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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Update: 11:28 am edt

The problem appears to be fixed (at least for now) and users may now log in.

Original Post: 10:45 am edt

Our hosting service has apparently got a routing problem with many servers at the moment - and one of the systems affected is the FeedBlitz database server. In plain(-ish) English, packets from our web site are being misdirected and they're not getting to the database server, so the machines can't talk to each other (even though they're all hosted by the same company). It's a network problem at the ISP. Bottom line: visitors can't do anything right now.

Tech support says it has been an issue for about an hour or so now. I might even believe them, as I know that all the emails from the overnight run have been sent, and it finished about 4 hours ago, so if they're telling tales they're not exaggerating too much. However, it is not possible to say when service will be resumed.

If you're having a problem logging in or trying to subscribe or unsubscribe today, we apologize for the hassle; please try back in an hour or so.


Blogher - building your audience w/Elise Bauer

Friday, July 28, 2006

This session has just started, but Elise is off to a great start; if you can get to the write up when it's posted (and all BlogHer sessions are being recorded for podcasting after the conference), this is going to be a good one to catch up on. Full disclosure: Elise is one of our premium customers with "Simply Recipes" (subscribe by mail) but that's not biasing me (honestly); her presentation is really good. Really.


Blogher session 1

Since I'm something of a coward :-) in session one I headed for the table with the only other man in the room at the time. Guess what? It turns out that I'm sitting next to none other than Dave Winer, and we've had a good quick chat about how it might be possible to make OPML reading lists available online. Dave's post is here (thanks, Dave!).


Deliverability Update

A quick note on progress since Monday. The changes we've made are helping. Wednesday's complaint ratio improved 20%, and while I don't have numbers from AOL yet for Thursday (they tend to be intermittent in their reporting), Thursday's absolute complaint count was only 2/3 of Wednesday's. The content and bounce changes we've made are definitely improving deliverability to AOL.

Moreover, we've changed how our email transmission load is balanced between our servers, so more emails are getting delivered than when this first started to happen. So the complaint rate is lower depite a larger base of received emails.

So the trend is very much in the right direction: more messages are being delivered with lower complaint rates. I'll post more news after the weekend as the changes take hold, and as and when we get more metrics from you-know-who.


Blogging from the BlogHer conference

As I write, it's a balmy evening in San Jose, CA, the night before the start of the BlogHer conference, for which FeedBlitz is a technical sponsor. Over the next couple of days I'll be blogging live from the conference, technology permitting. One thing that's particularly noticeable (and not particularly surprising, of course) is that I, as a male, am very much in the minority here. As a white anglo-saxon protestant (lapsed), this is a novel situation for me. Of course I'm just blogging poolside at the moment, so we'll see how Day 1 goes. What I am excited about this conference is:

  • The number of speakers who use FeedBlitz already;
  • What I can learn from everyone here about not only a core demographic, but also the insights the conference tracks may offer - just because it's focused on women doesn't mean that that sessions won't be valuable for the other half, as it were.
If you're here, I plan to be at the following sessions on day 1:

  • So you have this crazy idea...
  • Keynote
  • Audience Building
  • Tagging, tracking and structured blogging
I hope to see you there!


On AOL Newsletter Deliverability

Monday, July 24, 2006

We're tracking an intermittent deliverability issue with AOL addresses. Updates here as and when we have further news as we take steps to resolve the issue with them.

update 2:22pm edt

We've made a couple of changes to the system to facilitate AOL delivery. Most importantly, we're altering our bounce handling. Previously, all bounces were treated equally, and we gave all bounced addresses 14 days and three failures' grace before clearing them out. Now, "hard" bounces (where the receiving mail server unambiguously tells us that the address we're using is bad) will be immediately moved into the purge queue (the "black spot" status), and will be cleared out next day. Soft bounces (typically (or, perhaps, ideally) transient issues, such as quota problems, connection issues or mail block notifications) will follow the same rules as before: we need three errors and 2 weeks without recovery for an address to be marked for purging. Finally, we're making minor changes to the email footer's wording - you'll see these appear in your next delivery.

update 11:16pm edt

What's apparently happening is that a few bad apples have apparently caused the complaint rate to rise unacceptably. The feedback loop we're using with AOL corroborates with some of the metrics they make available to us, but on other items we have to simply take their word for it and take steps to resolve the issue as they see it. Still, it is what it is and the proverbial something must be done.

At this stage, what we need to do is lower the complaint ratio - which ought to be possible given the policies we use on opting in and confirmation. That in turn will bring back delivery to the levels we expect.

How we get there from here using a couple of strategies. We're going to be much more aggressive about dealing with AOL bounces in particular, and "hard" bounces in general (as described in the earlier update above). This will quickly winnow out those addresses that are either bad or not willing to receive FeedBlitz updates, leaving a much higher quality set of addresses remaining. In addition, we'll be placing text in emails to AOL users to remind them to either unsubscribe (instead of pressing the spam button) or ensure we're properly added to the individual's white list. The unsubscribe text on all our messages is also now also clearer, which may also help reduce complaints.

So you should expect to see a rash of AOL addresses disappearing from your circulation as this process completes in the next day or two. Don't panic. To start with a clean sheet, all active undeliverable AOL addresses have been marked as good, in order to avoid any ambiguity as they're cleaned up. Many are, apparently, old and otherwise no good. These will go away quickly. You may, in fact, be somewhat surprised at how many AOL addresses fail; but after extensive testing today I'm 100% sure that the bounce algorithms are working correctly, and these addresses are being correctly identified as undeliverable. With the chaff removed and clearer instructions for AOL users, things will improve noticeably in the coming days, but it will take a few days to stabilize at best.

Meanwhile, if you are an AOL user, kindly either use the unsubscribe link or add our address to your allowed senders. If your readers are AOL users, kindly remind them (if appropriate) to add us to their whitelists and not to use the dreaded spam button. It's that simple. Anyone wanting more information on how their address got into a FeedBlitz powered update is more than welcome to contact support.


Read an Interview with FeedBlitz's CEO and Founder

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lee Odden, web marketing and search engine optimization SEO expert, interviewed me recently. You can review the excerpt or the whole article. Lee says:

The insights offered in the interview range from how FeedBlitz got started, to how it was marketed to become the top RSS to email service, as well as some interesting ideas on how to use RSS as a marketing vehicle. Hollows also gives these three tips for blog owners that are users or considering use of RSS to email tools...

Read my tips online, and find out more about Lee Odden here.


FeedBlitz adds monthly newsletter publishing option

FeedBlitz Turbo customers can now choose a monthly cycle as well as weekly and intraday. The feed is polled once on the specified date, so be sure that you have a month's data in your feed. If you pick a date that doesn't exist in this month, the poll runs on the last day of the month (so a poll set to run on the 31st will run on June 30th or February 28th).


Customize your FeedBlitz confirmation email text

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

It doesn't get any simpler than this. Any FeedBlitz publisher can now customize the body of the text in the confirmation request email (i.e. the one that is sent after the user subscribes to prove that they really want the subscription and that their email address is valid).

You can add anything. The text can include images, you can rephrase it as you see fit, you can write it in your readers' preferred language and character set. Pro users will have the text customized using their template too.

Go to www.feedblitz.com/f?Lists and look for the new confirmation (thumbs up) icon. First timers will get the standard text to baseline edits from. Once you're ready, you preview the email, and then save it.

Registration confirmation customization is available to all FeedBlitz publishers, standard and premium.


FeedBlitz is hiring - interested?

Monday, July 17, 2006

We're hiring!

We need a customer service / QA engineer, and an application engineer. If you (or someone you know and trust) might be interested in having some fun in a new startup with established market leadership position (yes, I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it's true), would like the flexibility (and has the discipline and courage) to work from home, doesn't mind pitching in on a bit of everything and is looking to lead as we grow, then I'd like to hear from you.

Detailed job requirements on request, but core technologies we're using include Windows, C++, XML / RSS, ASP, MySQL, HTML, CSS, SMTP, POP. Experience in other Internet messaging technologies, high performance distributed systems and (for the CSE / QA position) web test automation solutions will strongly influence the outcome. Both positions will involve interacting with customers, investors and prospects, so exquisite people skills are a must.

Got what it takes? Then what are you waiting for! Write me.


FeedBlitz Sponsors BlogHer

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

FeedBlitz is an official technical sponsor of the BlogHer conference - look for our logo on the BlogHer.org home page. If you plan on attending and would like to arrange a meeting, please drop me a line as I'll be there.

Naturally, we're enabling the BlogHer newsletters, all of which may be subscribed to here. Hat tip to Guy Kawasaki (site - subscribe) for putting us in touch.


June 2006 Summary

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

It's been a while since I posted a monthly state o' the 'Blitz, so I'm going to take advantage of today's July 4th holiday to briefly catch up.

In previous updates I've started with the circulation numbers. Not to put too fine a point on it, the numbers I was using before were misleading. In upgrading the database in June we had to revisit every query we were using, and it turns out that the circulation metric we publish on the feedblitz.com home page was including both unsubscribed readers and paused feeds. It's not really a fair indication of the business, so as of today these metrics have been fixed.

The home page now reports active circulation and active feeds - i.e. the number of feeds we poll that could cause an email to be sent, and the number of individual items that could potentially be sent (that's the circulation). So it's kinda tough to do the trend analysis I usually do, so instead we'll be looking next month at the change from today's corrected total, which is an active circulation of 647,926. Meanwhile, the analytics tell us that, despite the database upgrade, hassles, feedblitz.com had 205,634 visits in June and 729,583 page views.

Since my last update (made in March looking at February; yes - it's been that long), we've added the following new features and capabilities:

We also upgraded the database software (which was not a pleasant experience), migrated the database to a dedicated server, and added a new bulk mail server. The database has settled down well, and you may have noticed that your emails are arriving earlier than they used to - that's the result of the performance benefits that both the database upgrade and the new bulk server are bringing. We've gone from a single machine doing everything (web server, app server, database server, inbound and outbound mail servers) to a set of three.

The benefits? The nightly poll is now running approximately 3 times faster since we introduced the new servers, and there's more to come as we bring other elements of our scalable architecture online over the Summer. None of these additional improvements is as significant a change as the database engine, so further disruption ought to be minimal. But you can expect to see continual improvement in delivery times.

Finally, the big news for the company was, of course, our funding by Tom Evslin in late May. That gives us the ability - and you the confidence - that we're set and steady for the next stage in our growth. Now we're past the upgrade issues, there are a lot more features we'll be able to deliver that will consolidate our position as the Internet's #1 RSS to mail service.


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