(Oh, and Googlers who read this are most welcome to chip in to help )
”There is an app for that” – say the Apple commercials. “There is a plugin for that” – was my conclusion, while lookin for the rigth tools to move the Enterprise Irregulars blog to WordPress a few months ago. Seriously. The WordPress ecosystem is simply amazing, things that a few years ago required messing with code are now a click away: – modern themes are no longer just pretty layouts, but perform quite a bit of processing, and whatever they don’t have – well, there is a plugin for that.:-)
Such is the power of Open Source and a thriving ecosystem. But all this openness and richness of choice comes with a price: it takes a lot of digging, testing, and even more luck to find the right ones that actually deliver what they claim without messing up your theme and other plugins. And even if you find the right ones, they all come out with new releases from time to time, and every single update, be it WordPress itself, the theme, the plugins is a hidden trap. Things can stop mysteriously overnight – as they did over @ Enterprise Irregulars a week ago, when I was alerted that our feed was all blank. The EI blog is based on the powerful but rather complex Hybrid News Theme with 21 active plugins which work in concert to aggregate the writing of 40+ authors. And sometimes one little wheel gets stuck – what happens next is what separates good hosts from poor ones. Or should I say, separates simple hosts from service providers. Service, as the second S in SaaS.
Normally the choice is simple: you either use WordPress.com – free, powerful, great platform, with preset choices for themes, widgets..etc – or opt for self-hosting in the Open World – with all the power to install whatever you want, but also out in the wild alone in a complex world. (Geez, where did I hear that last… ahh, the great iPhone vs. Android debate, perhaps? ) Now, back to hosts: I’ve been blessed with a smaller, but amazingly good host providing extraordinary, personalized service for five years now. Owner and jack-of-all-trades John Keegan helped my with the old (dying) Blogware platform, then through the migration of my personal blog to WordPress, and ever since – so moving EI to Pressharbor was a no-brainer.
So last Sunday (yes, a SUNDAY) I turned to John again… he dug into the problem, and soon found that a rogue plugin attached custom enclosure fields to some posts, with garbled content that Feedburner choked on, wiping out our RSS feed. John then got on Skype and held my hand step by step removing the erroneous fields, until the feed got cleared up. Sounds easy enough… in hindsight. It would have taken me hours / days of research and frustration to restore the lost functionality. It’s not the first time and likely not the last I received support way beyond what can be expected of a regular web hosting company. Help with security, performance, database tuning should be standard (is it?) but detailed plugin-level help? No way. How about WordPress upgrades? I don’t even know what they are. In fact I got upgraded to WP 3.0 while writing this post. Not amongst the first .. only after thorough testing did Pressharbor upgrade all of us, centrally. I’m lucky enough to have the best of both world – the power of Open Source and great, personalized support. A big, capital S – the second S in Software as a Service.
First time I beat TechCrunch was in July 2006:
…their Feedburner subscription base grew almost 100% overnight. But it pales in comparison to my 2.5million % growth rate … yes, I went from 200 or so to 51k. Jeff Clavier did quite well, too, at 56k, but hey Jeff, I am catching up!
Too bad it was due to a Netvibes glitch, and once they fixed it, my readership fell back to – well, normal levels.
Today I am winning again: TechCrunch has 0 –yes zero – subscribers, while I have 1141.
This time the culprit is Feedburner, which chucked the subscriber stats to zero for many blogs, including TechCrunch, while I lucked out, and only “lost” about half my subscribers. Over @ CloudAve we were less lucky, the migration to Google’s new setup cost about 85% of our subscriber base, but that still beats zero…
Yet it’s a Pyrrhic victory, which I hope won’t last – Feedburner (Google) needs to pull their act together.
Feedburner started as a cool new blog feed management/reporting service a few years ago, and quickly became a de facto standard. A quick scan of my Feed Reader shows hardly anything but Feedburner. Since Google acquired the company almost two years ago, we haven’t seen a lot of new services – but that does not change the almost monopoly status. Feedburner rules the market, and I’m no exception.
A few months ago Google started to migrate accounts – first only those who wanted to run Adsense in their feeds. Since I don’t care for advertising, I did not bother first, but knew the day would come: the final deadline is February 28th, but anyone can move to the new servers on their own schedule.
Seeing all the negative buzz on Twitter I was planning to wait – but then I “lost” 70% of my subscribers even with the old setup, so I figured I might as well take the plunge. And here it is now: a shiny, brand new (old) feed @ http://feeds2.feedburner.com/zoli.
Google says (FAQ) the stats will “recover” in about a week. Funny thing is, the one service entirely missing from the reports is Google’s very own Reader. I certainly hope this “loss” is only in the stats, and readers are receiving our feed without interruption. If you are, you don’t have to do anything, the old Feedburner URL will continue to be redirected, says Google. Then again, if you’re cautious (like I am), or perhaps are not following our feed yet, you might as well grab the new feed here.
Either way, thanks for reading my Blog.
Check your FeedBurner stats, but don’t worry too much: no, there was no mass exodus, you did not lose more than half your subscribers overnight.
There’s a simple explanation: FeedBurner is missing Google FeedFetcher stats- that’s the number of users who read your blog in Google Reader. Last time I reported the same, Google Reader represented about 40% of my readership- apparently now it’s about 60%.
Is this becoming a weekly ritual? Check your FeedBurner subscriber count: it’s likely down by roughly 40%.
As usual, don’t panic, it simply means that the Google Feedfetcher data (which includes the popular Google Reader) is missing again. In a few hours the good folks at FeedBurner / Google wake up and we’ll have another blog post telling us to wait a day, and everything be back to normal tomorrow – until next time.
Tip to FeedBurner: if this is becoming a routine, don’t bother writing new blog posts. Just remove any reference to specific dates and make it a sticky post.
If your see your FeedBurner subscriber count cut in half today, don’t panic, it does not means your readers “fired” you. It simply means that Google’s Feedfetcher is not reported in the total count today. Clearly a glitch – not as fun as this other one, when I picked up 50K bonus readers, but hey, I’m sure it will be fixed soon -perhaps by the time you wake up and finish coffee..
Update: Confirmed: Google Feedfetcher had a hangover.. it’s clearing up now.