The Leaders Notebook

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Blog Housekeeping- And the Cost of Free Services

September 22nd, 2012 · No Comments · Sliding Down the Razor Blade of Life

There is an action step needed for those of you who are reading here based on an RSS feed.  If you get my postings via email- then no action is needed.  But there is also powerful cautionary tail here about the value of “free” in the internet economy. So- action step first- then the story.

If you subscribe by RSS, please go to your RSS reader and unsubscribe.  Then go to www.theleadersnotebook.com and click on the RSS icon to re-subscribe.  As usual, you will have to tell the system your preferred RSS reader.  That’s all!

If you subscribe by mail- no action is needed.  If you are on RSS, you will continue to get my postings until Feedburner discontinues services- something that is likely to happen without notice.

A Cautionary Tale About Free Services on the Internet

I moved from newsletters and other, primarily outbound forms of writing a few years ago.  To me, an RSS subscription was the ultimate way to ensure that those who wanted to read my work could do so, and that those who were not interested any longer could unsubscribe anonymously.  If you need a primer about RSS- have a look at this YouTube video.

Like many new bloggers, I went to the most trusted name for establishing RSS services- Feedburner.  Feedburner would allow a new subscriber to decide if they preferred an email when a new posting was up- or – that content sent to an RSS reader- a choice that I as publisher wanted you to have.  The timeline since has been rocky.  I will spare you the gory details since if you care about them you likely already know them.

In short, Google acquired Feedburner and integrated it into their suite of free apps.  You could here the collective cheer of bloggers everywhere!  But alas, it was not to be the rosy future we thought.  Mail services were taken down, with a promise of return after they were improved.  None have been reinstated in the 5 years since.  Google has slowly provided less and less support- now none.  Many bloggers (yours truly included) no longer have access to their feeds to manage preferences or migration, based on Google’s method of migrating the feed into the business apps package.  It is now clear that Google is abandoning Feedburner, and the associated content feeds to the chaos of the completely unmanaged web.  See this article for more details.  Full disclosure: The article is written by a competitor service that I use, but the facts presented are pretty potent.  In fact, Google simply took down feedburner.jp, leaving those who published there (or subscribed there) without access to their information or the ability to migrate their services.

Granted, unless you are in the web publishing business, an RSS feed is probably not mission critical.  But there is an important lesson here about depending on services offered for free.  The early days of the internet were a rush for “eyeballs”, sticky content and page feeds.  Free was good because it drove volume.  But Google is not the only service provider to wake up to expenses that were ever growing for a product that provided only ancillary percentages of ad revenue.  Free supported the default dot-com strategy of “Get big fast”- but is not sustainable as big becomes a reality.

This week, Google had a glitch in their metrics engine and all Feedburner users suddenly had subscriber counts of zero.  It was cold comfort to know that the subscribers were still there- but that the publisher had no visibility into traffic.  Although there has been a promise to repair the issue, no ETA has been provided.  If they are on the same timeline as bringing back mail options, you will see publishers leaving in droves.

So, without access to my feed, I have to ask you, those of you who subscribe over RSS, to cancel your current subscription and re-subscribe.  It is an opportunity to review the quality of the writing and decide if you want to take the 30 seconds or so needed to reset your subscription.  This is not a bad test for a web publisher to go through.  If the writing is not good enough- the content not useful, then the effort is not worthwhile.  In that way at least, free (as my blog and 99.999% on the internet are) is a good test- but it is a test for me, not for you.

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