A Short Post to People Freaking Out About Feedburner

A lot of people freak out when they wake up in the morning and see that their subscriber numbers have hit 0. Or their site statistics.

This is what you need to know about the wonders (and non-wonders) of Feedburner. Putting the rest of this article under the fold since it descends into geekery.

  1. The stats collection/aggregation/analysis jobs Google runs are slow. They are slow because Feedburner is the most popular RSS feed service on the web, and so a lot of data builds up, causing delays in generating data. That’s why sometimes you wake up in the morning and your stats are still at 0.

    Now, Google Analytics does not often suffer from delays (neither is Google Analytics live statistics), despite being the most popular free website statistics service on the web. I can only assume that Analytics has a higher priority than Feedburner when it comes to, say, optimization and hardware budget.

    Google Analytics has also always been in-house; Feedburner is something Google bought, and thus has some pitfalls that the Google guys discover on their own, unfortunately.

  2. Javascript stats collector are not perfect. Even Google Analytics is not 100% on the mark with respect to the exact number of hits your site receives, although it comes pretty close. Mostly this is because some people turn off Javascript, which Google Analytics, Feedburner, and many other statics programs need. And sometimes different browsers are slightly buggy in how they execute Javascript. ((The exceptions are statistics programs like Webalizer, which analyze the server logs and thus has definite access to access data even if the browser doesn’t support Javascript. Although it can’t track what external links are clicked; that requires the Javascript magic.))

  3. Feedburner must communicate with external services for feed stats. Google Analytics does not, after all, need to contact over 100 different services to aggregate the stats for your website. Feedburner, on the other hand, must ask for data from LiveJournal, Bloglines, various Google services, and many more. Whenever one of these sites goes down or times out, Feedburner is also affected. Since Feedburner accesses many, many of these sites, the chances of outages is much higher.

  4. Site statistics are more inaccurate with Feedburner. There are two reasons: (a) you don’t include the Javascript on every page of your site (you usually don’t include it on WordPress pages for instance), and (b) you end up including the Javascript multiple times on home, archive, etc pages, albeit with different parameters each time. See re: buggy browsers, which often get aggravated by too much Javascript.

  5. The lower your number of subscribers or visitors, the more you’ll notice variance. Variances due to #2 and #3 will be more noticeable, because if you have 3000 subscribers, you’re not going to really worry when you’re missing 10. If you have 10 subscribers on the other hand….

All that said, here’s how I deal with Feedburner.

  1. I only use Feedburner for RSS-related stuff. Using it for site statistics is just asking for trouble. If you want site statistics, use just about anything else, like Google Analytics, SiteMeter, or Mint.

  2. Feedburner takes a load off my server’s shoulders. And puts it on Feedburner’s servers, because now all those RSS readers and aggregators contact Feedburner instead of my site. Feedburner itself only bothers my site once every 30 minutes, which is much, much more preferable than a direct RSS feed.

  3. Feedburner can transform my feeds. Turn them into RSS2 compliant ones, for instance. Or add images, footers, and headers when you’re on a blogging engine that doesn’t allow you to do that (Blogger is one). Or notify various Podcasting services if I’m doing a Podcast feed. Plus there are the stats, which no one else does as well. (That should tell you something about the nature of that problem….)

  4. I don’t use chiclets or headline animators or whatnot. They can annoy more than help, especially the animators. The chiclets are nice when you have somewhere upwards of 500 subscribers. So I typically don’t worry about it. I only have 100+ subscribers at the moment, but one day!… maybe.

  5. I stay cool about the stats stuff. Google has always brought the numbers back eventually. Of course, I don’t have commercial interests in my feeds apart from that I know it’s more important that there are actually readers than whether all the number have shown up by 1pm the next day.

    Of course, if I had commercial interests, I’d show them the feed stats from the last week when there were stats. Technical glitches, after all, are not unknown, especially with Feedburner. And since stats tend to be fairly stable, even if you get seriously Stumbled or Digg’d, this is usually close enough for government work, as they say.

  6. There are so many other things to worry about with a site. Live traffic analysis, daily/monthly/weekly/yearly trends, access patterns, social media, networking, and of course most importantly content.

My number one rule these days, which I often forget myself, is simply: chill. There’s so much other stuff that’s more important. Like whether or not Heroes is going to make it to Season 4. Or even through the rest of Season 3.

Also, Tension Tamer tea helps a lot.