Archive for February, 2007
The FeedBurner View of the Feed Market report 2007 was released today, much to the delight of many industry analysts closely following the movements of RSS tool vendors. These analysts had been waiting for the report long enough: since the previous installment of the report, in November 2005, RSS marketing has become a much more serious business.
The illustrated report that FeedBurner made public today has a focus on web-based aggregators, which means that we can expect separate blog posts with FeedBurner’s take on the role of desktop readers, widgets and e-mail-based headline viewers. As a whole, FeedBurner is capable of differentiating over 3,000 different user agents.
Since its first Market Report for 2005 in the blog post Feed For Thought, FeedBurner’s various RSS services have gained tremendous popularity: according to information handed to me last week by Rick Klau, Vice-President of Publisher Services, FeedBurner currently handles these immense numbers:
- 340,000 feed publishers, who publish
- 600,000 feeds, resulting in
- 300 million feed requests every day
As explained in the FeedBurner report, these absolute numbers of subscriptions per se are not an ideal instrument to assess an individual aggregator’s market share, firstly because each of these vendors uses specific methods to report feed data. See the various kinds of metric that each vendor delivers in the table. Another issue is that the action of subscribing to a feed alone doesn’t guarantee that the feed items actually get read. Last week, when FeedBurner was finally able to incorporate realistic subscriber numbers for Google Reader and Google Personalized Homepage, the default feed sets included by many aggregators were the main cause that a lot of FeedBurner publishers reported subscriber increases much higher than the average of 59%.
Introducing "Audience Engagement"
A more realistic view of the web-aggregator market is obtained by embracing what FeedBurner calls Audience Engagement—"people reading feeds and people clicking on feeds". It turns out that from all clicks measured coming from web-based aggregators, those from My Yahoo!, Google and Bloglines represent 95% of the traffic.
A few bloggers have taken an in-depth, demographic-breakdown perspective on their FeedBurner pie charts this week:
- Google Reader | FeedBurner Stats Show Significant Market Share – Google Reader Now #1? by Andy Beard, 2007-02-17
- Google: World’s #1 Feed Reader by Jeremy Wright on Ensight, 2007-02-17
Read the conversations with each of these posts. One commenter named Franky writes: "… if Scoble links to you today you’ll see a huge shift in your feedburner
stats, because many Scoble subscribers will visit your blog from within
Google Reader, but only for today and the following days the number
will go down again."
Representatives from FeedBurner closely track mentions of their service and never seem to grow tired to explain their calculation methods. I’m sure there will be a very animated conversation on FeedBurner’s own blog too. Update: of course there is, particularly about the part i just quoted.
Here’s a live Grazr that lets you track the 100 most recent mentions of the FeedBurner Feed Market report:
Include the code snippet into your blog and you’ll see the familiar Digg icon, including the number of current Diggs, right next to the content on your page. Full customization details are available on the Digg Tools page. Before I found out about this Digg tool, I used Bitty browser to achieve almost the same result. Read on to learn how useful Bitty is when combined with anchored urls.
A couple of weeks ago my CNET rant was promoted on Digg for a couple of hours, mostly thanks to the impression I seem to have made on one particular digger named chrisek (have I thanked you enough?) It was really fun to see the counter go up each time I refreshed the page. One particular extension for Firefox by Jaap Haitsma, called Reload Every, which lets you set a refresh frequency for Firefox tabs, came in very handy in this situation. Still, keeping the news to myself didn’t seem the right thing to do, so I did some quick thinking.
It made sense to me to update my blog post and see if I could boost its popularity on Digg even more. I couldn’t find a suitable solution on the steadily growing TypePad Widget Gallery and I had explored the Digg Tools page for clues months ago already without much success, so I figured there was no way I could show the live Digg button unless I’d be prepared to migrate my entire blog just to be able to use the Digg plugin for WordPress.
I did some quick thinking and found a pretty acceptable solution by using "the browser in a browser" Bitty, displaying just the top-left part of the page:
I was reasonably satisfied with this outcome, but still wanted the image to be cleaner, smaller. Then I wrote to Scott Matthews, the Bitty developer, and asked if he could think of some way to have the Bitty scroll down the page, so that just only the Digg button would be visible inside the Bitty view port. Scott replied almost instantly: "Have you considered using one of the # anchor tags?"
I looked at the source of the Digg page for my blog post, discovered that there was an anchor id named "header-secondary", and added the id as an #anchor to the url used in the Bitty code. This was the result:
I promise I won’t overdo it with these Digg buttons. I’ll only display one if someone else diggs any of my posts.
The discovery about Bitty is quite cool I think, especially when you have control over the HTML source of the page that you are displaying, or when there are useful anchors available already.
As of today Answers.com made their AnswerTips service available to anyone with a blog or website. Just follow the simple steps lined out on the AnswerTips configuration page, insert the code into your site and you’re good to go. There are several icons available: smaller ones, larger ones, animated and non-animated.
These are the icons you can choose from:
In anticipation of the official press release that came out today, I had another go at AnswerTips myself to make sure the service was still working as expected, and then realized that any double-click inside an AnswerTip itself in turn spawns an AnswerTip to be opened in the same space. Now this is really useful because you can now stay on the original page and perform a gradually more precise contextual search narrowed-down through the topic that you’re interested in.
In an email exchange I asked Liz Cohen of Answers.com if web users who happen to dislike AnswerTips could disable it altogether, and it turns out they can, by checking off the AnswerTips section on the Answers.com Preferences page:
Fred Wilson, whose investment company Flatiron Partners used to have Answers.com in their portfolio, turned AnswerTips on today as well on his blog A VC. For more details visit his blog post This Blog Is AnswerTips Enabled.
If you’re especially interested in how Answers.com performs on the stock market now that this wonderful news was brought out, you may want to follow the developments on the Yahoo! Finances Message Board for Answers.com (sorry, no feed).
Then some links for those who have missed my earlier posts containing more historical background and ideas:
- AnswerTips Available as TypePad Widget (2007-02-01)
And as usual a topic news radar based on Google Blog Search if you want to keep track of the blog posts about AnswerTips, presented using Grazr:
"Please, CNET, look at these screenshots, read my comments on each of
them, and then tell me if you agree your website is in desperate need of a
make-over with respect to RSS support."
I don’t often use CleverClogs to rant about things or to complain about broken websites, but as I currently lack a proper connection to anyone responsible for the underwhelming implementation of RSS functionality at CNET News.com, I’m publishing some complaints here in a hopeful attempt that someone with enough influence will consider my feedback as constructive criticism and will have the suggested improvements carried out.
What I’m offering here is like a blueprint, a checklist to see if you really are offering your visitors everything you could be offering with regard to RSS technology. I hope others will benefit from this also.
Things to fix on the CNET News.com RSS feeds landing page:
- Use the common feed icon instead of the old-age XML one—not just on this page, but throughout the CNET domain. This icon is available for download in all kinds of formats and sizes from feedicons.com.
- Get rid of the abundance of ugly feed reader chicklets. A repetitive page such as this one hurts on the eyes, distracts from the actual list of feeds and makes me want to close the page straight away. Instead, rely on the browser-friendly feed subscription landing pages offered by FeedBurner, or use the attractive Subscribe button offered by iFeedReaders:
Once people indicate that they want to subscribe by clicking on a button, you can offer them the list of supported feed readers. iFeedReaders offers you a whole bunch of chicklets, including your own NewsBurst, and it allows your visitors to subscribe by email through RMail and FeedBlitz.
- Increase the number of items in each feed to at least 30.
- Offer full-length rich-media feeds instead of just the first sentence of every post.
- Provide an OPML for each section, or even better: let your readers select to which feeds they want to subscribe, and create a custom OPML for them on the fly. Use the standard OPML icon available from OPMLicons.com.
- Make any OPML that you provide auto-discoverable by using the <link rel> tag in the header of your HTML source.
- Run your feeds through a feed validator. I’m saying this because a number of errors show up when validating your feeds. I also notice heaps of empty lines when investigating their source.
- Provide links to the HTML versions of each of your columns: "Business Tech" on the feeds page would logically be hyperlinked to the Business Tech column.
- Fix the discrepancy between the number of News.com blogs mentioned in the sidebar of each blog (I count 37) and the number of blog feeds listed on the RSS feeds landing page (I count 28). I trust this is caused by the (recent?) additon of several new blogs.
- Don’t make me guess what each of your blogs has to offer. Put a Grazr widget in your sidebar that allows me to browse live other blogs/feeds/columns that might be of interest. You could even offer your readers keyword and keyphrase search among all of your feeds and let them generate custom-keyword feeds from their searches. For an example, see the one designed for the Power 150 by Todd And.
CNET’s prompt to subscribe to a specific keyword by email looks promising at first glance, but it’s a real disappointment once you click through.
Here are some suggestions for CNET Alerts:
- Allow readers to select from which CNET News.com sources they want to receive alerts: from specific columns, from any favorite authors, from selected blogs.
- Don’t just offer e-mail alerts—provide the whole range of output options: e-mail, My News, RSS, IM, web widgets, SMS. There are plenty of RSS tool vendors who can assist in setting up gateways to enable these channels. With the risk of leaving out others, I suggest you consider at least the services ZapTXT, Feed Crier and MuseStorm.
- Offer the option to subscribe to a single news post with its comments. You can use RSS for this, or so-called microformats.
- Fix the bug that allowed me to create the following appalling screenshot (note the spelling error)
Someone at CNET has been sleeping over the past few years. A whole truckload full of RSS and search techniques has become available in the recent years and in my opinion CNET is not offering enough of these to its readers.
Please use the comments section to share your ideas.
Update: I just realized I can use Bitty Browser to show you the live number of Diggs that this story has received:
"Keep reading, or if you can’t hold your horses, head straight for the meat of my latest achievement: an RSS-enabled Marketing Search Engine created using GrazrScript, a relatively new language to create web-based RSS applications …"
Next time I meet someone new on the web I should write down the whence, the where, the why and the how of the connection taking place. I do recall clearly that I took the initiative to connect to marketing and PR specialist Todd And about a week ago, but I’ve completely forgotten how I found out about his website in the first place. His attractive banner logo definitely must have prolonged my attention span:
Let’s forget (!) about my deteriorating memory, because what’s about to follow will hopefully blow your socks off.
Keep reading, or if you can’t hold your horses, head straight for the meat of my latest achievement: an RSS-enabled Marketing Search Engine created using GrazrScript, a language to create web-based RSS applications that was launched a few months ago by the Grazr development team. If you want to explore it yourself, I suggest you start with the GrazrScript Tutorial.
I immediately noticed Todd has a rather remarkable and attractive blog layout that he self-hosts using WordPress: two sidebars on the left-hand side, the left-most one containing an intriguing link to what turns out to be an impressive, ranked list of 150+ US marketing blogs. Here’s a quick live peek of Todd’s Power 150 – Top Marketing Blogs page using Bitty Browser. You’ll immediately understand why it caught my eye: it has RSS written all over it.
There was just one thing blatantly missing from Todd’s Power 150 page: OPML awareness. "Wouldn’t it be cool if your list were browsable, discoverable and even … searchable?", I asked him on Skype. Todd quickly understood where I was heading. Our ideas matched perfectly and over the course of less than a week, with our time zones not exactly catalyzing effective communication, I helped Todd to display an advanced Grazr widget on a page we now nickname as the "Kitchen Sink". The sections in the remainder of my blog post discuss the functionality of this RSS application and some details on how we built it.
Search Engine Functionality
Todd’s Power 150 RSS-enabled marketing search engine lets you do the following:
- Search all listed marketing blogs by keyword
- Generate a custom keyword-feed from your search that you can add to your own RSS aggregator
- Browse all marketing blogs as a combined, River of News feed
- Browse all marketing blogs from an alphabetically ordered list
- Grab the URLs to the feeds and OPML files offered in the widget to import or subscribe to in your own feed reader
- Send feedback by e-mail
Details about the RSS Tools Used
Dynamic OPML file
I started out with the OPML file from the feed list that Todd maintains on web-based feed reader NewsGator Online. This OPML file is web-based, public and dynamic, meaning that when Todd adds, changes or removes a feed in NewsGator Online, his OPML file will reflect this update immediately. RSS specialists refer to such an OPML file as a "Reading List". The other components in the Power 150 search engine fully rely on the availability of this OPML. You can browse Todd’s OPML by clicking on "Full List of Marketing Blogs" in the Power 150 Grazr panel.
Combining into a ‘River of News’ feed
The next step was to create a River of News feed from this OPML file using a feed digesting service. I prefer mySyndicaat, an advanced newsmastering tool that I’ve found indispensable in multi-tier projects involving the merging of RSS feeds, OPML files and Reading Lists.
FeedBurner for Cleanliness and Transparancy
On my cue Todd created a FeedBurner version of the mySyndicaat output feed. This is the feed that we used for "The Power 150 – River of News" feed link in the Power 150 Grazr panel. Most of my RSS applications involve the use of FeedBurner: most people know it creates clean URLs that are easy to remember, that it renders a browser-friendly page when displayed as HTML and that it offers pretty neat feed analytics features. There’s another less talked about reason why I personally use FeedBurner a lot: if for some reason any RSS tool used in the previous steps of a project like this is no longer available, all I have to do is adjust the source feed of the FeedBurner feed and my application runs fine again.
ReFilter Feed Filtering through Parameterized URLs
ReFilter is not such a widely known RSS service. In this case I use it because it lets you filter feeds by providing keywords within the parameters of the original feed URL. Such URL parameterization is essential for vertical search engines like this marketing search engine, because we wanted to offer Todd’s readers the option to subscribe to a custom-keyword RSS feed using their own RSS aggregator. I only used a portion of ReFilter’s functionality: ReFilter’s also offers an advanced syntax for sophisticated feed filtering: you can filter by field, use boolean commands and combine several searches into one URL. ReFilter is open-source, is based on the MagPie RSS parser for PHP and was developed by Sam Deelie.
GrazrScript, Creating RSS Applications
I had played with Grazr widgets plentiful in the past, but never taken the plunge to fully explore its scripting language until this week. GrazrScript is a language that is still fully in development and I very much appreciate where the Grazr people are heading with this. As I wrote earlier, the best way to get started with this is how I did it too:
- download the GrazrScript examples
- study the GrazrScript tutorial
- modify the sample applications using a text editor
- upload one of these applications back to your own server (!)
- try it out by entering the URL of your Grazr application on the Grazr.com configuration page
I’d like to point out—magna cum gratia—that head developer Mike Kowalchik from Grazr was of enormous help to get this project off the ground in such a short amount of time. No matter how we moved our goal posts, Mike offered great input. Mike created a branded Power 150 theme with a status bar logo and custom hyperlink icons that perfectly match Todd’s strong brand.
I’ve also had quite a few fruitful chat sessions this week with Giovanni Guardalben CEO of mySyndicaat, my preferred feed digesting service. Gianni was kind enough to tweak his servers so that I could configure the combined feed with all the bells and whistles we required for this project.
Lastly I’d like to mention how rewarding the collaboration on this project was with Todd. I look forward to working with him more and extending our friendship. And, Todd…: thank you so much for the wonderful new logo for CleverClogs. I truly like your design a lot.
By the time you read this, no doubt the counter is at 314 😉
And you, readers? Would you care to tell me what you think of this ambitious project? If so, please feel free to leave a comment.
Quite a few bookmarks being labeled with the tag "RSS" on del.icio.us refer to stuff I’ve already seen before: sites that I bookmarked myself, RSS tools and services that everybody seems to know about already or—especially annoying lately—pages undeservedly tagged "RSS", aka downright spam.
This morning, however, something showed up that did grab my attention: a project by Kent Brewster in which he demonstrates how useful it is that some major RSS-enabled web services have opened up their architecture. For a day-time job Kent works at Yahoo! in Silicon Valley, but from what I read on his side-projects page, he enjoys spending a lot of his spare time programming as well.
Let’s look at a screenshot, as usual. Click on it to open a full-size version of the image:
So what does FeedFlinger let you do?
Quoting Kent’s blog post:
"FeedFlinger is a prototype nothing-but-net RSS explorer, mashing up Feedburner’s sweet tasty new JSON return for source material, two flavors of Yahoo! Search for search and term extraction, and del.icio.us for storing and sharing."
And in my words: the Find Me instant search box allows you to type in the name of a feed. In this implementation it’s the Yahoo! Search API that limits the search results to just FeedBurner feeds. Selected feeds get added to a list in the right-hand panel. I chose my own River of News feed and the FeedBurner blog Burning Door, for example. You can see that each feed in the collection is displayed with all its feed items.
Hover your mouse on any entry and a pop-up is shown with a summary of its contents. Then Yahoo!’s Term Extraction API comes into play, generating a list of terms ordered by frequency of occurrence. This keyword list is displayed in the top-left column, called Interesting Terms.
The final step is to bookmark your custom collection of feeds, on del.icio.us of course.
A summary of FeedFlinger is listed on ProgrammableWeb in the category RSS mashups: FeedFlinger on ProgrammableWeb.
Final words: FeedFlinger is a work in progress, but definitely a fine one at that: Kent diligently documents the bugs he’s still working on, most importantly the lack of cross-browser compatibility. In real life I’m not to sure limiting feed search to just FeedBurner results is that useful, but that’s beside the point of Kent’s project: he clearly wants to demonstrate what’s currently possible.
Here’s a Grazr about FeedFlinger, to finish off the icing on today’s cake:
Apparently the TypePad people liked my implementation of AnswerTips (see my earlier story Instant On-site Facts: AnswerTips from Dec 22nd 2006) so much that they’ve now approved this Answers.com service as an official TypePad widget.
To add AnswerTips to your own TypePad blog, follow the wizard at I Want AnswerTips Too! Note that —rather contradictorily if you ask me—TypePad widgets can only be implemented on TypePad blogs without advanced templates.
Recent mentions of AnswerTips through a Google Blog Search, displayed in a Grazr widget: