Mild-Mannered Canadian Fury

Doug Stephen is Politely Peeved

Google Reader plus Feedburner Means Trouble (An Apology to my RSS Subscribers)

Mon, 02 Apr 2012 «permalink»

This is my last post about my RSS feed. I promise. The reason I’ve been having so many issues with the RSS feed is because I want it to be perfect for you, my readers. I was, of course, “debugging” my RSS feed by subscribing to it myself. Come to find out, my feed wasn’t as broken as I thought it was; rather, it was the tools I was using.

I use Google Reader as the backing service for my RSS reader, however, I rarely use the Reader web interface. Rather, I do all of my RSS reading via the fantastic Reeder app for iOS and OS X. RSS sync isn’t an easy problem, and despite my misgivings about Google their Reader service is one of the only solid products out there that solves this problem well.

My feed is served up via Feedburner. Feedburner is another Google property, but it seems that it’s been mostly abandoned. They were working on a new, more Google-like interface a while back but they have seemingly abandoned it what with the Beta for this interface being gone. It’s too bad that Google has seemingly lost interest in Feedburner, because it’s an awesome service for RSS feed analytics.

As it turns out, Google Reader and Feedburner don’t play nice together (despite them being owned by the same organization). While Google would say that the information I am about to discuss is nothing more than a technical “feature”, I find that what it really demonstrates is that Feedburner plus Reader delivers a sub-par product.

After countlessly tweaking Feedburner settings and resynchronizing Feedburner with the original Octopress Atom feed (possibly flooding your readers with duplicate articles, my apologies). After some inspired Google DuckDuckGo-fu, I managed to discover a little blog post that talked about possible errors with Feedburner-plus-Reader. I was beginning to feel frustrated, as I had gone through all of the troubleshooting steps outlined, until I arrived at the end of the article and saw this:

OK, remember I said there was bad news? It’s possible that you’re a victim of a cruel double-edged sword by Google. Its Reader has to crawl sites to pull in new feeds. The more subscribers a blog has, the most often its crawled. The fewer the subscribers? The less often (see this thread with an entry from a Google engineer).

And, a fun excerpt:

One thing you can do is force Google Reader to refresh your feed manually.

To do this, you must have only the feed you want to refresh selected when you click the “Refresh” button between “Mark All As Read” and “Feed Settings”. If you do this, Google Reader will fetch the updated feed for all subscribers.

You must have only one feed selected for this to work; If you’re viewing the contents of all your feeds, or a folder of feeds, it typically does not force an out-of-schedule update, presumably to reduce the stress on their servers.

This matches exactly with what I had seen in my testing; in going to the Reader web interface and manually updating just this blog, I would get a feed update. In other words, because I am still so small, Feedburner + Reader will only update around once a day. There is claim that if one person performs this manual update then it will propagate across the entire Reader network, but I don’t know if this is true or not.

I’m sorry for this. If you want to help me fix this problem, then go ahead and let your friends know about me and tell them to subscribe to my FeedBurner feed. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do in order to fix this; I would like more FeedBurner subscribers so that I can continue gaining analytics on feed subscriptions, but without switching back to the native feed, you (the reader) won’t be able to see updates in a timely manner. I may simply try to write a script that forces a Ping and manually refreshes the feed on Reader, though I have no idea how easy that will be to do since the Reader API isn’t official (obviously it’s doable since Reeder did it, I just don’t know if it’ll be easy enough to warrant the effort). Or I may, one day, fall back to the site’s native feed. Either way, I am baffled as to why Google would want to punish small sites in a way that hampers them from becoming larger.