Thoughts

Where’s Google Photos in this drop-down menu?

If you use FeedBurner (which has been part of Google for a good number of years now), you probably know about the Photo Splicer feature, which allows you to merge your photo feed from services like Flickr, BuzzNet or Webshots into your site feed, providing extra content for your readers. It’s a great little option and I hope Google keeps it turned on for years to come.

My question for Googlers reading this is simple: where’s Google Photos (PicasaWeb) in that drop-down menu? Isn’t it about time for it to show up there?

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Thoughts

Are you subscribed to the right feed for my site?

A lot of my readers are still subscribed to the standard site feed, at

http://www.raoulpop.com/feed/rss2/

but that may become inactive, as I’m making some changes on the server side, so please make sure you’re subscribed to

http://feeds.feedburner.com/Raoul

which will continue to stay the same for the foreseeable future. Check your feed readers and make the change so you can continue to receive updates from me.

By the way, I’d like to apologize for the frequent and recent server outages. I’m looking into what’s causing them. They started happening as soon as I upgraded to WordPress 2.9. I’d hoped they’d go away with 2.9.1, but they’re still here… I made no other changes on the server side before or immediately after the upgrade, so the only thing I can think of is that 2.9.x has some issues. I disabled all but three essential plugins: Akismet, FeedBurner FeedSmith and WordPress.com Stats, and while my server crashes less frequently now, it still does.

It’s the strangest thing though. The server doesn’t run out of memory, my other sites stay up, Apache stays up, mySQL stays up, and yet raoulpop.com goes down. I’ve tried tweaking and re-tweaking Apache2 and PHP5 and mySQL settings to no avail. The only thing I need to do to bring my site up is to reload Apache2, but it is a very annoying thing indeed. If I had to deal with this thing long-term I’d schedule a cron job to restart Apache every once in a while, but I’ve got something in the works that should eliminate the need for that.

If anyone is having this problem and you’ve got it solved, I’d love to hear how you did it.

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Thoughts

Please check to see if you're subscribed to the correct feed

This is an important message for my feed subscribers.

It’s been over a year since I changed my feed URL and domain name, and I now see, inexplicably, that over 35% of my subscribers still show up under the old ComeAcross feed.

My feed traffic has been redirected (with a 301 status message, which indicates a permanent change) for that same year, which means that if your feed reader hasn’t already changed your subscription over to my new feed, you’ll need to do it manually.

The old feed will go down in the very near future, possibly within days. It was set to be deleted one year after the redirection. Please check your feed readers to make sure you are indeed subscribed to feeds.feedburner.com/Raoul, which is my main site feed, or you will not receive future updates from my site.

For historical reference, I talked about the feed changes on 1/16/08, and on 1/29/08, I explained how I did the transfer of the content.

I also want to give you advance notice of another possible change to my feed URL, which may happen when I transition my feeds from FeedBurner to Google within the next 1-2 months. You may recall that Google bought FeedBurner in 2007. Now they’re at the point where they’re moving FeedBurner publishers to the Google infrastructure, and I’m not sure how they’re going to manage the process.

I thought the migration from FeedBurner to Google was going to be fairly smooth, but I’ve already run into a roadblock. One of my feed URLs is somehow in use on Google’s servers, and my migration fails every time I initiate it. I’m not sure how that’s going to be resolved, and I would appreciate any help from Googlers out there.

So, just to be on the safe side, do a manual check in your feed reader and make sure you see feeds.feedburner.com/Raoul. When I hear what the new Google feed URL is, I’ll be sure to let you know.

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Thoughts

Photos back in the site feed

A few weeks ago, I took my Flickr photos out of the site feed [reference]. Last night, I put them back in. Turns out taking them out cut their views by about 60-80%. That taught me two things:

  1. Showed me how few of the hundreds of people who’ve added me as a contact at Flickr actually care about viewing my photos, which was an interesting realization.
  2. Sometimes the desire to keep things organized and neat is trumped by convenience and practicality. Keeping my photos in the feed allows them to be viewed by more people, and for me at least, it’s no fun to share photos if no one looks at them.

The photos are back in the feed for now. We’ll see how long FeedBurner continues to offer the option to do this, or if they improve it to allow daily photo summaries, as they’ve been asked to do by others (including me). FeedBurner’s site has gone strangely silent lately (after their acquisition by Google), and I’m not sure how long they’ll stay in their current iteration. But don’t let that concern you.

Enjoy the photos!

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Thoughts

Removing photos from my main feed

At least for now, I’m removing my Flickr feed from my main feed. If you are a feed subscriber, you’ve been able to see my Flickr photos appear as separate feed items in my main feed, thanks to a feature at FeedBurner that allows me to splice my site feed with my Flickr photos feed.

But I think the implementation of the feature isn’t well suited to my main site feed, because a separate feed item is created for each photo. Considering that I may publish 3-4 text articles per week but up to 25 photos, this means you’ll see 3-4 feed items for my articles, and up to 25 feed items for my photos, which skews the proportion of my content in a direction unacceptable (to me) for my main site feed.

I contacted FeedBurner to ask if at some point they might put through an enhancement that would allow users to select a “digest” option for the Flickr feed. It would work the same as the “digest” or summary option on their Link Splicer features, which publishes a single feed item with all of that day’s bookmarks. It’s been a while, I haven’t yet received a reply, and I’m not waiting any longer.

So, at least for now, the photos are out of the main site feed. You can still find them in my photography feed (they’ve been there all along), so if you’re interested in getting them along with my photography posts, please subscribe to that feed as well.

Do let me know if you really want to see them here in the main feed. If I get enough responses, I may put them back, but I didn’t want to distract or deter folks who are interested in reading my usual content.

Thanks for reading my stuff!

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Thoughts

A few feed changes for my site

Birds of a feather…

The transfer of all my content from comeacross.info to raoulpop.com has gone smoother than expected, which is great. I’ve been monitoring the feed usage stats, and it looks like everyone has migrated over to the new feed. Just in case, please check your bookmarks and feeds, and correct them as follows, where appropriate:

All of my other feeds have stayed the same. Here they are:

Of course, all URLs are getting automatically redirected (with a 301 status) from comeacross.info to raoulpop.com. That’s been working great, although some people reported issues during the first few days. Thanks for letting me know about those!

If you’re linking to my site in your sidebar, could you do me a big favor and check to make sure you’re no longer linking to comeacross.info but to raoulpop.com? And if you’re not linking to me, would you please?

A big thank you goes out to FeedBurner for migrating my email subscribers and helping with the feed redirect!

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Thoughts

A few suggestions for FeedBurner

FeedBurnerI’m a very happy user of FeedBurner, the wonderful feed management service from Google. I’ve been using it since early 2006, and I log on multiple times every day to keep track of my feeds. I’d like to talk about some features and options that I’d love to see on the site.

Ability to splice multiple feeds without having to add them to a network or put them in FAN. I’d love to be able to have a single feed that combines all of my content, without having to go through what I’m going now, which is to create a feed network, add my own feeds to it, and burn that feed to a feed… I know there are other services on the web that do this, but I’d rather be able to do it through FeedBurner.

Ability to splice external feeds (ones not burned at FeedBurner), into a single FeedBurner feed. This would work sort of the way that Jaiku or TwitterFeed work, in the sense that I’d take my feeds with very few subscribers, like my Twitter feed or my Vimeo feed, and add them to my single feed without needing to “burn” them as separate feeds at FeedBurner, and having them show up under My Feeds. I’m not really interested in managing those feeds at this point — I just want to add them to my single feed.

Better revenue reporting from FAN (FeedBurner Ad Network). I never know how much I’m getting, because the figures are just approximations, and the pay is somehow always less than what’s indicated in the control panel. AdSense always reports my revenues correctly, Amazon does it too, but FeedBurner always leaves me wondering how much money I’m going to get. Maybe I just don’t know where to look, but believe me, I’ve looked all over the place. There’s only one place where revenues are reported centrally, and then there are ad revenues for each individual feed in FAN, and still I don’t know how much money I’m making with my feed ads.

Ability to “refresh” feed flares. Old feed flares display with old preferences, so I have a ton of flares showing up for older posts. I understand that they’re cached, and they have to stay cached, because it would be murder on a database if the flares would be constructed dynamically for every feed item, including the older ones… But I’d like to have a manual “refresh” function for the flares, that would let all of the old posts and old feed flares inherit the most recent settings for my feed flares.

Ability to separate feed flares from the ads. I’d like to display the feed flares at the top of my posts, for example, and the ads at the bottom. Right now they’re together and there’s no way to display them but right next to each other.

The SmartCast feature is a bit confusing. Either I’m the one that doesn’t get it, or it doesn’t quite work as advertised. Here’s what it says on the site:

“Makes podcasting easy in feeds that normally cannot support it. Link to MP3s, videos, images, and other digital media in your site content and SmartCast creates enclosures for them automatically. Optionally adds elements required for a richer, more detailed listing in iTunes Podcast Directory and sites using Yahoo Media RSS.”

When I took my podcast feed, which is a simple category feed from my blog, and turned on the SmartCast option, enclosures for the media files linked from each post weren’t turned into enclosures. The iTunes elements were added to the feed, but it still didn’t become a feed that I could subscribe to from iTunes, so I gave up on it.

Now, a little more than a month since my last podcast, I see that I can subscribe to that feed in iTunes, and the podcast downloads just fine. But only the last item shows up instead of every single episode, or at least the last 10 feed items, which is the standard. Why? And why didn’t it work when I first turned on SmartCast for this feed? I can’t help but be confused by this. SmartCast can be a very elegant and easy way to turn a normal feed into a podcast feed, but it looks like it still needs some work.

Photo Splicer only works with the Flickr ID. The Photo Splicer option says I can put in either my Flickr user ID or my screen name, but it really only works with the User ID, which is annoyingly hard to find on Flickr. It would be nice if the User ID would be automatically looked up if I entered my screen name.

I know the FeedBurner folks will read this. They’re very conscientious and follow up on these things. I don’t want special treatment, but it would be very nice if they could consider my feature requests and see what can be done. FeedBurner has my thanks for a wonderful service!

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Reviews

Getting good site stats

I’ve been using both Google Analytics and FeedBurner‘s own Site Stats service simultaneously for the past couple of months, and I thought I’d give a comparison of the two.

They both use little JavaScript snippets that you copy and paste into your web pages. They’re both good at eliminating false traffic (bots, etc.). That’s where the similarity ends.

Google Analytics gives more detailed feedback that’s targeted toward marketers and webmasters. It’s also tightly integrated with Google’s AdWords program, so you can track the success/conversion of your campaigns. But, it’s got so many options and menus to dig through, that it’s hard to use overall. You really need to spend some time learning it.

On the other hand, FeedBurner’s Site Stats service is simple and easy. They present the data in a way that’s easy to understand. And while at first you may think you’re not getting all of the data that Google Analytics provides, in practice, I’m getting all the data I need. It’s just organized so much better, that I need to go through less menus to get at it.

Want to know the best part? FeedBurner’s Site Stats provides almost instant feedback on what’s going on with your site. Yesterday, one of my posts about Zooomr got dugg, and made it to Digg’s front page. It was already more than three hours since it had been dugg, yet Google Analytics provided me with no data to indicate the Digg traffic. FeedBurner was right on top of it. I’d been getting data almost instantly and could monitor the traffic very nicely. This has been the case all along. I’ve been using Google Analytics since May of 2006, and I knew there was a significant lag, so I couldn’t use it to monitor my live traffic — I could only tell what happened to my site afterwards.

As any web developer will tell you, the ability to monitor your site traffic live is a huge benefit. What’s even more important is the ability to get great customer service. FeedBurner provides that, and has done so from the start. When I email them, I know I’m going to get a reply from a real, live, person, not a bot, and not a canned reply. That’s really cool. That’s why, even though their Site Stats service is free, I opted to purchase their detailed feed stats, and pay a little every month for that. It’s much better to pay a little and get something worthwhile, than always go with free and get what you pay for.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking Google Analytics. It’s a great service. But Google’s getting bigger and bigger these days, and they’ve never made it very easy to get in touch with one of their “humans”. Just a few days ago, I had a question about my AdSense account, and needed to get in touch with a person, because I couldn’t find the answer in their documentation. I emailed them and got an auto reply back, which said I should reply back with certain further information if I wanted to reach a human. I did that, and I got what looked like a canned reply, so I’m not even sure if it was a human being, or another auto reply. Not fun, and my problem still didn’t get solved.

On the other hand, I know the FeedBurner folks. I met a few of them in person, and I know the others via email. They’re real, helpful people. So if I were to recommend a stats service to you, I’d say go with FeedBurner’s Site Stats. That is, unless you absolutely must monitor your AdWords conversion campaigns through Google Analytics. Or use both services, and do your own comparison. I think in the end you’ll be happier with FeedBurner, like I am.

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Events

DC FAN Meetup last night

Ligia and I attended the DC FAN (FeedBurner Ad Network) meetup last night. It took place in downtown DC, at Capitol City Brewery. It started around 6:00 pm and lasted well after 8:30 pm. It was lots of fun and we really enjoyed it. Got to meet the cool folks from FeedBurner, without which my site wouldn’t be where it is today.

I use all of their services, and love them. I burn my feeds through them, I offer email subscriptions to my various content, I repackage my feed content and display it on various web pages like this one or this one for example. I use their ads, of course, which is how I monetize my site and feed content, along with Google’s AdSense. I use and love their feed stats, and I’m really excited they recently introduced site stats as well. I also use something they call feed flares, which are the little snippets you see at the end of every one of my posts. They let you do things like subscribe to my feed, email me, add a post to del.icio.us or submit it to Digg, etc. It’s really, really cool stuff.

I covered FeedBurner on my blog in the past as well. If you’re interested, you can read more here, here, and here. And of course, let’s not forget the time when Rick Klau, VP of Biz Dev at FeedBurner, stepped in and stopped me from making a feed gaffe early last year. Rick was at last night’s meetup, so I was really glad to meet him.

Rick Klau

So, who attended? The folks at FeedBurner were well represented. There was Rick of course, and Eric Olson and Jake Parillo.

Eric Olson

Jake Parillo

Eric coordinated the event and invited me, so a big thank you goes out to him. Various folks showed up throughout the evening. Sphere CEO Tony Conrad and VP of Biz Dev Jeff Yolen were there.

Rick Klau, Tony Conrad and Jeff Yolen

A few people from AOL’s content division showed up. George from Fat Pitch Financials was there as well. As we left, more people showed up.

Sitting at the table

George (Fat Pitch Financials)

I really liked being able to interact directly with the FeedBurner folks. I got to hear about some cool upcoming features like blog networks, got the scoop on how Site Stats hit the ground running, had a chance to give some direct feedback about the Ad Network, and of course, the highlight was that Rick Klau loves photography. We had fun chatting about that!

Shutterbug meta

There was an interesting mural on the wall above our table.

More beer

Beer

There was plenty of food, and of course there were pretzels as well. 🙂

FeedBurner pretzels

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The latest figures on podcasting

Rick Klau, VP at FeedBurner, published the latest podcasting figures at this post on their Burning Questions blog.

FeedBurner now handles 44,889 podcast feeds (three of those are mine) and over 1,598,988 people subscribe to those feeds. The two bar graphs show the amazing growth that has occurred in the past 15 months. Wow!

I couldn’t have done it without FeedBurner, either. I detailed why I love and use FeedBurner in this post. You’ll see why when you read it. FeedBurner gives me the sort of peace of mind that one can get when he knows important documents are locked in a thick safe somewhere. No matter what happens to my web hosting, and no matter how many times I’ve got to switch my original feed URL, my FeedBurner feed stays the same, and my subscribers don’t have to concern themselves with my problems. It’s just plain nice!

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