Is Feedburner about to be closed by Google?

The risk of relying on free third party services to build your your internet business is that they’re always subject to change and closure at any time – and as a non-paying customer, it gives you little to stand on. It’s particularly worrying in some areas, where companies of the size and scale of Google have effectively closed out the market, particularly in terms of RSS syndication with Feedburner and RSS reading with Google Reader.

We’ve already seen negative changes to Google Reader forced on users as Google sacrificed it to try and jumpstart Google+.

And now there’s some worrying signs about Feedburner, spotted by good friend Julius Solaris, who runs the Event Manager Blog.

 

What’s happening to Feedburner?

Having used Feedburner for years, it appears little positive has happened since acquisition by Google, and largely the service for syndicating and placing advertising in RSS feeds has been left running, but little more. Given the relative Adsense performance for the sites I’ve seen using RSS advertising, it doesn’t deliver the same kind of revenue as the formats available for website advertising, but given the scale of it as one of the main syndication/advertising tools for RSS, you have to imagine that it’s profitable given the lack of positive investment.

But today two things have happened. The Google Adsense for Feeds Blog has announced it has closed;

‘After some consideration, we recognize that we’re just not generating enough content here to warrant your time, so we won’t be posting here any longer.’

Which is true, given the last prior post was in October, 2010.

But also the @Feedburner Twitter account is being closed from today as well. The Feedburner API was already deprecated and is due to close in October, 2012.

Now this may be a sensible logistic move to integrate RSS syndication into another Google product line and possibly could be a positive if it becomes an integral part of something like Google Adsense to ensure the Feedburner functionality lives on in something which gets more support and investment.

Or it may be a far more worrying move to deprecate and close Feedburner.

The worst part is that Google is shuttering the communication channels regarding Feedburner without making it clear either way, which leaves a lot of people potential sat wondering what will happening with their RSS feeds and advertising in the future.

 

Feedburner Alternatives?

There are some alternatives out there to Feedburner. Julius has already pointed out FeedBlitz, which I’ve looked at in the past but never got around to trialling. It offers similar services, and claims more reliable statistics than Feedburner (Which isn’t difficult as they’ve always been notoriously flakey and prone to manipulation). It’s also a paid service, but you only pay for Email subscribers rather than RSS subscribers, so worth investigating.

If you have any other alternatives to mention or recommend, hit the comments below and I’ll add them into the post.

 

Trust in Google?

I don’t subscribe to the fact that Google as a business has to act like a benevolent figure to the internet by providing free services indefinitely at a cost to their business. The ‘Do No Evil’ mantra is nice enough, but businesses have to make money to survive and it’s been sacrificed in the past in order to access new markets such as China.

And if they’ve decided they can’t make enough revenue from Feedburner to continue supporting it, then that’s fair enough – if only they’d announce a clear message on what the future is so that millions of bloggers can make a rational decision.

But I do think Google is continually dropping the ball at the moment regarding their services, particularly those previously available for free. For every good thing they do for the internet as a whole, they seem to counter it with a lack of information and foresight in changing and closing services which a significant proportion of people rely on – especially those more technology-obsessed, and despite being a numerical minority, the old 90:9:1 rule of engagement reminds us that the tech-savvy bloggers etc are the most vocal online.

Google has built a business on providing many free tools to build scale, whether it’s Google Anlytics, or acquisitions such as Blogger and Feedburner, which provided easier ways for us to create inventory for Google Adsense to fill. And now it appears they’re increasingly scaling back on those areas.

The outcome for me is that I’m going to be investing more time to wean myself away from Google tools in many areas. In some cases, free open source solutions are available for me to roll my own alternatives, and in others, it means paying for things which have previously been free.

The end result is that the number of self-publishers may drop – if you’re starting to pay for more elements of self-publishing a website or blog, suddenly it has to make more money to be financially viable. No more leaving old sites around to pick up a few pennies a month.

That may be a benefit for ordinary people – as great as the self-publishing revolution has been, it means that those who continue to work on their own websites will need to put in more time and effort to create a more polished experience and make enough revenue, and there will be less half-finished sites kicking around.

But it also has a cost to Google – less publishers means less inventory, and therefore less Adsense revenue. And by losing the long tail, they’ll lose a lot of people generating small revenues which add to a significant amount, even for a company of the size of Google.

 

Update:

Dave Winer, the pioneer of RSS has kindly referenced this post and provided two important tips in case Feedburner is due to close – 1 tip for how Google can help, and 1 tip for what we can do to prepare for any problems.   I’d recommend following his writing on a daily basis if you don’t already.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the mention Dan.

    I am utterly shocked at how Google is managing the Feedburner issue.

    Support groups are filled with spam and phishing posts. No updates since a couple of years. 

    This is coming from the guys who want to teach us about best internet practices with their Pandas and Penguins.

    I’ve seen top services like Postrank and Feedburner – but also blogspot killed by Google. It looks like an attack to bloggers, trying to move everything to Google+ – so they can control and profit from it.

    Of course I am just speculating but the lack of information to a long time customer (paying customer as far as Adwords is concerned) it’s just ridiculous.

    •  Agreed. It seems that they’re moving towards a high revenue only approach across the business, combined with the single desire to force G+ to succeed.

      I was just thinking how in the days of Google’s massive growth it was common to see so many cool and big innovations appearing, but that seems to have slowed massively these days, either through a lack of innovation or publicity for those innovations.

      Already there are other search engines worth considering, such as Blekko and DuckDuckGo, which I’m using more and more.

  2. Phil Hollows, CEO, FeedBlitz says:

    Great opst – business models matter. Free creates no relationship between platform and provider, with all too predictable results. Here’s my take on FeedBurner’s blog and twitter account being shut down: http://www.feedblitz.com/feedburner-officially-not-listening-any-more/ – there’s a link in that post to our free FeedBurner Migration Guide.

    • Phil Hollows, CEO, FeedBlitz says:

      Meant to say, free creates no link between platform and user. My bad!

      • If you’re not paying for a service, then you’re the product? It would seem a strange move for Google, given that they’d essentially be closing down a fair amount of Adsense inventory, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  3. Feedburner dumped my subscription list. I had backup. No way to re-inject into Feedburner. Started MailChimp RSS to email campaign, injected subscribers. HTML works fine, links in plain-text not clickable like Feedburner. Now looking at WordPress SendFeed plugin: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/sendfeed/

    • Hi,
        Thanks for the comment Joseph – Mailchimp RSS to Email is definitely one option that I need to list, and SendFeed could definitely be useful.

  4. Google want to usurp its role as the web’s universal subscription platform through its Google+ social product, by first killing RSS, and become the de facto gatekeepers of the web. 

    •  There is a seemingly large tendency for companies (prominently Google and Twitter) to move towards more gatekeeper behaviour at the moment.

        Although to be fair, the Feedburner API was highlighted to the deprecated and closed some time ago, so at least there’s time to consider alternatives.

  5. Thanks for this post. I just added a few ideas in my own post, things Google and feed publishers can do to ease a transition with minimum breakage.

    http://threads.scripting.com/8312ByDw/theFutureOfFeedburner

    Dave

    •  Hi,
        Thanks not needed – I’ve been reading and following your thoughts on platforms and RSS since I can remember! And thanks for commenting here as well as posting on Scripting.com – I agree that it’s probably a pull back rather than a closure, but the frustrating thing is that no-one knows until Google either finally tells us, or just shuts everything down.

      • My advice is to remember this next time around when people ask “what could go wrong” when something like FB comes along. A lot of people made emotional argumetns because they wanted to believe that a company like Google could never let them down. The thought hits them that it could happen usuallly when it’s too late to do anything about it.

        • My first sentence was echoing that advice from my own experience and that of others who have a lot more experience than I.

          It’s why I’m a fan of self-hosting as much as my technically-limited abilities can cope with. In the past few days along I’ve followed someone trying to export content from Posterous and we’ve seen the new Digg launch without years of content and profile information.

          I spend my life using Facebook, Twitter etc as part of my work with companies and my own sites, and I always try to highlight that everything should live somewhere you own and control first, and then be spread to the places you don’t.

  6. Feedburner seems abandoned, and just recently I switched to Mailchimp rss to email and have been happily using it ever since. It took a bit learning curve, but I’ve got no choice where other alternative provide similar service but not free. Surprisingly Mailchimp offer better customization and stats, and although I haven’t reached 2000subscribers, I’ll definitely pay for the service once it’s beyond that number.

  7. The way things develop…I think I need to find some real alternative go Gmail and start using my own domain based email, maybe some day I can lose this one! I use Aweber for collection emails and although a little pricey, I think they are the best!

  8. Ouch. RSS never really caught on as a mainstream tool, but it’s great for staying aware of new posts across various blogs. I really worry that Google will kill Feedburner, and this will make a lot of bloggers abandon RSS completely. And if they do that, I can see them killing Google Reader, too.

    I do have an email list, but as a reader, RSS is where it’s at. I definitely see Feedburner as being abandoned though. Incidentally, I own a domain called “freemyfeeds”… which was a brief idea that I never got around to building. Let me know if you can think of any other uses for it…

    • Tabitha Emma Bray says:

      noooooooo you cant take google reader away from me!!!!!!!! how else do you keep up with hundreds of blogs???

Trackbacks

  1. […] bloggers using Feedburner – persevered, in the hope it’d finally work out. Then I read this recent blog post over at The Way of The Web, which suggested Google may be about to close Feedburner down. From that […]

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  6. […] pointed me to a prescient post by Dan Thornton on August 3 which asked “Is Feedburner about to be closed by Google?” Dan linked to a migration guide by FeedBlitz – a Feedburner competitor with a paid […]

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