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Oh the conclusions you'll jump to...

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Having done the right thing reacting to a series of abuse complaints, a number of people - some of whom really ought to know better - have blogged about how the person involved was hawking pills, or worse, and that they'd evaded all our anti-spam techniques such as the captcha we use on all interactive subscriptions.

Fascinating stuff. Completely wrong of course, but not that it stopped them from drawing gripping conclusions or heaving out advice left and right. All without a any facts at their command. And these are the experts?

Good grief.

How exciting for these people, making things up as they go along! But these writers are, each and every one of them, wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. No pills, no sex, no financial scams, no organized crime. Not even close. How disappointing for them. Ahh, assumptions. Much more fun than getting the facts. Ooooohh, now I get the bloggers as citizen journalists debate.

Here are the facts, folks.

As a responsible email provider we use a number of techniques, including third party deliverability monitoring, RBL monitoring and feedback loops. One of these techinques belatedly picked up someone whose complaint rate was simply and consistently excessive and was at risk of jeopardizing delivery for everyone. Some have suggested that there was criminality involved (ain't guessing grand?), based on the assumption that what was being emailed was Nasty Stuff, or at least splogs (spam blogs) with nefarious mob masterminds behind the scenes, and we should therefore Alert The Authorities Forthwith.

Nope. Wrong again.

The publisher was simply sneaky - several accounts for the same content - and had complaint rates that indicated they were violating our terms of service. The sneakiness indicated that they pretty much came in knowing that there would be trouble, and the metrics proved it. And so they were duly dumped as we investigated the problem. It's that simple - A TOS violation. Nothing more exciting or dramatic than that.

For the record and for what it's worth, the oldest account that was closed was on the system for no more than eight weeks. Would I have preferred we caught it earlier? Of course. There are interesting reasons why they eluded us until now, and none of which relate to the captchas or dual opt in or automated notifications and all the other things that we require to ensure, maintain and monitor list and delivery quality. The processes we have in place worked in the end, albeit too slowly.

What we are figuring out here is how to close gaps in our knowledge that may apparently arise based on subscribers being in different regions of the world. We will make changes to identify more subtle, risky behavior in order to find these issues earlier. Some of these changes will end up being technical, others economic.

Meanwhile, however, a few final facts. Here are the monthly circulation figures for May and June with the affected accounts removed.

May-07: 2,161,774 (up 16% on April)
Jun-07: 2,330,144 (up 8% on May)

Now those are some cold hard facts to sink your teeth into. Growth that's right in line with our historic trends.


Easy Decision: Exit Spammers, Stage Left

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Regular FeedBlitz watchers will have noted a sudden drop in our circulation number - down from 3.4 million yesterday to 2.4 million today. What, you may well ask, happened?

In brief, we have aggressively dealt with (probably) just one individual (using multiple aliases and accounts) who was abusing the service. We use a variety of techniques to identify abusers before they become a significant threat, and one pinpointed this set of lists yesterday.

While it looks painful to lose this much circulation, believe me - this was an easy decision. Annoying, frustrating - yes. But easy. FeedBlitz thrives on quality: Deliverability is job #1, and maintaining our integrity and ISP relations is key to success there. Having a large list doesn't exempt anyone from the terms of service and is not any protection from our actions as and when an alarm is tripped. We will always deal with abusers quickly and with extreme prejudice.

So: Abuse discovered. Action taken.

Bottom line: our circulation count has moved back to where it was, oh, around the end of May, pushing us back about 8 weeks in terms of our top line growth. That's OK - I expect we'll be at the 2.5 million mark or thereabouts by the time the July summary is written. And we keep our quality up so your messages get through. That's our job after all.


FeedBlitz Newsletter Edition Gains Over 100 Customers in first 5 weeks

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

In fact, as of right now, FeedBlitz has over 120 Newsletter Edition accounts.



TechNote: If you want to ping FeedBlitz...

... then set your ping URL or service to ping us at www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?XmlPing - note that the full path is required; if you miss out the "f.fbz" you'll get a "method not allowed" error. We now accept both standard and extended pings (before an extended ping was all FeedBlitz supported). Pings will cause a mailing if we can find a relevant feed that matches the ping which is set to a Express delivery schedule (applies to Turbo and Newsletter Edition upgrades).

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Feature Update: Recycling is Good for your Posts 2

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Circulation is king - and getting your posts read as much as possible is key to maximizing your readership and, of course, any benefits you can reap (page views = ad revenue) from your content's extended reach. That's why FeedBlitz introduced the recent article summary in May.

But there's more we can do to help your articles be read. And read. And read again. So today FeedBlitz has upgraded two of our capabilities to help you exploit your content even more.

Firstly, we have extended our tag search facility to enable your readers to quickly search your entire blog for, well, whatever they want. A new entry will now appear in your table of contents under the recap, allowing readers to search your blog globally, not just for the tags used in an individual article. The feature is otherwise the same as the tag search and controlled using the same option in your setup; see the original article for details.

Secondly, we've expanded the reach of the outbrain article ranking system. When a user rates an article, the landing page now shows related articles (if any) as determined by all of outbrain's voters. In addition, we've added a "Related" option for each article, next to the forward-to-a-friend, comment and other links, which takes you directly to the results page without a vote being required first. Perfect for lurkers and the silent majority. The "related" link is controlled using the outbrain article ranking option - see the original article for more.

Each of these changes greatly increases the potential readership for each of your articles, regardless of whether they are in the current message or not. So publishers benefit from greater exposure for their content, and subscribers benefit from being able to quickly find articles of interest. A win-win, then. Cool.

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June 2007 Monthly Update

Back in the saddle again, and the biggest news last month was the launch of the FeedBlitz Newsletter Edition, a new service that enables any publisher to deliver customized content to any subscriber no matter how that subscriber subscribers.

In other words, if you’re a blogger, you can capture subscriber details (such as name and location) and use that to create customized content to that user. Personalized, targeted content means better higher returns – Web 2.0 gets personal. All driven from your blog.

For email newsletter marketers, you can use FeedBlitz Newsletter Edition to reach both your current newsletter subscribers and Web 2.0 subscribers – all with one service meeting the needs of both, bridging the gap as readers transition from legacy communications to social media. If you don’t have a blog or an RSS feed, FeedBlitz Newsletter Edition will create them for you- all you need to do is type in your articles.

The bottom line is what we’re calling “One Touch Publishing” – no matter how you create your content, all you need to do is publish it once and FeedBlitz Newsletter Edition will customize it, publish it and distribute it to your subscribers without your knowing how. Consistent delivery, consistent reporting and consistent management for all your communications – that’s what Newsletter Edition delivers.

FeedBlitz Newsletter Edition pricing starts at under $2 for publishers with under 10 unique subscribers, which makes it really affordable. It includes email, RSS and web customization, demographic capture and schedule changes in one solution. So if you haven’t tried it out yet, give it a whirl! And become a power publisher in one easy step.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating of course. After 4 weeks there are over 80 Newsletter Edition publications, which is more than I’d expected at this stage. Welcome all.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we had a database outage on June 21 and subsequent problems getting everything back on track - thanks for everyone who stuck through it. We’ve been fine tuning the system ever since to reduce the problems that caused the outage, and have been steadily improving our robustness while still growing the subscriber base (more on this below). Things were certainly sticky back there for a while, with performance issues aplenty as we tuned the system while keeping the mails going, but I’m happy to say that for the last couple of days it’s been humming along quite nicely. Getting the messages out reliably has been job#1, and that’s been our focus the last three weeks or so.

It’s still true, however, that emails for the US east coast are taking until 9am or 10am to finish mailing. FeedBlitz is now routinely sending over one million pieces each morning, and there’s no getting around it – that takes a fair amount of time and effort to do. If you want to see your messages emerge more quickly than that, one option is to edit your publication’s time zone and move it to a different time zone. If you’re on the US east coast, try moving an hour to Atlantic Time. If you’re anywhere else in the US, try going over to Pacific Time. Rest of the world – pick the time zone that’s right for you. You’ll be happy that you did.

Alternatively, you can pick a paid upgrade (either Turbo or Newsletter Edition) which will enable you to choose a different schedule altogether (including manual, Express, weekly or on demand). Log in to your dashboard to explore upgrade options.

To the monthly metrics then. FeedBlitz left May with a circulation of 2,523,249, up 35% over April. June? June’s circulation topped 3,053,875 – up another 21% month on month and only six weeks after blowing past the 2 million mark. The web site saw over 621,000 visits (up 8%) with page views up correspondingly to 1.616 million.

Message metrics were even more impressive.

  • Total messages sent: 37,094,694 (up nearly 69% from May)
  • Average messages / day: 1,236,490
  • Peak daily messages: 1,702,572 (June 26)

That’s the equivalent of nearly 40 million page views delivered via email, so not only has circulation grown, but on average publishers are using FeedBlitz more.

Or, putting it into one of those silly but fun analogies, FeedBlitz basically emailed the equivalent (more or less) of the entire population of Kenya last month. Poland’s next!

Still, a point worth discussing at this juncture is, well, what does this mean to the average publisher? Consider these two data points.

Firstly, of the publishers in FeedBlitz that track open rates (it’s optional, off by default), reported open rates are 31% on average (your mileage will, of course, vary). Open rates are generally under-reported for technical reasons, but let’s stick with this number as it’s the one we have. So, assuming that the average extends across FeedBlitz system-wide, FeedBlitz generated nearly 11.5 million actual page views in June (somewhere between Cuba and Zambia, according to my new nifty population scale).

Secondly, and quite coincidentally, Fred Wilson (the cynics at Wired will love this one) blogged about his reach – the number of readers reported actually reading his RSS feed - which is more or less the RSS equivalent of an email open rate. His reported reach is currently under 10%. Now, Fred uses FeedBlitz (so we contribute to his circulation and his reach), but he doesn’t track email open rates and (even if he did I wouldn’t share them). But I would assume that, given he’s an “A-lister” and a venture capitalist, his audience is heavily into RSS as a communications medium. Perhaps I’m wrong about this - may very well be very wrong - but that’s my assumption at any rate.

So. Based on these numbers though, it sure looks to me (based on my assumptions) that email subscriptions to your blog will, on average, outperform an RSS feed in terms of the ratio of subscribers actually reading what you have to say (certainly once your circulation gets to be of a certain scale). And if that’s the case, if you’re not offering an email option for your readers, you’re missing out on both circulation and eyeballs. And therefore revenue. Your mileage will vary, and perhaps Fred’s case is extreme (his reach started at over 50% when his circulation was smaller), but if you need a reason to offer a newsletter edition of your blog then these data points surely seem to give you one. Or at least some extra food for thought.

On which note, we’re back to doing more interesting things now the service is on a more even keel, and this post is already waaaay too long. Onwards.

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