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FeedBurner Fatal Flaw

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February 20th, 2007
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Blogging, Business of Blogging

I love FeedBurner and I have been using their service for quite some time. I love their statistics and though I do not pay for the “Secret HallPass and Handshake” I really benefit from understanding subscription and and click patterns. However, Feedburner and consequently the FeedBurner Feed Replacement plugin suffers from a major flaw that has become quite irritating of late.

The feed replacement plugin and Feedburner have very little granularity, a flaw that WordPress does not suffer from. As a matter of fact, WordPress’ feed versatility is one of the best in the industry and though the system is not without its weaknesses, it provides some of the most useful and varied options to distribute feeds. When I use Feedburner, I completely lose that versatility.

Unless I can come up with a pain free method of re-instating the versatility (and it does not look good), I feel that the downside of losing subscription information is not enough for me to remove Feedburner and revert to WordPress’ feed management. I really wish Feedburner was intelligent enough to treat each feed request differently and grab the original feed from the blog on the fly. I imagine it would not be terribly difficult to do since once a feed location is discovered say via referrer parsing, Feedburner could cache it and refresh periodically while it continues to receive requests for it. Although I say it should not be terribly difficult to do, I probably should not assume I understand the complexities of the Feedburner backend and the load that their systems must generate.

I wonder if I can make feature requests?

[EDIT] It seems I did not explain myself correctly. With Feedburner, my blog only has one (or two, if you count comments) feeds. WordPress offers feeds for almost everything under the sun, such as categories, comments, single posts, pages etc. Thats what I mean by versatility and thats what I really miss.

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  1. Ajay (209 comments.) says:

    Can you explain this in detail with examples?

    Are you talking about the individual feeds for categories, posts, etc ?

  2. Eric Olson (3 comments.) says:

    Hi Mark,

    I am not sure if I understand your issue completely but it seems as if you want us to grab the different flavors/formats of your feeds dynamically. If this is the case I should note that our SmartCast service will convert and serve up your feed in the proper feed format for each different aggregator automatically. We also poll your feed every 30 minutes (faster if you ping us) to update the FeedBurner version of your feed.

    If this wasn’t what you were referring to please let me know and we can chat further. Thanks!

    Cheers,
    Eric Olson
    Publisher Services – FeedBurner
    312.756.0022 x2034
    erico@feedburner.com

  3. Mark (386 comments.) says:

    Ajay, Eric, does the edit above clarify my need? I apologize for being obtuse.

  4. Eric Olson (3 comments.) says:

    That does clarify. Thanks so much for the edit. I should note that the category, comments, etc. feeds do not go away when you use FeedBurner. They are all still there and you can even run them through FeedBurner with a little work on your end. :-) No loss of feeds here.

    - Eric

  5. Joel says:

    How do I convert an mp3 into rss so I can podcast? Can I do this in the wordpress admin area? thanks

  6. radiationman (1 comments.) says:

    While WordPress has that granularity in your feeds, how many of your subscribers look at more than just your main feed?
    I’m sure people do, but I don’t know of many people who subscribe to comment feeds, most subscribe to only the main feed.
    It’s one thing if you have a podcast that you specifically want to get people subcribing to that feed seperate from your main feed. I’ve got that feed fed over to Feedburner on it’s own (feeds.feedburner.com/mycruiseplanner/jdnq).

  7. Ajay (209 comments.) says:

    Mark, my guess was correct.

    Eric, can you explain in detail.

  8. Ahmed Bilal (2 comments.) says:

    I’d agree with Eric on this one – you can just setup the specific feeds on Feedburner for the most important categories on your site – LifeDev did that when it started, didnt it? I think it’s a simple solution that works without having to make Feedburner more complicated at the backend.

  9. Darren (16 comments.) says:

    I think what Mark is referring to and what I’d like to see as well is that, yes, you can add specific category/post/archive feeds as Feedburner feeds but it would be nice if you could submit your WordPress site to Feedburner and all the relevant feeds would automatically be correctly recognized and available without the need for manual administration/submission of those feeds.

    For example, by default, WordPress feeds can be accessed by simply adding “…/feed” to the end of the url (if custom permalinks are enabled – and in most cases) It would be groovy if after submitting one’s WordPress site to Feedburner that the same functionality would be integrated.

    Is that more along the lines of what you’re talking about Mark? That’s what I’d love to see! Although, I think the title is a bit misleading – I don’t see it as a fatal flaw of Feedburner – more like a minor inconvenience for some of us.

  10. radiationman (1 comments.) says:

    But how many of your readers/subscribers actually subscribe to the feeds for individual categories instead of your main feed? I think you’re looking to add functionality where none is actually needed…

  11. Joe (1 comments.) says:

    I agree, this is something I’ve thought about for a while now. I love the information and features I get with FeedBurner, but I hate that I can’t offer more feeds without pain and suffering. I’d love to at least offer 1 feed per category, but ideally like you say, have it track everything for me. I know I can setup 10 different Feeds for my 10 different categories, but then my data is in 10 different places. And anytime I add a category, I have to go setup a new feed. I’d like to see all the data in one place, and be able to drill down and see what’s popular and whats not. Their is a plugin that allows you to track this info in your dashboard (can’t remember the name, but I tried it for a time), but to use it you have to allow users to get the feeds from WordPress, loosing the benefits that FeedBurner offers.

  12. Eric Olson (3 comments.) says:

    Defintiely just a minor inconvenience. :-) I do think that functionality would be interesting to have though. Duley noted.

    - Eric

  13. Jeremiah (1 comments.) says:

    Perhaps the flaw is with the FeedBurner plugin. I have the same issue about tracking more than one WordPress feed through FeedBurner’s service. All the plugin is doing is setting up some .htaccess redirect rules and generating a dummy feed URL for FeedBurner. It only knows about your site’s main feed. So i manually added another redirect for a second (category) feed.

    If the plugin was able to function on any feed, it would make that easier. Of course i’d vote for FeedBurner being able to automatically understand WordPress’ “subfeeds.”

  14. Mark (386 comments.) says:

    Jeremiah, there is an update to the plugin that does things differently. It might be worth your time to check out the new plugin.

    Eric, the inconvenience depends on the user and the type of blog. Although I am glad that I could bring it to someone’s attention at Feedburner.

  15. Darren (16 comments.) says:

    @ radiationman
    The functionality isn’t so much for my subscribers as it is for me when I’m setting up my site. If I want to highlight particular feeds for particular posts/categories/comments AND use Feedburner I have to go into my Feedburner account and set up a separate Feedburner feed for each feed I want to highlight.

    It would be far simpler if I could just set up my site on Feedburner and then I could just link to Feedburner with a custom link (depending on what feed I want to highlight on my blog) in much the same manner as WordPress currently does except using the Feedburner URL instead.

  16. Dan (5 comments.) says:

    I’ve been very tempted to ditch FeedBurner. I wanted to configure a reviews feed, for example, and a news feed on my site. With the existing tools, it’s not easy to redirect the wordpress specific feeds to the FeedBurner generated ones.

    Recently Mint – the awesome stat tracking software (see http://www.haveamint.com) – hit version 2, and contains a Pepper – plugin in Mint speak – for keeping track of your feeds called Bird Feeder.

    Using this, it strikes me that the only reason for using FeedBurner becomes a static feed address – if you move your site, you don’t have to update the feed url. If you have your own domain, chances are that isn’t massively important to you.

  17. Tat says:

    You can make feature request in their forums. They can be pretty responsive, especially if you can show how their audience would benefit. I’m sure they’ve got a huge WordPress subscriber base.

  18. HART (1-800-HART) (1 comments.) says:

    I’ve got about 50 categories on this HART’s Picks blog (click my name) .. and Feedburner for main feed. Someone asked me once to segregate the feeds for the medieval categories, and I did what you see now in my sidebar. I was going to create a new feedburner for each feed, but that would have been too time consuming for me, and well .. I’ve got better things to do. But, each feed is there for the taking if someone wants it. It’s a shame the auto-discovery doesn’t detect any of them.

  19. Ryan McDonnell (2 comments.) says:

    @Hart

    By auto-discovery do you mean how the browser shows a little RSS icon in the toolbar when a feed is detected on the page? If so, you can control that with the HTML on your site. If you look the “head” section of your page, you’ll see something like this:

    You can duplicate that and just change the title and href attributes for each of your feeds. Then visitors will be presented with a list of feeds to choose from if they click the RSS icon in their browser.

  20. engtech (4 comments.) says:

    You might be interested in taking a look at how many people subscribe to those versatile feeds.

    I saw that it was less that 2% who subscribed to something other than the main feed… and the thing is, those versatile feeds are still there, just not passing through FeedBurner.

  21. Ryan McDonnell (2 comments.) says:

    The code I posted in my comment got stripped out. But basically, look in the source on your page and you’ll see what I’m talking about in the head section.

  22. Joe (2 comments.) says:

    Engtech: That percentage would be much higher if their was a way to easily offer feeds other than the main or comments feed. Though a savy user can type ‘/feed’ on the end of any URL on my blog (http://itsvista.com), the shiny orange button you get in IE7 or Firefox only show the main feed because I redirect the discovery for every page to FeedBurner. I don’t want multiple RSS interfaces for my site (tracking, formating, future advertising, additional tools, etc). If I could easily track category feeds with FeedBurner, I’d publicize feeds for a few of my categories that made sense (tips, updates, etc)

  23. askApache (1 comments.) says:

    I noticed that when I switched over to Feedburner I stopped having all the individual post and comments feeds…. That is now fixed by only switching to Feedburners feed for /feed/* or /comments/*
    I had this same issue when I migrated my wordpress feeds to feedburner using 302 redirects in mod_rewrite based on the USER_AGENT.
    The result was I lost all my other comment and individual post feeds..

    But I just realized that all I had to do was change the htaccess code to only apply feedburner when the REQUEST_URI is either /feed/ or /comments/ Now it all works perfectly!

    Learn how simple it is to get working

  24. Otto (215 comments.) says:

    If you’re actually losing your category feeds and such, then you may need to use a different plugin or upgrade it.

    I recently switched to feedburner on my main feed only. I’m using the OrderedList feedburner plugin. It only redirects my main feed. My categories feed and comments feed and such all still hit my main site, without redirection. No special trickery needed, it does that by default.

  25. Fervor Singles (1 comments.) says:

    Thanks for explaining your first comment! Now I understand what you meant. Yes I agree. I wish Feedburner was more flexible too. However it does do things like export your feed to other formats, which WordPress does not do well. I have had issues with WP feeds because they were not formatted properly for the specific format (Atom) etc… This may have been fixed in the latest version of WP, but I am not sure.



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