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Don't like FeedBlitz orange? Customize your FeedBlitz emails!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Don't like FeedBlitz orange? Want to add your own logo? Change colors, fonts? Add your own promotional materials, ads or other graphics?

Now you can, with FeedBlitz Pro.

Available from your syndication management area, you can access the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) mail template editor (see the snapshot image on the left) by clicking the "Pro" icon for your feed. It is pre-populated with the FeedBlitz layout to help get you started. You can add (and remove!) pretty much anything you like from this editor. You can see how you're doing as you edit by using the preview button. Graphic designers (and Safari users) can also get at the HTML template source to complete the customization process by including CSS stylesheets and other tags.

Once you're ready, click the "Use this template" check box and save. This is a premium service - USD $4.95 per feed per month - with a two week evaluation period. You'll be asked to subscribe. Once through the PayPal screens, which only take a minute or two (less if you've used them before) , you're up and running. If your brand, your image, is worth more than 16 cents a day, then this service is a must-have.

Better yet, the template is also used in the landing page after a subscriber registers to get your feed, so that the entire experience can be customized to your look and feel.

Finally, you can combine "Pro" with the new post truncation feature (see the new FAQs) and with "Turbo" for comprehensive, customized publication of your RSS content on your schedule.


FeedBlitz FAQs Available

Visit the new, comprehensive FAQs (frequently asked questions). Find out about:
  • Mail, privacy, spam and bounced mail policies.
  • How to truncate posts in emails.
  • Customizing your emails.
And, of course, much, much more.


FeedBlitz International Enhancements

Monday, November 21, 2005

Two features have been added to FeedBlitz today which will be of interest to international (i.e. non-English) users.

Firstly, FeedBlitz has been upgraded to handle Windows-1252 encoded feeds, dominant in much of Europe and Latin America. No more strange characters in feeds for users of this codepage.

Secondly, email subject lines are now properly coded using the Unicode (UTF-8) character set - which means that they will read correctly for non-Latin alphabets. For blogs and feeds that use non-Latin codepages (eg. Cyrillic and asian texts), the subject line of FeedBlitz emails will no longer look like "There are 2 new posts in ????????? ????????? ????????????? ? ????????? ???????? ???????????," but will instead look like "There are 2 new posts in Предельно Правдивое Повествование о Правлении Полуэкта Полуэктовича" instead (provided your email client supports Unicode subject lines, of course).



Wednesday, November 16, 2005

That about sums up the day. The nightly post is horribly delayed, due to - as we now know after much hair pulling, teeth gnashing and cursing - due to a bug in a core programming API used by FeedBlitz. Basically, there are apparently situations where this otherwise reliable and important to FeedBlitz API causes the server's CPU to go into an infinite loop. We, unfortunately, hit one of those situations today, where a relatively badly behaved web server tripped the situation that caused the race condition. Infinite loop, process doesn't end (that would be the infinite part), no emails. Just our bad luck and, for what it's worth, a total, utter pain to identify and fix (because even once we found the true cause and some documentation on it, the workaround in the tech note doesn't. actually. work. either. Phooey.).

But fix it we have, and the poll is off and running again. This time it will finish. As much as we strive for consistency in performance, the more feeds we see the more likely one or two will eventually throw a wrench in the works (see my remarks here). So it was today, and while do apologize for the inconvenience, we've bounced back and are ready to blitz those feeds once more.


Nag, Nag, Nag.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

This week's principal new feature is an automated reminder (and removal) service for subscribers who don't respond to the confirmation emails. After three days without a response, FeedBlitz sends a reminder note. If there is no response within three days, the subscriber is removed. They can always sign up again if they want to, but odds are they don't, and this simplifies life for everyone. So, publishers will see their "still registering" counts fall - some quite dramatically as we catch up with old users from back in August thought October - but after that it will be back to steady state again.

Other recent unannounced changes include SSL on the login submission and user profile pages to further protect your privacy, and the final defeat of the FireFox "Bad Request" problem.


First Results Validate Performance Improvements

Monday, November 07, 2005

The most recent nightly run successfully completed all its work faster than any run since September 17. It took less than 30 minutes to complete a task that, the day before, had taken an hour and a half (with the email engine improvements), and the day before that had taken over two hours. Looking good.

Put another way, in the last nightly cycle FeedBlitz polled over 5,500 feeds and potentially mailed 48,000+ active subscribers to those feeds. On September 17, the last time the run was this fast, FeedBlitz was only polling 881 active feeds for less than 10,000 active readers. So a factor of five performance improvement is more or less what has been achieved.

Or, looked at a third way, performance is back to where it was only 7 weeks ago. Which implies that we may be looking for the next set of speed improvements around New Year, depending on growth rates. Yikes!

Still, all in all, a very promising start to improving scalability, and the key to much greater reliability moving forward.


High Performance Architecture In Place

Sunday, November 06, 2005

As noted here, the goal for today was to beef up the polling engine. I'm happy to say that a new, more scalable version of the poller has been readied and deployed to the FeedBlitz server. In preliminary testing the poller appears to be faster than its predecessor by at least a factor of five during sustained activity, which we're more than happy with as a starting point. Coupled with the mailer changes made yesterday, FeedBlitz ought to be set up to handle foreseeable growth over the next few months - even if other very large feeds get added in. Look for a post tomorrow with initial results from the production system.

So now it's back to the planned feature development until / unless Web 2.0 throws us another curve.


That's more like it!

Yesterday, as a result of the performance issues, we fast-tracked part I of a new higher performance architecture (HPA). HPA part I was deployed yesterday evening, and it worked very well. All the feeds were polled and the emails sent out before 3:00 am eastern this morning. Yay!

For the technically inclined, FeedBlitz's single-threaded emailer was replaced by a multi-threaded version of itself (note that FeedBlitz's MTA / SMTP server was not changed in this process; what was updated was the application layer code that sends mail to the MTA). Bottom line: faster.

Now, there's more room for improvement in the mailer - we made these changes in a day, so could only make the lowest risk performance changes - but despite this and the recent growth in FeedBlitz, the mailer managed its best performance in nearly three weeks. And three weeks ago, FeedBlitz was much smaller than it is today. So, for now, we're going to leave the mailer alone since the changes are working pretty well - no sense in perturbing it further - and going to look at part II of the HPA.

Part II? Improving the performance of the core feed poller. It too is single threaded at the moment. A multi-thread poller will yield major throughput improvements - better, I suspect, than the equivalent changes in the mailer - given that polling performance is heavily dependent on the performance of underlying network connections and remote systems. So there's plenty of idle time to take advantage of. We'll see.

Meanwhile, thanks for bearing with us - onwards and upwards!


FeedBlitz grew ~40-50% yesterday

Saturday, November 05, 2005

From the "be careful what you wish for" (or is it the "it never rains but pours") department, FeedBlitz's subscriber base increased by nearly half yesterday. Good, right? Well yes - but the sudden extra volume which, in the normal course of events, would have taken a month or two to reach at current growth rates (i.e. relatively speaking, plenty of time to enhance FeedBlitz's performance), is causing very large performance slow downs this morning.

So, having just put in changes to make it more robust - yesterday's run went off beautifully with nary a hitch - we now have to put in changes to make it faster - a lot faster - because if the mails don't go out you don't care about the underlying reasons.


11/3 nightly completes - and a quick word on dates

Thursday, November 03, 2005

*sigh* It's been something of a bumpy ride this week. Last night's run was stopped by previously unencountered feed date format problems. FeedBlitz has been updated this morning to gracefully handle this class of feed coding error and the run is now under way. So apologies to everyone, again.

Dates, for what it's worth, are the most important and most common cause of problems (usually manifesting themselves as "My emails didn't come through!" emails to support) after junk mail filters. Last night's problems came as a result of dates in feeds representing 1/1/1970 and a date in 2038. Clearly, these dates in feeds are bogus (most programmers will recognize them), but they were nevertheless present in a couple of feeds polled by FeedBlitz last night and these failures, unfortunately, caused the polling process to halt. It's off and running now, but clearly there's work to be done here.

So, as of today job #1 is to put in much more work into improving FeedBlitz's resistance to failure during long process operations like the nightly poll. Everything else will be put on hold until this has been done. We recognize that reliability is key and that reliability recently has not been where it needs to be. This will be dealt with.

Update 11/3 11:46 pm - Changes have been made to significantly reduce the risk of a single problem derailing an entire run. We'll watch stability over the next few days to ensure that the service is consistently running at the levels you expect.

But back to dates for a minute. FeedBlitz is a date and time-driven application. Here, in brief is how it works when deciding which posts to send out:

1) FeedBlitz asks the blog sever if the feed has changed.
2) If the feed is downloaded FeedBlitz inspects the datestamp in the feed container envelope.
3) If the container indicates entries changed in the timeframe that FeedBlitz is looking for, FeedBlitz goes on to examine the individual entries
4) If the time stamp in the entry XML matches the time range FeedBlitz is checking, the post is included.
5) If there is no timestamp (e.g. RSS 0.9x, horrible format, please change to something smarter if you're still using it, there's really no excuse), FeedBlitz goes back to the source server and pulls each entry's link if the server says that the link changed in the relevant time frame. Data about the most recent entry is cached to limit bandwidth usage on future polls.
6) For posts with multiple date entries (typically created, modified and published dates), FeedBlitz uses created if available, modified if not. This means that if you edit a post next day it won't be re-sent (it didn't used to be that way, but this prevents accidentally spamming all your subscribers if you make a wholesale change to your blog template).
7) After all this, FeedBlitz has a list of entries from the feed that match the date criteria. These are added to the outbound mail.

So when will a post not show up in your email? Most likely when:

1) The date does not conform to any reasonable formatting scheme (usually a problem with manually crafted feeds).
2) The feed wasn't updated at the time FeedBlitz scanned it.
3) The container date is not updated even if there are more recent posts.
4) The dates continually change when you republish, which continually moves the post out of the relevant scanning window.
5) Correctly formatted but meaningless dates are used (e.g. 1970 or 2038).
6) Your server couldn't be reached by FeedBlitz, or it failed to respond in a timely fashion.
7) There's a problem with FeedBlitz itself.
8) There's a sp*m filter blocking emails.

For what it's worth, #7 happens the least (although I appreciate that it doesn't feel like that this week) and #8 the most.

So. There you have it. The bad news is that there are, again, delays. The good news (such as it is) is that we're more or less on top of the situation, the fixes are in, and the mail will be delivered.

Thanks for bearing with us,



Delayed Nightly Run 11/1 Completes

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Last night's basic run has now completed. We apologize for the inconvenience.


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