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Subscriber Import Added for Migration from non-Bloglet Services

Friday, December 23, 2005

Current and potential FeedBlitz users often write to ask whether they can import subscribers from their current email service. If that service wasn't Bloglet, the answer (up to now) was no.

So in brief, a generic subscriber import facility has been added for premium customers. If that's enough for you, stop here. If you're worried about spam, read on.

Now, the thing about Bloglet is that anyone on Bloglet had to have opted in, because that's the only way for a subscriber to become visible to a publisher on Bloglet. Importing was therefore sound, because the user had clearly given permission (at some point) to be emailed by the publisher. No spam issues (although as we all know, Bloglet didn't work well and it's easy to forget about that approval if one hasn't received an update in weeks or months).

Now at FeedBlitz, we don't spam. Period. And that's the challenge. How to reconcile this goal with a text based import facility where we can't prove that the user opted-in?

So. There is a clear and legitimate business need for publishers to migrate to the convenience, simplicity and economic advantage of the blogging / Web 2.0 world - and who aren't coming from Bloglet. It is clearly unfair to require all their users to re-subscribe again, simply because they want to move to a better platform for doing exactly the same thing they were doing before. It takes time and money and effort to build a good, opted-in email database, and transitioning to FeedBlitz should not require that all those resources be thrown away. And writing a custom import facility, like we have for Bloglet, is clearly unfeasible given the huge number of mailing services out there. So the import has to be a generic, text-based feature.

But such a facility could, in theory, be abused. How can we square this circle? How can FeedBlitz guarantee that any generic import facility won't be abused? What measures can be implemented to (a) prevent abuse in the first place, and (b) to detect abuse if it happens? Or, put another way, why should the actions of a mindless minority (who are NOT users of FeedBlitz) impede the legitimate actions of the vast majority? How can that be managed?

The solution, as implemented, addresses (we believe) spamming risk without providing undue obstacles to publishers wishing to migrate their readers to FeedBlitz and Web 2.0 content management.

The Feature

From your feed (accessed from http://www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?Lists) publishers can access their subscriber lists for each feed by clicking the subscriber icon. On this screen, if the feed is a premium feed, users can go through a simple sequence of screens to import opted-in subscribers to their syndication. The import takes place off-line, with the results being emailed to the publisher once it completes.

Preventing Spam

How, then, do we prevent spammers from using this feature?

Firstly, the spammers we all loathe (drug vendors, body part improvers, scammers and fraudsters etc.) actually aren't interested in using professional services like FeedBlitz to spam people with. Why? Because they know that their activity is logged and tracked. Furthermore, all one can really do with FeedBlitz from a spam perspective is repeatedly invite people to subscribe - it's not of any value to anyone who wants to con you out of your cash or social security number. Instead, these people typically use viruses, worms and other techniques (such as phishing) to hack your machines. The best defense against these spammers is solid anti-virus software, personal firewalls and paying attention to what you click on. Secure your computers, folks, pay attention to what you're doing, and it's much, much harder for them or you to be abused by someone else.

Still, to prevent accidents, this feature is only being made available today to premium customers. Self serving, say you cynics? Well, I suppose so, but I'd rather have the obstacle of a verified credit card transaction for five bucks a month in place than lay the service (and by implication everyone using it, premium or otherwise) open to abuse and being placed on blacklists. So, a valid premium account is required, which enables easy tracking of spammers in the real world should they be unwise enough to try using FeedBlitz.

Secondly, users are required to acknowledge the terms of service - including a requirement to be able to prove that the subscribers they are importing have opted in - before they start. That way they can't claim they didn't know or weren't warned. Yes, it's only a click through, but it is am important step to help prevent mistakes.

Monitoring For Spam

Most importantly, the import process, unlike the Bloglet import, is not silent. It emails the subscriber a courtesy note, telling them that the publisher is changing services. It also tells them about FeedBlitz's rules and how to contact the abuse email address.

Now this note is customizable. You can change the email it appears to come from, the title, and add your own opening, closing and signature text. But the core of the message from FeedBlitz is not editable, and is required.

So if the service is abused, we will hear about it, because we'll get the complaints. It's that simple. There are also other logging activities installed as well, all of which will alert us to misuse of the facility. So there are a lot of pieces in place to detect abuse should it ever occur.

Subscriber Import in Action

There are no guarantees. But we believe that the requirement to be a valid premium user, the click through, the full-disclosure informational email to subscribers and the administrative monitoring all combine to dramatically reduce the risk of FeedBlitz being used to spam users to a negligible level. At the same time, these features enable Feedblitz to satisfy the legitimate needs of publishers, helping them to take advantage of Web 2.0 as a dynamic, easy to manage platform for interacting with their readers.

As an example of the facility in use, we welcomed Universe Today to FeedBlitz this week. Universe Today used the beta import to migrate over 30,000 (that's not a typo) subscribers to FeedBlitz. Their partner site, BadAstronomy.com, came over from bloglet earlier in the month.

I know that there are strong and valid opinions about spam. Nobody likes it, and I don't want FeedBlitz tarred with that brush. I believe we've got an effective solution to the problem in place, but do please comment if you feel strongly about our approach, and (constructively) how it might be improved.

Bottom line: The approach FeedBlitz has taken is pretty restrictive, but I think represents a very fair balance between legitimate needs and preventing abuse. Abusers will lose their privileges immediately, and if it is systematically abused, the feature will be revoked for all. Be in no doubt about that.

But for now, have at it. If you are importing a very large list (say > 5,000 readers) please give me a heads up - there's an additional feature, now in testing, that is more suited to you than the implementation put into production today.



Blogger Ryan Mlynarczyk said...

does this mean that if we have a list of 2000 people from our vertical response email newsletter we can upload our list to FB?



8:36 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger cometomayer said...

i am completly frustrated.. wanted to start with feedblitz.. added manually over 60 subscriber form our database, but feedblitz has after 2 weeks them still not importet.. why does it take so long ???? let me know, because i want to move forward, otherwise i have to switch to another system.. thank you jm

4:17 AM, September 17, 2009  

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