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File Upload Added to Subscriber Import

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

FYI The premium service import facility has been upgraded with the ability to upload a file as well as simply pasting in the names as outlined last week. File upload allows for much larger imports than copy / paste, which was an issue during the beta. The upload restricts file sizes to a maximum of 1MB, which ought to cut it for lists containing up to 50,000 names or so.


Public Beta - FeedBlitz adds AutoSubscription via OPML for Blogrolls and Reading Lists

Friday, December 23, 2005

This is a quick post to let you know that FeedBlitz now enables subscribers to automatically update their subscriptions using OPML subscription and syndication. The feature is in production beta, so may change without notice, but all comments are welcome. I'll blog any significant changes.

1) What is it? How do you start?

You can publish or subscribe to an OPML URL, just like a regular feed. If you publish your blogroll or a reading list to OPML, you can set up a subscription form for your blogroll just like a normal RSS or Atom feed. So you can have other people subscribing to your blogroll, and automatically update them with it.

2) So what?

FeedBlitz monitors the OPML file like any other target. If it detects a change, it mails you an update. If there are dates in the OPML, FeedBlitz will send you only the new entries if it can figure it out, otherwise it sends the whole file to you by mail. It formats the OPML in a basic outline, reflecting the structure of the underlying OPML. You can even tailor the look and feel - and the timing of updates - with the standard FeedBlitz premium services.

3) What's the autosubscription then?

If the OPML entry is a feed you will be subscribed to that feed automatically if you are not already following it - you'll get updates from that feed the next poll cycle. This is a great way for, say, educators and librarians to keep students up to date with reading lists. Or for bloggers to keep readers up to date with the latest music / podcasts you're listening to and new blogs you're tracking. Or create an OPML file to match each of your tags or categories and let readers subscribe to this instead of your basic blog. Whatever! I think there's room for a lot of imagination here. You can even combine your own blog's email updates with your blogroll using OPML and the multi-feed subscription form and things can get really interesting!

Comments welcome below or to me (info email will reach me). And here's my first beta question: Should the autosubscription be extended to OPML links as well as RSS? Discuss!


Subscriber Import Added for Migration from non-Bloglet Services

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.


'Twas the blog before Christmas

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

'Twas the blog before Christmas, when all through the house
No blogger was stirring, no hand moved the mouse.
The postings were stacked by the tag cloud with care,
In hopes that more readers soon would be there;

The users were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of updates danced in their heads;
And me with my podcast, downloaded like that,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out from my laptop there arose such a clatter,
I sprang to my desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the portal I flew like a flash,
Tore open the reader and refreshed the cache.

The enclosure attached soon gave me to know
That new entries were here, more news I should know.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a raft of new updates, eight headlines so clear,

With a quick Wiki update, who could it be?
Our investor, of course, a leading VC.
More rapid than eagles his portfolio came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Blogspot! Now Feedster! now, Movable Type!
On, FeedBurner, FeedBlitz! (On Marketing Hype!)
To the top of the feed! To the top of them all!
Now blog away! blog away! blog away all!"

As valuations that before the wild bubble do fly,
When they meet with a fund, mount up to the sky,
So up to the top of the investments they flew,
With RSS data, and named it Web 2.

And then, with a twinkling, I read in my news
Each notable posting, contrary views.
As I drew back my hand, and was turning around,
Down to my trackback he came with a bound.

His comments were brief, what was ado?
Were adwords OK? Did users click through?
A bundle of mashups he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

Our AJAX - how it twinkled! Our tagging - how merry!
We socially networked to his brand new BlackBerry!
Our RSS valid, we were well syndicated,
We subscribed to the feeds that we loved (and we hated);

The stump of our web site held tight in our teeth,
The hyperbole encircled his head like a wreath;
We tagged Technorati, we blogged with the best,
On Feedster we surged and made the A-list.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And marked us on Frappr, and Flickr he searched.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
Updated his blog, up our OPML rose;

He sprang to his feed, gave his investments a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,


With best wishes from FeedBlitz to everyone this holiday season!

(c) www.feedblitz.com 2005
Full reproduction permitted only with full attribution and links intact.


Tips for Making the Most of FeedBlitz

Monday, December 19, 2005

1) Put the subscription dialog on your permalink pages as well as your blog's home page.

Of course you have the subscription form or link on your main blog page (right? right!).

But if a user clicks on a link to your blog in a search engine like Google or Yahoo, they're much more likely to land on your individual post or item page, where your content stands alone.

Go on, try it - visit your own blog and click through to the individual entry. Can you subscribe from there? You should be able to! Update your template to include subscription options in your sidebar for all posts in all pages, not just your blog's main page, or include subscription links in each individual post. Don't forget to republish the entire blog when you're done.

2) Put the subscription URL on your email signature.

You don't need to have a form in your email address. Use the link created by the HTML subscription form page in FeedBlitz and add it to your email signature. And to your contact page. And to your support page. And where else? Your business card perhaps? Think! Get creative!

3) Write about FeedBlitz on your blog and encourage reader to use it.

Did you just sneak it in and hope your readers would notice? Many new feeds join FeedBlitz each day but - only a few write about it online. Talk aboutyour blog's new capabilities. Invite readers to sign up. Track subscriptions in FeedBlitz and / or FeedBurner.

4) Take advantage of third party services (such as FeedBurner) to add value to your feed.

FeedFlare. FeedBulletin feed alerts by mail. Google AdSense. There's so much more that you can do! Explore. Add. Create!

5) Use post truncation to push traffic to your blog.

This one's a little controversial - some people really dislike feeds that truncate posts, some people don't mind. If you want to truncate your posts to force people to your web site FeedBlitz supports that. In fact, you can (with a little work) give people choices about what to subscribe to - Improbulus (you know, I don't think that's her real name) has some great tips.

6) If your blog is separate from your main site, put a FeedBlitz signup form there too.

Many corporate sites have their blogs in a separate "we're really not quite not sure about this" section of the site. Help them get with the program!

Buddy up with your corporate webmaster and get your subscription form onto the main site. Get the blog's signup link onto everyone's email signatures. Your web site URL is there, your blog's sign up URL should be too. For example, the footer of every page at feedblitz.com has the signup form embedded in it. Result? Nearly four thousand email subscribers to FeedBlitz News so far.

Oh, and it never hurts to show how well your blog postings are doing in Google. Got a blog posting that's on the first page of search terms relevant to your business? Then make sure everyone knows and can see the value that blogging adds to the enterprise.

7) Would your readers be more comfortable if you called it an email newsletter?

Then do it! Consider these two possible reactions from a non-blog reader (that's 90% of the population, more or less):
  • What's a blog? Feed? Isn't that awfully narcissitic? And a little scary? Kids do that, right? No thanks - not for me.
  • A regular newsletter? Contact when something I want is updated? Relevant? Timely? Sure! How do I get started?
You get the idea. Word things the way your audience wants to hear them.

8) Are you worth more than 16 cents a day?

You are? Do your email updates show that? No? Then customize the look and feel of your FeedBlitz emails using "Pro" to match your online brand.

Ok, this last one is really self serving, but consider the question anyway. Do you put more than 16c of time and effort into your blog each day? Shouldn't the emails from FeedBlitz reflect that? If you run ads, shouldn't you be running your ads in your emails too? Food for thought...


Paging Your Subscribers! Improvements for large circulation blogs

Friday, December 16, 2005

A new feature added this week is the ability to page through your subscriber lists using VCR-like controls. For users of large lists (several thousand names) this makes a large difference - response times of a few seconds instead of minutes or (worse yet) timing out. Coupled with some performance improvements made last week this has made a tremendous difference in managing large circulations. For example, it was possible for me to see the most recent confirmed subscribers to FeedBlitz - the last page of more than 350 - in about eight seconds. It was simply impossible before. Go to http://www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?Subscribers to see it in action.

The page size is currently fixed at 250, so for most users there is no difference. The new controls sit above the subscriber table - you can't miss them. It's possible to list all your subscribers if you like by clicking "All" (but then it may take much longer for your browser to display them all, if at all). You can go back to paging by clicking any of the page control buttons (first, next, back, last).

In parallel, the first OPML features are available - subscriptions, syndications and subscribers may now be exported in text or OPML. The export facilities export ALL subscribers, even if you're looking at one of many pages. So you can always download them all from the very first page, even for long lists. They're your subscribers, and this fulfills a pledge made earlier to give you unfettered access to them. OPML is still not a well-defined standard, with implementations adopting various strategies to ambiguities in the spec, so if you have any OPML issues let us know and we'll work it out.

So if OPML export is there, what next? Well, let's say I'm in the market for a few good betas who might want to test an import facility to ease migration from systems other than bloglet. Volunteers please email me at the info@ address.


TypePad and "403 Forbidden" in FeedBlitz emails


UPDATE (1:55 pm EST)

It looks like a corrupt database or disk is responsible for the problems at TypePad. Summary status information is here http://status.sixapart.com/ and a (slightly) longer explanation is here: http://www.sixapart.com/typepad/news/2005/12/current_issues.html

Bottom line: TypePad is still broken and it may not be possible to recover your posts if the storage issues can't be resolved. You'll need to use a backup, the data saved in your desktop or web-based aggregator, or you can try Google's cached images of your site to see if your recent posts can be found there (you might get lucky). Meanwhile, changes will be made today in FeedBlitz to limit any ongoing effects on FeedBlitz subscribers.


TypePad is badly broken at the moment and has been apparently for some time - including the time covered by the FeedBlitz nightly update. The problems therefore extend to mails sent by FeedBlitz based on TypePad feeds (and FeedBurner feeds based on TypePad), which have the wrong title (because TypePad feeds are busted and not even returning the correct error code) and links aren't working. I'm hearing horror stories about other ramifications from others (including lost posts) this morning. It's bad over there.

Do TypePad and the publishers a favor - don't write or phone TypePad support right now. Believe me, they know. I'm sure that they are working like crazy over there to get things fixed. I wish them a speedy recovery.

Still - If you see the "403" message and links are not working it is not FeedBlitz failing, it is TypePad. There's nothing FeedBlitz can do about this other than trust that they'll be up in time for tonight.


Using FeedBlitz with FeedBurner FeedFlare

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

So the good folks over at our partners FeedBurner have a cool new feature called FeedFlare - in a nutshell it enriches your posts with links from the "social network" areas of the blogging world about that post, and then goes on to encourage others to integrate and link to your post. A positive feedback loop, in a sense, which will be extended soon by FeedBurner to web sites (I assume that this will be similar to the BuzzBoost script). Very nice - I think Stowe Boyd at Corante is exactly right as to the significance of its long-term impact.

And, since the "FeedBlitz News" blog is FeedBurner powered, I've enabled FeedFlare for it - it will appear at the end of this (and every) post viewed via an RSS aggregator - and in FeedBlitz emails, of course! So if you're a FeedBurner customer, check FeedFlare out for your subscribers.

Now I'm itching for the API to come out (Eric, need a beta?). There are some FeedBlitz metrics that would fit in perfectly with this approach...


Custom Email Template Extended to Hosted Subscription Form

Thursday, December 08, 2005

For the growing number of bloggers and publishers using the "Pro" email customization service, a quick heads up that the hosted signup form now uses your custom template, in much the same way that the landing page of the form-based signup always did. No changes or actions are required on your part - it just works.

If you want to explore customizing your outbound emails to match your logo, branding, ads or whatever you want, go to this page and click on the Pro icon for each feed you want to customize.

Finally, post truncation wasn't working for Pro feeds - that is now fixed.


FeedBlitz is Four!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Yesterday FeedBlitz completed its four months of operation. What a trip it has been so far. From the early days to now, FeedBlitz has come along a long way, not only built on a vision of being the best RSS to mail subscription service available, but also incorporating comments, suggestions and criticism from you, subscribers and content publishers alike. Thank you all.

Some Data

So, on this anniversary of sorts, to some metrics. Here are the month end circulation counts and the month on month growth:

  • August 11,965
  • September 22,519 (88%)
  • October 47,748 (112%)
  • November 82,643 (73%)
On average, the service grows by about 0.5% a day, steady state, with imports from Bloglet accounting for the additional circulation changes. The service's largest feed has 15,427 subscribers. Six others have circulation counts over 1,000, with three more getting very close to the four figure mark.

There are currently 2,978 email subscribers to the FeedBlitz News blog, along with well over 300 subscribers reading the blog using other RSS aggregators.

This morning, Google search shows for the first time that FeedBlitz references (about 2,280,000 pages) exceed Bloglet's (with some 2,260,000 pages). We're not there yet on Google blog search, but it's only a matter of time.

Feedback and Features

Since its first days, FeedBlitz has incorporated many new capabilities that have been suggested or recommend by users, including:

  • Email and landing page customization (the Pro service).
  • On-demand publication (a Turbo service option).
  • Post truncation.
  • International language support.
  • Multi-feed signup forms.
  • Better feed diagnostics.
  • Automated bounce suppression.
  • Automated management of pending signups.
  • Secure login.
To the best of my knowledge, no other blog to mail or RSS to mail service offers these capabilities.

FeedBlitz also powers FeedBurner's email subscription option, which was recently extended in FeedBurner's "Night of the Living Hack" to FeedBurner's publishers' personal "FeedBulletin" feeds.

In many ways, however, it's the smaller changes that aren't visible to many but make a huge difference to some that I get the greatest kick out of. So, for example, the width of the tables in the emails was reduced to make them readable on a 1024x768 screen without forcing readers to scroll horizontally. A small change, barely noticeable, but it improved the service for the majority of its readers (Google analytics shows that about half FeedBlitz's visitors are on a 1024x768 screen).

Or like some changes made a couple of days ago: one ensuring that each post is always under the prior one in photo or artwork-intensive blogs, and one to better handle certain date formats.

To be sure, we've also had some bumps along the way as the number of feeds and subscribers has grown; but despite that in all 4 months so far there has only been one day when the nightly poll completely failed. Since then, the new high performance architecture is performing extremely well in terms of its ability to deliver consistently reliable and timely service.

The Future

On balance, then, so far, so good. What next?

For starters, there are many improvements to be made in the core service; while successful and good enough, it can always be better. It will be. There are changes both afoot and planned to further improve what FeedBlitz already does and deliver greater value to both standard and premium customers in the functionality it already delivers.

Beyond the continual improvement aspects, FeedBlitz is also going to innovate further for both bloggers, feed providers and readers. A public API is coming for partners to automate feed management. OPML is also coming – an element of this feature set is already live if you hunt around enough – but it's going to be exciting and useful (think of it as more of an OPML-powered application); not just import / export (but we'll have those features too, of course). Internationalization of FeedBlitz itself is also planned. And much, much more!

So if you've been with FeedBlitz for a few months or just a few days, welcome. Check out your dashboard and sample the premium services if you haven't already taken a look or visited recently.

Here's to the next four months of FeedBlitz!


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