In August I moved over my RSS feed from the default .Text RSS feed source (Rss.aspx) to using FeedBurner's free service. Part of the challenge in this process was having existing subscribers automatically switch from using Rss.aspx to using FeedBurner's generated feed (http://feeds.feedburner.com/ScottOnWriting). I ended up getting everything to work by retooling Rss.aspx to send an HTTP 301 status code to aggregators, which instructed them to update their information using the new feed URL. For more on the reasons why I switched to FeedBurner along with how I made the needed changes in .Text to send an HTTP 301, refer to FeedBurner and Changing a Blog's Feed URL.
I've now been using the FeedBurner service for coming on three weeks, and wanted to share a quick review of the service. In my previous blog entry I mentioned the three motivating factors that prompted me to switch to FeedBurner were:
- Subscription statistics - FeedBurner provides a number of free statistics, including number of subscribers, number of requests, and aggregator breakdown.
- Someone else handles the bandwidth - currently requests to the RSS feed on ScottOnWriting.NET consume roughly 1.5 GB of traffic per week, or 6 GB of traffic per month (in total, ScottOnWriting does about 11 GB of traffic per month). That's a lot of 1s and 0s that would be nice to offload to another party. (I don't believe the pre-0.94 version of .Text I was using supported conditional HTTP GETs (although if I'm not mistaken the "official" 0.94 release does; had I been using a version that supported conditional GETs this bandwidth requirement would be an order of magnitude lower, I'd wager, perhaps just a GB for the month.) (To clarify, while FeedBurner does make requests to the blog's RSS URL, it caches the results for a period of time, thereby reducing the bandwidth demands for my server.)
- FeedBurner has a couple of neat “publicizing“ tools - FeedBurner includes a number of tools to easily make links to add your blog to My Yahoo!, MyMSN, newgator Online, and so on. Additionally, there are nifty little tools you can use to “show off“ how many folks subscribe to your blog, a la:
The free FeedBurner service provides three traffic metrics:
- Feed Circulation, which shows how many folks subscribe to your blog, how many requests there were to your RSS feed, and how many click throughs there were. The circulation data can be broken down by day or by hour, and shown in terms of the current week, the current date, the current month, and so on. Here's a bar graph that shows the circulation for ScottOnWriting.NET since I started using FeedBurner in late August:
- Readership - the readership stats allow me to see what aggregators are being used to subscribe to my site's content, along with a breakdown of bots and browser aggregators. As the following graphic shows, the most popular aggregator that's reporting itself (or that FeedDemon knows of) is Bloglines, followed by RssBandit (my aggregator of choice).
- Item Stats - this shows the click throughs on an item-by-item basis over a specified date range. For example, the most popular blog entry of mine since late August (at least in terms of subscribers “clicking through“) is How Big is Too Big a ViewState? with 171 click throughs.
The second motive of mine for using FeedBurner was to have someone else (namely FeedBurner) bear the bandwidth costs. (Thanks, guys!) Anywho, in the three weeks prior to using FeedBurner the daily bandwidth for ScottOnWriting.NET was 388 MB. Since moving to FeedBurner my daily bandwidth average has dropped to 211 MB. FeedBurner alone is saving me 177 MB per day, which is more than 5 GB per month. Sweet!
One of my initial concerns with FeedBurner was that once you were using FeedBurner you were “locked in.“ That is, I worried that if, down the road, I wanted to switch back to hosting the RSS feed on my site (or use some FeedBurner competitor, or if FeedBurner went out of business), I'd be SOL, since how would I get my subscribers who subscribe to my FeedBurner feed to switch to a different feed? I'd need to HTTP 301 my FeedBurner feed and since that's hosted with FeedBurner, they have the ultimate say as to whether or not that would be possible.
This fear was assuaged by a blog post by FeedBurner cofounder and CTO, Eric Lunt. In the post Eric mentions that it is possible to have your FeedBurner feed use an HTTP 301 and spells out their business rules for implementing this (namely, different actions are taken by the feed as time progresses... the HTTP 301 isn't used indefinately, it eventually unwinds to use, basically, a 404). From Eric's entry:
... when you start directing subscribers to FeedBurner, you may, in the future (way way way in the future) change your mind and want those subscribers pointing back to your original feed. You would probably also like this to happen automatically, and you would probably like some fallbacks for subscribers who don't get redirected for some reason. To date, there has been no simple way to do this. Steve Gillmor first raised this point with us during an interview late last year, and it has also been discussed more recently. We think we have the best feed management service, we think that providing publishers with the ability to do whatever they want is always the right answer, and most importantly, we think your subscribers are your subscribers, not ours or anybody else's.
So, beginning today [June 10, 2005], we're providing a detailed service for publishers who choose to leave FeedBurner. When you delete your FeedBurner feed, we have added an option to redirect your feed. If you select this, we begin a one month process of transitioning your subscribers back to your source feed.
That's reassuring to know. If you couldn't guess, I highly recommend FeedBurner. The stats and bandwidth savings make this free service an invaluable one, and the ability to leave FeedBurner clealy and crisply takes away any potential downside in switching over your feed.
For more entries on customizing .Text be sure to check out the Blog Enhancements category.