs would shut down on that date.

I noted at the time:

RSS is the “delivery backbone” for creating and delivering much of the content that people use the internet for. You would have thought that turning off the flow of content that’s used by so many people and businesses is a pretty big deal, one that would warrant some communication from Google. I can find none.

There’s been some big confusion over what Google actually intends, with many people simply wondering as I did if it meant no RSS feeds – or email subscriptions – any more. There’s been no clarity from Google, so I think it hardly surprising that Twitter has been awash with tweets from people wondering about their subscriptions that Feedburner delivers, both RSS and email.

While some knowledgeable voices have expressed doubt that the Feedburner API closure means no more RSS, it hasn’t diminished concerns.

So I reached out directly to Google to ask for clarification – and never had a reply.

It was after reading a post a few days ago on Jay Baer‘s website on why he moved from Feedburner to Feedblitz that I decided to make the same move.

So I followed Feedblitz’ excellent migration guide and I’m now set up to serve content to subscribers to this blog via RSS and email using Feedblitz’ services.

quickfeedinfo

I’m especially impressed with the seamless way in which Feedblitz carried out its migration, puling in all the RSS and email details it needed from Feedburner to replicate everything at Feedblitz in a way that’s transparent to current subscribers – you should not experience any interruption in your subscription.

The one thing in the migration process that did give me pause for thought was the need to disable Google’s 2-step verification process in order for Feedblitz’ migration wizard to work. But I did, let Feedblitz do its work and then re-enabled 2-step verification. The downside is that some of the apps on my smartphone and computers that access my Google accounts via APIs needed re-verification, something to be aware of if you use 2-step verification.

Feedblitz is a paid service compared to Feedburner which is free, and its pricing structure is based on how many email subscribers you have, not how many RSS subscribers. If, like me, you have many RSS and few email, it’s a low-cost and viable option. Vice-versa, be prepared to pay more.

Note, too, that Feedblitz isn’t the only game in town if you’re looking for an alternative to Feedburner. For instance, read what Jim Connolly chose to do as he migrated his email subscriptions away from Feedburner.

I haven’t yet learned all about the depth and breadth of what Feedblitz offers me as a web publisher compared to Feedburner. For now, I’m pleased that I have enabled a service in which I have much greater confidence will be around for a long time.

So why not take a look at Feedblitz, which offers a 30-day free trial.

Related post:

Prepare for goodbye Feedburner in October 2012

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[Update September 15: Moving on from Feedburner to Feedblitz. I decided to move away from Feedburner. The post you’re reading, and it’s update at the end, tries to throw some light on a murky picture, with limited success. I’ve made my decision to go to Feedblitz, explained in the new post.]

Did you know that Google intends to shut down access to Feedburner’s APIs on October 20? A banner note on the Google Developers Feedburner API page makes that intent clear:

Important: The Google Feedburner APIs have been officially deprecated as of May 26, 2011 will be shut down on October 20, 2012.

It is the case that Google signalled a limited future for Feedburner with its deprecation post in May last year:

[…] Following the standard deprecation period – often, as long as three years – some of the deprecated APIs will be shut down. The rest have no scheduled date for shutdown, but won’t get any new features. The policy for each deprecated API is specified in its documentation.

The post then listed a number of deprecated APIs that have no scheduled shutdown date, including Feedburner.

Well, we now do have that date – October 20, 2012.

What this means is that if you use Feedburner as a service that enables readers of your blog to receive your content via RSS or email every time you update the blog – and that includes audio and video (eg, podcasts), not only text content – that will cease working on October 20.

I’ve been using Feedburner since 2004. Over 3,200 RSS subscribers get posts every time I publish one, as do email subscribers. My content is widely syndicated via services like Newstex, Demand Media, CIPR Conversation and Web Pro News – all of which get that content from its RSS feed… via Feedburner. Shel and I use Feedburner for the FIR podcast.

I’ve looked hard and can find no mention anywhere of this Feedburner API shut-down on any Google website other than the banner text on the website I mentioned earlier. There’s no mention of the closure at all, anywhere, in my account at Feedburner. And if I click the link on "Feedburner blog" in my account, I get the Google Adsense for Feeds blog – which itself closed down in July.

Feedburner is the means by which over a million RSS feeds on websites deliver content to people according to the Wikipedia entry on Feedburner (and that was the figure in  2007: it must have grown even a little since then). Those websites include big media properties, mainstream and social, alongside individual bloggers like me.

RSS is the "delivery backbone" for creating and delivering much of the content that people use the internet for. You would have thought that turning off the flow of content that’s used by so many people and businesses is a pretty big deal, one that would warrant some communication from Google. I can find none.

It seems to me that Google isn’t taking any of this seriously at all.

I first heard about this when Rebecca Caroe emailed me a few weeks ago, and which was a discussion topic on FIR episode 666 on August 27. Yet at that time, no one had any clear information on a closure date.

Rebecca pointed me to a prescient post by Dan Thornton on August 3 which asked "Is Feedburner about to be closed by Google?" Dan linked to a migration guide by FeedBlitz – a Feedburner competitor with a paid service offering – and an interesting discussion thread on Dave Winer’s blog entitled "What if Feedburner closes?" on two technically-oriented ways to deal with the shutdown and keep your RSS continuity:

1. Google can use the redirection facilities built into the web to send traffic to the Feedburner version of your feed back to its original location. That way people can keep publishing their feed contents and the subscribers will continue to receive updates. It’s crucial that the connection between publishers and subscribers be preserved.

2. You can use the facility that Google provides to map a CNAME to your feed, so that if Google shuts down Feedburner, you can point that name at your main server, and your feed could continue to be accessed even if Google does not provide a redirect.

Without some signal from Google, I wouldn’t assume on the former happening at all. The latter approach looks more feasible.

If you use WordPress, you can simply revert back to your blog’s native RSS feed (which will be the underlying source for the Feedburner feed). You can also continue to serve your email subscribers with WordPress’ email subscription service. Other blogging platforms and services may have similar procedures.

Whatever you decide to do, you should take action right now.

feedburnerapishut

(Hat tip to Jim Connolly for the heads up on the Feedburner shut-down date.)

[Update Sept 10, 11:45am:] As some of the comments on this post indicate, there is strong doubt that Google’s planned shutdown of the Feedburner APIs next month means that RSS feeds will no longer work.

Similar opinions have been shared in the discussion about this post on Google+.

Such opinions have validity, especially when they’re expressed by people I know and whose opinions I do respect. Adam Tinworth, for instance on Google+:

[…] Closing an API is not the same thing as closing the service. The Feedburner APIs did very little other than give you a way of pulling your Feedburner subscription stats into other metrics systems. The death of the API will kill a few WordPress plugins and some app, but not much else. The core business of serving feeds and providing metrics on them is not dependent on the APIs, and those services are unlikely to go away as long as Google sees value in serving ads through feeds. Given where Google makes the majority of its money, I suspect that day will be a long time coming.

A more positive read of this would be that they’re sweeping away the deprecated (and, I suspect, ill-used) APIs prior to the final integration of Feedburner into the rest of Google.

However, positive or negative, their communication has been terrible.

[…] RSS feeds should work absolutely fine after the API is shut down. They do not require or use the API.

David Kutcher, too. I don’t know David but his comments make sense:

[…]  unfortunately I can see what happened here: a development manager posted that update on the FeedBurner Developer site intended for developers that understood what they were talking about. When that post was picked up by non-developers it of course became confused.  I doubt any Google employee is going to post anything, mainly because to them (the development manager) they probably think they’re being crystal clear. The API is being shut down with no mention of the service.?

I’ve reached out directly to Google for clarity; if I get a response, I’ll add a further update.

A look into RSS feeds managed by Google

rss Last weekend, all my RSS feeds that have been managed by Feedburner over the past four years were auto-migrated to Google.

This is a culmination of a process arising from Google’s acquisition of Feedburner in mid 2007 where all RSS feeds hosted by Feedburner will be moved over to a new RSS service Google established.

It’s also related to Google Adsense. Indeed, my RSS feed will carry advertising, just as it has done for the past two years when the Feedburner Ad Network existed. Incidentally, I have no plans to enable advertising in the blog.

One result of the migration of RSS feeds is that the addresses for all feeds change. So, for instance, this site’s primary content feed is now http://feedproxy.google.com/Nevillehobsoncom. That change is transparent, though – you will not notice any difference if you are an RSS subscriber using the previous Feedburner URL (which is http://feeds.feedburner.com/Nevillehobsoncom): you’ll continue to get the content you want in your preferred RSS reader.

All is not smooth for some with migrations, though, as this Known Issues and Workarounds page indicates.

Speaking of RSS readers, I was looking at the stats display to see what RSS readers subscribers were using.

feedburner30days

The overwhelming majority of subscribers – about 43 percent – use Google Reader or iGoogle to get the content from this blog. That’s what Google Feedfetcher does (you can see part of the name in the image above): it’s how Google grabs feeds when users subscribe to them in Google Reader or iGoogle.

Next popular is Bloglines at about 23 percent, followed by NewsGator Online at about 12 percent. Then there’s Netvibes at about 7.5 percent, and what the stats define as Windows RSS Platform  – typically, Internet Explorer and Outlook – at a distant 1.7 percent.

I find it quite significant that the majority of subscribers – getting close to 90 percent – subscribe to this blog’s primary RSS feed via a web-based RSS reader rather than with a desktop application (which is my own preference).

Is that an indicator of the appeal of the cloud? Or just that it’s so easy to use a web-based feed reader? (I suspect the latter.)

The ‘Other’ stat is quite interesting. It’s not defined with a number of total subscribers but it takes in all other means by which the balance of subscribers to the total shown in the stats get the content via the RSS feed.

And the stats show an extraordinary number of different RSS aggregators that would fall into the ‘Other’ category – some 83 different methods including some familiar names like FeedDemon, MyYahoo, NetNewsWire, Newsgator Mobile, Firefox Live Bookmarks, Wikio and MySyndicaat.

(I’m noting that four of the products mentioned here – NewsGator Online, FeedDemon, NetNewsWire and Newsgator Mobile – are owned by the same company. Not a bad position.)

What a fragmented market! Although it’s now dominated by Google, it does show the enormously different ways people have at their disposal to get hold of your content.