The ins and outs of RSS feed distribution (and what to do about Feedburner)

An RSS feed is an easy way to syndicate a form of content from blog posts to podcasts to videos. The name “RSS” stands for “rich site summary” or for some, “really simple syndication”. A rich site summary is basically a stripped down version of website updates delivered to subscribers by way of a feed (accessed through feed readers, like Google Reader). Most modern websites are set up with functionality that includes an RSS feed.

What’s the point of an RSS feed distributor?

My initial reason for using an RSS distributor was the ease of subscribing. All those blogs I was subscribing to that used Feedburner were so easy to add to Google Reader that I wanted that for my subscribers. I just can’t be bothered to copy and paste a feed into Google Reader. (It’s wise to assume that all blog readers are tech-lazy like me.) So, I logged in and signed myself up and then I saw the stats. Oh. My. God. Stats!!! 

Using Feedburner, I could see how many were subscribed to my little personal blog at any given time. I appreciated each and every one of those two subscribers. Then the number started growing and that was good to see - I was heading in the right direction. Three. Four. Five. YAY!

It wasn’t just the RSS distribution that was nice. I also told Feedburner to post my content to Twitter for me. Every blog post was automatically tweeted. I also set up an email subscription option for people who like subscribing that way. I think I spent two hours reading through all of the different options available to help me promote my blog and setting up everything that sounded reasonable.

Feedburner is a very handy tool and the price is right for many.

But isn’t Feedburner going away? 

Not exactly. But there is a lot of confusion about some recent events.

It all started when google posted that the Feedburner API would be shut down as of October 20th.

An API is an application programming interface and that’s how software developers can build third-party apps that use Feedburner to do various tasks. It’s a bit like a direct telephone line between the app/widget/plugin to Feedburner.

Google’s announcement that the API will be shut down effectively cuts the line and disables all those third-party apps. That includes any blog plugins, widgets and apps that rely on Feedburner to run.

This announcement has prompted some people to revert back to the built-in feed on their site.

Some of the more geeky types think you should never even start using Feedburner. (Meh.) Sure, they have a point, but there’s a convenience factor with RSS distribution tools. And yes, it is very easy to use other tools to duplicate the email functionality (even free tools). It is NOT easy to duplicate the metrics depending on your platform.

Should you move your RSS feed or stay with Feedburner? 

Some big names are jumping the Feedburner ship, but moving to a paid tool like Feedblitz is a big commitment. Switching tools can also mean you lose subscribers. There are tools besides Feedblitz - some paid, some free. (I can’t endorse any as I haven’t tried them.)

Once I finally figured out that the API was being shut down and not the service, I started to wonder what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s true that Feedburner hasn’t exactly been flourishing since Google bought it:

But one point from a commenter on this post (included in the author’s update) has helped me make the decision that I’m going to stay with Feedburner for now:

A more positive read of this would be that they’re sweeping away the deprecated (and, I suspect, ill-used) APIs prior to the final integration of Feedburner into the rest of Google.

It’s a calculated risk, but because Feedburner is actually a source of (some) revenue for Google, I can’t see Feedburner being shut down…yet. I’m also really curious about the possibility of integration with the rest of Google.

The fact is, Google is pretty good about announcing service shutdowns with lots of lead time for users to prepare - and they have lots of practice at it because Google shuts down a lot of services. (There’s even a Google Graveyard over on Pinterest.)

If you’re not willing to take the risk, do your research before you switch. Just recognize that you can (and probably will) lose subscribers. There are ways to make the switch as seamless as possible, though there is no way to guarantee that you won’t lose subscribers.

For email subscribers, you can export your subscribers for import into a different system (AWeber, MailChimp, etc). This video goes step by step through the process:

MailChimp has a fantastic tutorial to guide you through setting up your RSS to email list and it’s a prominent feature on AWeber as well.

Let us know in the comments what you decide to do and if you have any questions we can help with.

How do you cross-post content on different social platforms?

I shared my views about automated or scheduled posts a few weeks ago. A couple of days ago, I saw this post on Lara Wellman’s Facebook page that sparked a pretty in-depth conversation about linking posts or cross-posting to different platforms. This is a different type of automation that can turn off an audience fairly quickly.

Lara shared the tip that one shouldn’t link your Twitter feed to Facebook or LinkedIn, both of which are very easy to set up. Some people do so selectively and that’s okay because they’re consciously thinking about which tweets they want to share with their Facebook audience rather than indiscriminately posting them all. There is only one word for linking a twitter account to other platforms: annoying. If I follow someone on twitter, having them post those updates to LinkedIn and Facebook as well is a big turn off. I will generally hide (or unfollow) people who do this on Facebook. That means I miss any original content they happen to post.

In the process of discussing the practice of linking social networks, another controversial practice was brought up - posting identical content across several platforms. This is primarily an issue that is isolated to Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ since they allow long-form status updates. It can include Twitter, but I’ll come back to that.

When I shared my last Media Mesh post, here’s what happened:

  • Facebook: Automatically updated when RSS Graffiti pulls my feed. (Side note: I’m considering discontinuing this particular automation due to the impact it has on engagement and Edge Rank. Even Facebook doesn’t like you to automate!) I try to remember to manually share the same post the next day when I don’t have a regular post scheduled.
  • LinkedIn: I posted the link with this message - “Do you have a business or know of one that’s interested in starting a blog? Here’s a few suggestions on where to start.”
  • Google+: Again, I posted the link, but with a different message - “This is just the first ten I thought of, but I’m sure there are more suggestions. What advice would you give to a business that wants to start a blog?”

It’s my view that these three tools are unique in features, audience, reach and engagement.

I’m just getting started using LinkedIn to promote my content, but for now I’m going with a business angle because that seems to make the most sense. I also don’t see a lot of engagement on LinkedIn, so a call to action may not be appropriate. With Google+ I do get a lot of feedback from the audience, so I tend to ask their opinion and give them the option of adding to my thoughts. With Facebook I might do something similar, but I might ask users what their top DOs and DON’Ts are for starting a blog.

These are subtle differences that will create a different conversation on each platform - ideally - and engage users/followers in a way that works best on the platform. That’s a strategic decision that I’ve made for my content.

But does it work to post the identical message and call to action on all three? Sometimes, but it’s not always a good idea. It’s important to know your audience with each platform. If you have a lot of overlap, tailor your messaging or change the time you post so that you don’t look as if you’re blatantly copying and pasting. It’s really worth it to take a few extra seconds to actively engage in a more personalized, audience-specific way.

The single most effective way to maintain a flow of ideas

I love to read. Books and articles, for me, are the key to filling a giant blank journal in my head.

A number of years ago, I was sitting at my desk with a huge book in my hands - I think it was a version of the MS Access Bible. A co-worker walked by and asked me if I liked what I was reading. He happened to be a fairly pompous fellow, so I braced myself and replied that I did like it. Then he asked me if I understood it. (Really?) Yes, I understand it. He seemed amazed and commented that he prefers Shareholder Agreements. I told him I could read those too and he walked away without really commenting.

That Access book and the two or three others I had piled on my desk at that time weren’t the most interesting reading I’ve ever done. Sometimes it took me a few tries before what I needed to do finally worked. But the reading I did gave me so many ideas. It gave me ways to make my projects work better and do more for our office. I was able to glean ideas by reading about functions in those books that I didn’t already know.

I’m still getting ideas from the content that I read, but these days I do the majority of my reading in an RSS reader or Kobo rather than a software brick, er, manual. I’m currently subscribed to 171 blogs, many of which are news blogs and that is how I keep up-to-date with what’s going on in social media, tech and gadgets.

What that means is that I have roughly 3-4,000 posts each week that I flip through to either discard immediately, scan to determine value and discard, or spend a tad more time reading. It’s a lot of reading, but it’s worth it because it’s professional development. I don’t need to know all of it, but I need to know a lot of it.

Essentially, other people’s work gives me inspiration for my own. It generates ideas and thoughts and opinions. I can’t think of a better way to have a continual flow of blog ideas than to read others’ blogs. There is always something you’ll have a comment on or disagree with or support and want to add your own perspective. That’s one of the great advantages of social media - the ability to have discussions that are in-depth on our own time and terms.

So, next time you’re stuck feeling unsure about what to write, go do some reading.

What other strategies do you use to keep ideas flowing? 

The process of curating content - where, how and why

This picture may seem funny, but this genuinely happens more often than I like to admit.Every once in a while, I get asked how I find so much good content to use for reference - particularly because of the weekly post I do here on The Media Mesh summarizing the week’s top news and general brilliance. What I do with the Buzz and Brilliance is content curation.

What is content curation?

This definition from sums it up well:

Content Curation is the act of discovering, gathering, and presenting digital content that surrounds specific subject matter.

We’re all content curators. Check out your Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Blog feeds if you don’t believe me. (You DO share stuff that isn’t your own, correct?)

Today on Twitter, @PamInOttawa asked:

I started by throwing out a couple of ideas that came to mind - Alltop and Facebook Interest Lists. But Pam came back at me and asked what my process is, which isn’t easy to explain in 140 characters, so I said I’d write a blog post. I don’t use Alltop, though I think it’s a really interesting tool (and seeing it again today has piqued my interest). I haven’t really jumped into using interest lists much, though they show up in my Facebook newsfeed and I really like the idea of them, too.

RSS is Alive and Well

My process is far more basic and lives mostly in Google Reader. I keep hearing that RSS is dead, but I rely on mine to keep up with reading all 161 blogs I’m subscribed to. Within Google Reader, I’ve set up folders by subject, from General topics where things like Lifehacker reside to Social Media where I get my SM fix every day. I also read blogs about blogging, business, technology, photography, web design, SEO and my free-time fun blogs are the ones that are about everyday life. I try to read through the unread posts daily so it doesn’t get too overwhelming, but in a pinch, I can weed through well over 1,000 in an hour or two.

How do you find blogs to follow?

When I first started subscribing to blogs, I subscribed to a few big names first. Then I checked out their blog rolls and subscribed to everyone they listed. I visited each of those blogs and checked out their blog rolls if they had them, though I did get pickier about who and what I chose to follow. I wanted a good mix of news stories, commentary and general business insight. I’ve achieved that balance to my satisfaction, though I’m constantly tweaking what I read - subscribing to new content and unsubscribing blogs that I’m not getting as much from. Chris Penn once wrote about finding five new blogs to subscribe to every month and I’ve been doing just that ever since. I even subscribe to more than five occasionally.

I find new blogs and content from Twitter. When I see one that’s really good, I’ll favorite the tweet or clip the article to Evernote. How I decide depends on how I want to use that content. Sometimes I want it for reference - that always goes to Evernote, in the applicable notebook with tags to help me find it later. I clip stuff all the time because it’s triggered a blog post idea. It sits in my Evernote until the idea fizzles out or I get around to writing it up. I have dozens of post ideas and the list keeps growing.

If something catches my eye on Twitter when I’m short on time, I will favorite the tweet. I have If This Then That set up to send all of these tweets to Evernote as well. Twitter Favorites are a bookmarking tool for me that can mean anything from idle curiosity when I have no time to genuine interest with intent to act.

What do you do with all that content?

At the end of each week, I take all the posts I’ve starred in Google Reader and sort them. A handful go into the Buzz and Brilliance. A handful I’ve starred to go back and comment, Stumble or Pin. A handful I star to clip to Evernote. A handful get tagged into topics I collect right in Google Reader for reference later. Anything that’s leftover after I’ve finished those tasks gets unstarred and I’m reset for the next week of reading.

It’s an involved process, but I’m learning so much every single week and part of the learning is streamlining the overall process as I go. The Buzz and Brilliance now takes me half the time it did when I started it, but I can get through more content now. It’s all about learning to spot the good stuff quickly and efficiently.

Most of all - be nosey and ask these questions when you want to find more content:


  • Who do the people you respect follow?
  • Who are the experts in your field of interest learning from?
  • What blogs and websites do they quote or link to regularly?


The beauty of social media is that you don’t even need to ask. You can just observe and get the answers.

What tools do you use to curate content or generate ideas for content?

Sixty Second Social: Blog topics are everywhere. Here's how to find them.

One of the biggest challenges after starting a blog that many run into is figuring out what to write about. It’s not difficult, but it does involve a change in thinking.

What did you do last night? Did you watch something particularly poignant? Did it trigger thoughts or an epiphany?

Share it.

When was the last time you attended an event? What did you get out of it? What are you going to do with that?

Share it.

Did you read the unread posts in your blog reader (RSS)? Did one stick out to you? Why?

Share it.

Where do you see yourself three months from now? Six months from now? One year from now?

Share it.

When you were in the shower this morning, what idea jumped into your head? Was it brilliant? Why?

Share it.

Is there a topic that you have questions about? A situation you’ve been mulling over for a while? An issue you feel strongly about?

Share it.

This post was inspired by a conversation I overheard between two women at a planning day I attended last weekend. I heard their discussion of how one was teaching the other to find those blog-worthy moments and realized it was something I could share with you here.

Personally, it took me a little while after I started blogging to get to the point that I saw content everywhere around me, but it happened. Should you use everything you could use on your blog? No, but that’s a different post for a different day.

What are some of the situations in which you’ve found inspiration for your blog?