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Why Separate RSS Feeds and Comments?

Monday, September 28, 2009

This has been bugging me the last few days as we've quietly extended support for commenting within FeedBlitz (FYI comment links now appear for Blogger blogs whereas they didn't before, for example, and new comment icons appear in FeedBlitz RSS feeds where appropriate).

But it kept on striking me as odd - why do feeds force subscribers to subscribe to something else (a site comments feed or an individual post's comment feed), or to visit an alternative page or site to see the current conversation? Why aren't the latest comments, you know, just there, in the feed, when it's read? Why are we making readers to go to all this extra effort? Surely the conversation is part of the content, and it surely makes sense to have the conversation in the same context as the content, no matter where it's being consumed.

From being bugged to taking action. As of now, all new feeds created on the FeedBlitz RSS service will include the 5 most recent comments if we can find them. You can change that (from none to the ten most recent), along with the entry title (such as "Talk to me!" instead of the default "Comments" and the text that displays when there are more comments available than your settings permit to be shown. Go to RSS / Settings and expand the Per-Post Customization area to access the comment integration settings. Publishers with existing feeds will can enable the feature at the same place.

The goal here is to increase engagement and user attention by providing the dialog in the context of the feed. And to see it in action (I have a limit of 5 comments set up and have changed the default text to "Join the Conversation!") add http://feeds.feedblitz.com/feedblitz to your aggregator or RSS reader.

The one gotcha is that if you're using a third party comment service (such as Disqus) then it's unlikely that the relevant tags are going to be in your feed so you may not get this feature to show up. Yet.

Anyway - do chime in here, please. Corruption of the purity of the feed ... or an interesting idea? Join the conversation!

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Maintenance - Saturday Sep 26 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

We'll be running some maintenance on FeedBlitz late Saturday evening, US Eastern. We aim to keep any disruption to a minimum during the process.



Thursday, September 24, 2009

FeedBlitz has added an audio version of the visual CAPTCHA (which has also been slightly updated) used on all FeedBlitz subscription forms. The API has also been extended to add a new audio tag to the captcha XML.


Dynamically Branding User-Defined Newsletters

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

FeedBlitz has long had a very easy way for marketers to enable dynamic user-defined newsletters using the tracking API call:


where you substitute in the appropriate values (your <publisher-ID> is your subscriber ID, visible at My Account / My Profile). It's great for users who use search, for example, which generates an RSS feed under the covers from which you can then generate a nifty, personalized email newsletter.

When the email is sent it's branded with the publisher's "master feed" - enabled in the advanced template editor. This works great for when you have a single graphic design that can be consistently applied across all your newsletters.

What we're finding here at FeedBlitz is that as we grow, the complexity and requirements of our larger customers are changing and growing too. We're finding that new media publishers often have multiple brands within their portfolio, and that they want to brand a user-defined email from site X with site X's branding - but want to define user-defined newsletters from brand Y with brand Y's branding. Master feeds don't cut it here, since they're a one-size-fits-all solution.

So, for new media, multi-branded sites, we've added a new (optional) parameter to the tracking URL - portal. The portal is the list ID of the newsletter whose branding you want to use for the user-generated emails (newsletter list IDs are visible at Newsletters / Settings / Content Settings). So using the above example, this:


gives emails a different branding from this:


As long as there is a template defined for "X" and "Y" everything works.

There are a couple of restrictions: once a given user-defined URL has been associated with another feed's template in your account, the only way to change it is by using a template editor. Secondly, you have to own the list you're using to brand with, for pretty obvious reasons.

Now, start to imagine the possibilities when you combine this feature with the multi-feed templates discussed yesterday...


Styling Sizzle with Multi-Feed Newsletters

Monday, September 21, 2009

Since its inception, FeedBlitz has been automatically converting single RSS feeds into formatted, indexed, tracked email marketing newsletters. There are services - such as FeedBlitz's RSS service and Yahoo Pipes - that allow multiple feeds to be merged, blended and spliced into one, so it's also easy to munge multiple feeds into a single newsletter.

But the problem with splicing is that it merges and mixes all the source feeds into one unified feed. While that's fine for many applications, what if you want to have a single newsletter, structured with distinct sections? Or what if you want to build a mailing with email widgets in the sidebar, such as special offers, or your most recent tweets, or your last.fm playlist, or your latest photos or videos, all without having to manually edit the template all the time? You can't do that with a single feed - whether spliced or standalone - and simple templates.

Or, rather, you couldn't ... until now.

One Newsletter, Many Feeds, No Extra Work.

Because - surprise! - now you can. Power users can use the advanced template editor to include multiple feeds in a single mailing, producing significantly more complex and visually appealing (yet still fully automated) marketing communications.

Well, ok, there's a little extra work, but only what's needed to re-jig your template. Once that's done, it's all automatic from then on.

How It Works and How to Test

The magic is done by the inclusion of a new custom tag in the advanced template editor, called <$Feed$>. I'll run through some examples in this post, and so if you want to play along you'll need an advanced template to experiment with.

If you don't currently have an advanced template, a great way to create one is to use the easy template editor to create a basic layout, and then flip into the advanced editor so you can roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty with the tags. If you want to test advanced templates safely without affecting production mailings you can clone your existing newsletter at Newsletters / Settings / Clone Newsletter. Cloning copies everything except subscribers, so you can experiment safely. Once you're done you can simply copy and paste the advanced template you've built back into your main list.

The <$Feed$> tag is briefly documented in the legend area under the advanced editor; the advanced editor itself is available at Newsletters / Settings / Advanced Email Template Editor.

Adding Multiple Feeds to your Template

Say you want to build a newsletter with multiple sections, each section sourced from a distinct feed. For example, you might have a classroom newsletter built from the teacher's blog, but you might want to include the latest from the PTA and the principal as well. Or you're a realtor, and you want to include an industry news feed or the latest from your firm's mortgage broker in your mailings. The new tag helps you set this all up.

Before you start, you will need to know the RSS feed for the other content sources you want to add in.

Assuming you want your main content up first, you need to find your last <$BlogPosting$> tag. Place the cursor where you want the new content to go and type in:


Obviously, replace the dummy URL above with the real URL you want to include. This tag starts the inclusion and formatting of your additional content.

Now, after that, type in just:


This tells the FeedBlitz template engine where to stop including the external content. You need both; if you forget the ending tag things get chaotic fairly quickly!

Now all you have to do is, between these two new items, insert standard template text, formatting FeedBlitz template tags etc. Basically, you're creating a template within a template, so you can create a title, add graphics, and if you want to add post content (which you do, otherwise you wouldn't be doing this), you'll need to have a pair of <$BlogPosting$> tags inside the feed tags we just added. If you want the layout mirror your current mailings, you can simply copy and paste. Use the preview to see how it all looks as you wrap up.

You can repeat the process as much as you like (although I think it's better to limit includes to just two or three additional feeds, tops - if you find you're including more you might be better off offering multiple newsletters instead).

What Happens

The <$Feed$> tags insert the content and then format it according to the code inside them, just like the main template. Used as described above, they will only insert content if there's something in the feed that matches the main newsletter's criteria - so if the class teacher has 2 new articles this week but the school Principal didn't write anything, the Principal's subfeed won't be included in the mailing. By default, posts will be formatted according to the same rules as the main Newsletter, so posts will be truncated and tracked consistently.

The main feed - the one defined as the article source in Newsletters / Settings / Content Settings / The Basics - always defines when a new mailing should go out, no matter what changes in the included extra feeds. If you want the Principal's mailings to go out even when the teacher hasn't written new content, you should either use a separate newsletter or a newsflash mailing. By default, this means that elements inside a <$Feed$> block will not appear on landing pages such as subscription forms.

<$Feed$> Parameters

You can tune the behavior of the included third party feed in your mailing with a couple of optional parameters.

Changing the amount of text to display

Say in our hypothetical classroom newsletter that we are including all the teacher's post content in the mailing, but for the sake of brevity we want to limit the included content to just the initial sentences - if folks really want to read all the Principal's musings they'll have to click through. By default, included feeds are formatted the same way as the main content, so we have to change that. It's easy: Simply add the "maxchars" parameter to the opening <$Feed$> tag and the post will be limited to that number of characters. FeedBlitz will truncate intelligently at the 350 character mark, backtracking to the nearest white space and preserving formatting and links up to the cut off. I suggest 350 as a good limit to use since 350 typically fetches the first two or three sentences. With this limit in place your opening tag would look like this:

<$Feed="http://foo.example.com/feed" maxchars=350$>

You can use the maxchars parameter to include more than the main newsletter if you want, just by making the value big enough (e.g. 100000). Remember, you only change the opening tag. The ending tag (required for each starting tag) is always simply <$Feed$>.

Turn your <$Feed$> into an email widget!

The other parameter you can use is the "count" parameter. You can use it to force the included feed to display the most recent N articles, regardless of their date or time. So this:

<$Feed="http://foo.example.com/feed" count=5$>

always includes the most recent 5 articles, no matter what. A side effect of this is that feeds with "count" specified will appear on landing pages, which is just what you want for a sidebar widget. Using the advanced template editor you can add an external feed to the end of the main content - or you can create a sidebar and have your recent tweets, playlists, or comments show up automatically there. If you only include the blog post's title between the included feed's <$BlogPosting$> tag then you have a little headline widget going on. Just remember that the widgets you create are static - they are built when the mail is sent, not when it is read.


The following examples show how to use "FeedBlitz News" as a third party feed inside your advanced template.

  1. Basic post content


  2. Truncated text

    <$Feed=http://feeds.feedblitz.com/feedblitz maxchars=350$>
    Click to

  3. Recent Headlines Widget

    <$Feed=http://feeds.feedblitz.com/feedblitz count=5$>
    • <$BlogItemTitle$>

One Newsletter, Many Feeds

The great benefit of this new tag is that it allows you to break the "single column" layout typical of many automated newsletters without creating any additional work for you on a regular basis. Just tweak the template and you're up and running, add more content blocks and sidebars, and there's now no reason why your automated newsletter can't be as rich and compelling as any hand built one. It's just that, unlike other newsletter contact services, each mailing takes you zero minutes to create, so you can focus on your mission.

FeedBlitz is the only RSS to email service that allows you this flexibility and power. Try it out today at Newsletters / Settings / Advanced Email Template Editor.

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Measuring Email Marketing Metrics

Friday, September 18, 2009

The FeedBlitz delivery metrics report now includes percentages as well as raw numbers for your opens, forwards, bounces, unsubscribes etc. The changes are part of a general effort to give publishers greater insight into their newsletters' performance.

The latest changes also allow you click a given schedule class to easily differentiate between overnight mailings and those sent to Twitter and IM subscribers which show up as "Express." Don't forget that, as you view the report, you can click on the chart's graphic elements to drill down further into the data.

The delivery metrics report is at Newsletters / Reports / Delivery Metrics report on the FeedBlitz web site.

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Delays Weds Sept 16

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Overnight issues have delayed mailings; we're picking up the pace now. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Update - we backfilled completely by the afternoon; services were fully functional early morning. We're reviewing what happened overnight to increase the service's robustness to the class of failure that occurred.


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