Authenticated Feeds, SSL, Spanning Partners and Salesforce.com
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
On the wish list for a while has been the need to let FeedBlitz access feeds that either need SSL or authentication or both. The buzz about enabling Salesforce.com reports via RSS from Spanning Partners
has put me over the edge.
Why? Well, I've always thought adding feeds to salesforce would be a good idea. More to the point, how many field sales reps do you think know or care about RSS, XML, have an aggregator already installed on their laptops or blackberries and know how to use it? And how many IT staff are rejoicing at the prospect of setting all this up and training tens, hundreds or thousands of sales personnel on this type of technology?
By enabling authenticated feeds and SSL polling, FeedBlitz gets Spanning Partners' nifty salesforce feeds to the intended end user via email - which every field sales manager has and can use. No training, no software installations. The only hassle I can see with the Spanning Partners approach is that you need to have one feed per sales manager, as the authentication defines what you can see from salesforce (actually, this is a reflection of the underlying salesforce.com web services API). At least with FeedBlitz, setting up automatic notifications based on RSS feeds from salesforce.com makes the setup task a centralized, web-based process that requires no code to be installed on a salesperson's system and no retraining necessary.
So, spurred on by RSS for salesforce, the new features du jour
- SSL support for any feed
- HTTP Authentication
Users enter their name and password when they set up the feed.
Of course, moving private, secure data onto email using FeedBlitz makes it neither secure nor private, so the feature is accompanied by clear warnings of the potential consequences of syndicating a protected feed. To see this in action, log in to FeedBlitz and edit the details of one of your feeds.
Multiple FeedBlitz Enhancements
Monday, August 29, 2005
HTML EMail Improvements
A small but vital change has been made to better handle feeds using escaped HTML.
In plain English, what that means is that if you were using a tool like Blogware to create your feed, up until now any images in the mail didn't render, and any internal links were probably broken. Now images work and links link, so your mails look like you expect them to. If you feel that the presentation quality of your feed has fallen, let me know, but in extensive testing I couldn't find any feeds currently in FeedBlitz that were obviously adversely affected.
Bottom line: if you had no
problems before, you're fine. If you did have problems with images rendering, you ought now to be fine too.Email Delivery Improvements
A couple of Mac users reported problems with emails apparently being garbled. An issue this revealed, which was that some emails did not conform strictly to the SMTP specifications, has been fixed.
There are two benefits of this change. Firstly, anyone using Apple Mail on Mac OSX will be able to read their registration emails - this is obviously a good thing. Better, however, is that this issue may have been causing certain mail gateways and anti-virus systems to bounce FeedBlitz emails altogether, creating (in effect) "phantom" bounces for addresses that are, actually, good. Tying this fix together with a minor wording change to the footer should result in much greater deliverability. So...Non Delivery States Reset Today
The non-delivery states (those pesky yellow triangles) have all been cleared out. Non-delivery processing continues, so bounces will be reported as usual, but it will start with a clean slate tonight on the assumption that bounce rates will lower thanks to the better conforming mail message.Subscriber Management Improvement
For those subscribers who do end up with a bounce, a feature has been added - accessed by the green check mark in the subscriber lists - that enables you to "reset" the subscriber's state by hand. The check mark only shows up if you have a subscriber with a bounce, so don't expect to see it otherwise.Subscriber Search Added
On the dashboard, under the subscriber summary table, is a new form that searches your subscribers based on the search text you enter. If you want to know all users from aol.com, simply type "aol.com" in the box and hit the search button. If you want to know how many of your subscribers are named "phil", just type "phil" into the box. You get the idea. This is a feature that's particularly useful to owners of large lists, as it dramatically reduces the time to find and manage any given individual.New User Password Changes
Some new users were consistently mis-typing their automatically generated random passwords, often confusing lower case "L" with the number "1" (this because the mail is sent as plain text, and most email clients display plain text in a monospace font like Courier, which can make these characters difficult to distinguish). To reduce the risk that your readers will complain that they cannot log in, randomly generated passwords will be forced into upper case for all new users from now on to try to reduce this class of user error.Bloglet Import Reports Anonymous User Count
Bloglet import now tells you how many anonymous users were skipped (if any) at the end of the import process. This should help users transferring feeds from Bloglet to FeedBlitz reconcile any differences in subscriber counts.Real-Time Email Notifications Temporarily Halted
These were just getting too annoying for some. An option will be created in the near future to give publishers the choice as to whether to stop them, but they've simply been stopped for now to reduce clutter. Instead, log in to the dashboard to view the very latest metrics.
And that's pretty much it for today...
NDN and Subscriber Management Updates
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Users who tried to process NDN notices from yesterday's run may have discovered that the "unsubscribe" buttons on the main subscriber list window didn't work (they did on a single feed's subscriber list). Sorry about that one - it has now been fixed.
In addition - and this is especially relevant to larger lists - the dashboard has been changed to allow you to view all your subscribers by whether they're good, still registering or having delivery issues. Click on the green subscriber icon and only happy subscribers will be shown. Similarly, clicking on the yellow "alert" sign will show you what addresses had email delivery problems.
Finally, we continue to extend the automatic NDN processing. It seems ot be OK from here, but if you think that an email reported as bounced is in fact active and OK, please let me know.
FeedBlitz Starts Subscriber Deliverability Reporting
Friday, August 26, 2005
One of the challenges of sending out an email as a service is handling bounces, or non-deliverability notices (NDNs). An NDN, or "bounce", is received by FeedBlitz whenever an email address is invalid, or delivery is otherwise blocked. You want to know if the email addresses you're sending to are any good, and that your circulation metrics are valid. You therefore need to have a way to manage NDNs
But how? Bloglet never helped with this.
Use FeedBlitz, of course. Starting today, a number of changes are being rolled into FeedBlitz to facilitate subscriber management for syndicators, including significantly improved NDN handling and automated bad address management. Over the weekend, you will start to see an "alert" icon in your dashboards for email addresses which report failures.
FeedBlitz will continue to attempt to deliver the daily email to an address that reports a failure for up to 3 tries or 15 days (system-wide), whichever is the longer. At that point the email address will be marked as pending deletion, and it will be deleted (unless action is taken) the following day. A 15 day window is long enough to accommodate longer vacations and absences, but short enough to not overburden the infrastructure for too long by unnecessarily attempting to mail updates to dead accounts.
So as far as publishers are concerned, you can simply do nothing and it will all happen automatically. Better, however, to look at your undeliverable reports and actively manage your subscribers. If an address is obviously misspelled, for example, you can personally write to the correct address and invite the user to resubscribe. Or you can simply remove the user as a subscriber to your feed immediately, which saves the hassle later.
The first automated pruning will therefore take place in 15 days time, on September 10th. You may see a reduction in subscriber counts of around 5-10% or more, depending on the age and quality of your subscribers. Some of these email addresses could have been useless for years - it's just that Bloglet never told you about them. Now, at last, you can find out.IMPORTANT EMAIL DELIVERY SERVICE NOTE
: In order to better facilitate this automated email bounce handling, the sending email address for FeedBlitz messages will change starting Saturday, August 27. Updates up to now have been coming from firstname.lastname@example.orgAs of August 27, email updates will come instead from FeedBlitz@mail.feedblitz.com
Please update any filtering or white lists as appropriate. The FeedBlitz web site, as well as other FeedBlitz email addresses (such as email@example.com
), will remain at feedblitz.com; it is only the sender information in the automated emails from the FeedBlitz service itself that will change.
After all, being called a "Killer App" doesn't happen every day...
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Rajesh Setty, author of "Life Beyond Code"
, was set up on FeedBlitz earlier today. Here's what he blogged after the experience:
"I am of the firm belief that email is still the killer app and there are many more killer apps that will come out based on email.
Feedblitz is one of them."
Thank you Rajesh! Here's his full post
What a difference a day makes
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Before I reveal the current subscriber count, a quick promise to not talk about it for a while after today. Perhaps when FeedBlitz gets to 10,000 or something. Or perhaps I'll stick a widget somewhere in the home page with the total so you all can just see. Anyway, for now, I think the point's been made and it's time to wrap up the next round of feature adds.
So. Last mention on this topic until 10k. Promise
. More than 3,000. Up from yesterday's 1,900.
PS Kudos to blogger for their comment verification image thing. Works great! I haven't had a single bogus comment since I switched it on. If you're a blogger user I recommend it.
FeedBlitz now at 1,900 Subscribers
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
A huge thank you
for making FeedBlitz the fastest growing blog to mail service on the Net. In just 6 days the number of readers fed by FeedBlitz has basically doubled. Or, put another way, it took FeedBlitz 15 days to get nearly 1,000 readers; the next 1,000 or so have come in less than half that time.
I'm flattered, excited and also humbled by this experience so far. Thank you all.
Comment spam - I suppose I should be flattered
Monday, August 22, 2005
Only I'm not, of course. Clearly FeedBlitz's success has been noticed on someone's radar from the less savory side of the Net, as I'm now getting automated comment spam, oh joy. So, for now, we'll see if Blogger's image verification switch (a recent change, I think) prevents the drivel that's just started to appear.
Subscriber Management, First Video / Podcasts
Sunday, August 21, 2005
FeedBlitz's next step beyond Bloglet is to further extend FeedBlitz's leadership in both the quality of the emails sent and the ease of subscriber management for publishers.
On the new and improved email front, today's news sees FeedBlitz mailing links to audio (podcasts) and (in this case) Flash video for a publisher for the first time. Cool stuff!
In addition, the usability of the subscriber screens has been upgraded today to allow publishers to remove a user from a particular feed using the feed subscriber membership list, rather than having to go via the "My Subscribers" area of the dashboard. Reader management has a more consistent look and feel and I, for one, find it easier to work with now. Making the subscriber management better and internally consistent is also the first step in delivering better email bounce handling.
If you haven't been to the FeedBlitz dashboard for a while, now is a great time to check out some of the changes. And meanwhile, for those who have moved over from Bloglet, don't forget to update your Bloglet subscription form on your blogging template with the FeedBlitz equivalent
. Go to the dashboard, click "Manage My Subscriptions" and click the grey box with the black angle brackets on the far right of the feed table to generate the HTML for that feed.
Smarter Content, and Google AdSense
Saturday, August 20, 2005
As FeedBlitz has blown through the 1,000 subscriber mark (and then some), I've taken the chance to step back a little to ensure that the core deliverables - well formatted emails from feeds - were still ok.
There is still room for improvement, and a number of changes have gone into today's build that will make a dramatic difference for some publishers. One in particular is worth noting.
The largest change is to take HTML encoded post text in preference to plaintext from feeds where both are present in a single post; previously the content used was selected on a first-come, first-served basis. As a result, some publishers who use Google AdSense in their feeds who did not see them in the email before (because FeedBlitz was picking up the plaintext copy) will now do so as of today. Email formatting on posts for these users will also improve greatly.
At this point, everyone using Google AdSense for feeds in combination with FeedBlitz should see the ads in the emails (if you don't, please email me). Bloglet, of course, doesn't support Google AdSense for feeds at all
. Ah well. Yet another reason to switch.
Other than that, minor changes have been put in to better handle feeds without descriptions and posts without titles (Dave Winer's "Morning Coffee Notes
" blog is an example of this). Also new today is code to fix up relative image links. Some posters (or their blog editors) are not using the full URL for images, such as http://mysite.com/foo.jpg Instead, such feeds simply have image links like "/foo.jpg" which won't render well when the feed isn't viewed from that server - which is what happens with FeedBlitz. So FeedBlitz now attempts to fix this up for you, gentle reader, so that you don't have to (and also so that you don't think FeedBlitz is broken either :-) ).
FeedBlitz Nears 1,000 Subscribers in First 15 days
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
I am thrilled to be able to report that RSS and blog feeds published to email using FeedBlitz are now being sent to nearly 1,000 individual subscribers after only the first 15 days online! Powering the growth has been the quality of the service and the Bloglet import capability, allowing feed managers to easily migrate their lists from Bloglet to FeedBlitz.
Here are some quotes from FeedBlitz's current users:
"Your's is the best tool of it's kind out there" - JM, USA
"wow¡¡¡ I´ve never had this kind of service in any Internet service." - South American Publisher
"It looks good" - SC, USA
Monday, August 15, 2005
One of the challenges of a service like FeedBlitz is that users may enter the URL of the web page for the blog, such as http://feedblitz.blogspot.com
instead of the URL for its feed
- which is what works best for FeedBlitz. As it happens, the feed for the FeedBlitz blog is run by those excellent people at FeedBurner, and its URL is http://feeds.feedburner.com/FeedBlitz
So, what to do if the user enters the "wrong" URL? Enter autodiscovery
. There are tags in most web pages that enable clients like FeedBlitz to figure out the feed URLs available. When you enter a URL to publish or subscribe to, FeedBlitz will fetch it and use the autodiscovery feature to determine all the available RSS or Atom feeds. It then offers you a choice: pick one of the discovered feeds, or go ahead and monitor the URL you entered in the first place. Your call.
Either way, it's clearer what it is you're doing, and should help to avoid inadvertently simply monitoring a web page (which isn't very exciting) instead of subscribing to a feed's posts (what you were probably trying to do).
Import feeds, readers from Bloglet
Saturday, August 13, 2005
FeedBlitz has been upgraded to allow direct access to Bloglet for the simple transfer of feeds and subscribers from Bloglet into the FeedBlitz RSS blog mailing engine. This allows Bloglet users who have been forced to create custom RSS feeds and hand over their blogging user ID and password over to Bloglet can eliminate both these issues quickly and easily.
To make use of the feature, all you need to do is:
- Log in to FeedBlitz.
- Access the Bloglet import page.
- Provide your Bloglet email and password
- Pick the feed to import.
- Pick the URL to associate with your feed (FeedBlitz uses a new "autodiscovery" capability to determine the available feed formats to use - more on this next week).
- That's it!
- Repeat steps four and five for all your feeds on Bloglet...
- Log in to Bloglet proper to disable Bloglet emails for the feeds you just imported into FeedBlitz
If necessary, FeedBlitz automatically creates a new syndicated feed for you, otherwise new users will be added to the existing feed. See? Couldn't be simpler! Let us know how it works out for you...
More on "international" text encoding
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Following Monday's Unicode update, support has been added for the most common other encoding, ISO-8859-1, which is what most European languages use. Specifically, feeds and blogs encoded in ISO-8859-1 are now properly converted to UTF-8 as the emails are sent out, so the odds of emails related to your feed "looking odd" are very much lower (if we find other popular encoding formats being used, conversions will be added for them at some point in the future). Text format emails in particular are now correctly encoded.
On the minor tweaks front, a fix was applied so that all RSS feed formats displayed correctly. Previously, one version of RSS was only showing post headlines, and where's the fun in that? Also, the messaging on the landing page for subscribers adding themselves via the HTML form now emphasizes your feed's name (and gives clearer instructions on finishing the registration process). Your users should feel more comfortable that the submission worked and is indeed related to the site they just came from.
FeedBlitz continues to grow - spread the word, and keep that feedback coming!
FeedBlitz Goes International with Unicode (UTF-8) Support
Monday, August 08, 2005
I'm pleased to announce that FeedBlitz has now been enabled for full Unicode (UTF-8) support when it mails out your entries. This means that if your blog or RSS feed contains "latin" or "roman" characters, like English, and "foreign" (non-Latin) characters, such as 周星馳, FeedBlitz will now handle them gracefully in both HTML and text email formats - as long as your mail client supports Unicode, which most every modern one does. If you stick to plain English, worry not - you won't even notice the difference.
More subscribers, more features
Friday, August 05, 2005
Keep those suggestions coming! Based on recent feedback (and the FAQ lack) a legend has been to the main feed and subscriptions lists to help new users figure out how to manage their feeds. Today users will also see individual unsubscribe options for each of the feeds in the mail, as well as the "global" unsubscribe option at the end of the mail. This allows you to quit receiving an individual feed without having to log in or unsubscribe wholesale. More choices and more flexibility for you, in other words. In addition, minor improvements have been made to text format emails and to the information sent about a subscribing to an HTML page (as opposed to a feed).
Finally, the test feature now always sends an email, even if there are no posts that fit the standard poll criteria. That way you can always see what an email will look like. If you just thought "huh?" when you tried FeedBlitz test capability before, give it another go and you'll see what the difference.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
Many thanks to those who made suggestions Wednesday - FeedBlitz just keeps getting better as a result of your enthusiasm! If you're a FeedBurner user you should now see the FeedBlitz user agent in your stats.
Changes include: Tables are now easier on the eye when there are multiple rows; the workflow in the syndications and subscriptions area has been improved somewhat; email validation is much stronger; and a confirmation dialog has been added to all deletion operations to prevent a misplaced mouse-click from deleting the feed for all your subscribers accidentally.
One thing I'm going to have to revisit, it's clear, is time zone handling. Right now FeedBlitz isn't locale sensitive, it takes the prior day in GMT/UTC as its time window. So if you posted on Tuesday after 23:59 UTC, FeedBlitz will only have sent it out today. That seemed like a good decision at the time I made it during the FeedBlitz design, but it's really counterintuitive in practice. It's going to have to change; I've an approach that I'm contemplating which will show up in a few days to have this make more sense.Edit: Aug 4, 7:00 PM
Turns out it was just a defect with feeds where times are already in UTC - now fixed. What happens now is that FeedBlitz simply mails posts in the most recent 24 hr period (midnight to midnight, eastern), regardless. While it's still not locale sensitive, it is
more along the lines of what one would intuitively expect. Fix posted, mailing more intuitive, and now back to your regularly scheduled blog mailing...
Welcome to FeedBlitz's first subscribers
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
A quick note to thank those hardy souls who've started to use FeedBlitz. I can already sense a need for some FAQs as the feedback comes in - thanks to everyone for the comments so far.
So, FYI, based on this feedback a few changes have been made to ensure that feeds without recent activity can be entered OK, and an issue with password updates has been fixed.
FeedBlitz Goes Live!
Monday, August 01, 2005
Welcome to FeedBlitz, an entirely new way to get your blog posts and RSS feeds to subscribers using Email. The web site content will still be tweaked over the next few days, but meanwhile we're up and running and ready for our first users.
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