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+.
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.
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.
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.
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.