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Let’s Say FeedBurner Shuts Down…

Published by Chris Coyier

A lot of us around here have blogs and a lot of us use FeedBurner to "host" our RSS feeds. I thought it was worth talking about what might happen if we lose FeedBurner, which seems especially likely these days with the impending doom of Google Reader.

Why did we use FeedBurner in the first place?

Most likely, it was so that we could track subscriptions. We wanted to know how many people subscribed to our RSS feeds and FeedBurner was the best and easiest way to do that. To be comprehensive about it, we didn't just offer FeedBurner URL's but often redirected all requests for the native feeds to FeedBurner.

It may have also been to inject ads to help monetize an otherwise difficult to monetize content stream.

It may have been to reduce our server load. Feed reading services poll (request at certain intervals) feeds for changes so the thought of thousands of subscriptions hitting out sites hourly (or faster?) may have driven us to a hosted service.

It may have been the thought that FeedBurner "normalizes" our feed so if we make small mistakes FeedBurner would hopefully correct them so the RSS feed was digestable by all.

There were some pretty compelling reasons to use FeedBurner. None of us were dumb to use it.

What are the signs they are shutting it down?

There has been no official word that that FeedBurner will be shutting down, but:

  • They closed down the API in October 2012.
  • They closed down Google Reader, a (probably) much larger and more beloved RSS service, citing that they want to focus resources.
  • The product has seemed untouched for years.
  • There was a redesign of it you could opt in to that has disappeared.

How will Google shut it down, if they do?

They could just up and shut it off overnight. They won't, because that would turn what is already going to be a bad PR day into a really nightmarish one. Most likely we'll get a few months of warning and an official date.

When you create a new FeedBurner feed, you give it an "Original Feed" URL value. I suspect we will be given a date where requests to FeedBurner URLs will respond with a 301 (Moved Permanently) redirect response to our "Original Feed" URLs. Then another date where the service shuts down completely and the URL's 404.

What should we do ON THE DAY?

Speaking for myself, I'm probably going to hang onto FeedBurner with the optimism it sticks around or they handle the shutdown nicely. Perhaps I'll rue the day, but I hope not. If it does shut down, and assuming a graceful shutdown procedure, we should:

  1. Remove all links on our site to the FeedBurner URL's, replacing with an alternative URL - most likely the RSS feed URL our own sites generate.
  2. Remove all feed redirects that may be in place.
  3. If Google doesn't automatically do 301 redirects, do whatever steps are needed to get that in place.
  4. Hope that our readers feed reading services honor the redirects and keep them subscribed.

If you are less optimistic than me, you can get started on this sooner than later by deleting your FeedBurner feed now. They say as you're deleting a feed:

You have the option for this feed address to permanently redirect to the currently configured source feed.

So that's encouraging.

How are feed reading services going to handle this?

Popular RSS readers like Feedly and Reeder, as I write, simply sync with Google Reader. Since that's going away, they are going to need to either do their own feed fetching or find/build a new middle man. Apparently this is pretty hard, but I'm sure someone will step up. Feedly seems to be the most likely with their soft-announced Normandy API which proports to be a clone of the Google Reader API (although it's funny how they say it also runs on another Google service in the same breath).

I use and like Feedly. I've already started using it and am totally off Google Reader. I imagine that Feedly already has all my subscriptions saved in preparation for their "seamless" transition to Normandy.

The hope is that by the time FeedBurner shuts down (if it does), Normandy (or whatever is the prevailing new feed fetcher) is a really strong and stable service. And most importantly, it is smart enough so that when it gets the 301 redirect, it doesn't keep hitting the old feed, but updates the subscription to hit the new URL from now on. I highly suspect it will.

The only thing that we we lose as feed publishers are readers using weird RSS reader apps that don't update or don't honor the redirects.


Here's to hoping that if this happens it will be fairly painless! #RSS4LYFE

Comments

  1. That’s why I created a blog that archived all the posts residing in Feedburner. Too much great content could be wiped from the web if people don’t archive it.

    Here’s over 4000 articles of material related to Web Development:

    iwantaneff.in/blog/

  2. Scott
    Permalink to comment#

    I just realised that as a web site owner, I have never used Feedburner – Google Reader showed me how many people subscribed to my feeds. But I just went there and damn that’s ugly. Clearly Google don’t give a crap about it. I’m surprised they didn’t announce its demise along with Reader.

    By the way, I found that The Old Reader (theoldreader.com) was a better replacement for Google Reader. Feedly felt awkward having to install extensions everywhere (that run when you’re not using the browser) instead of just loading a web site. Just don’t try to import your Google Reader data as they only seem to be able to process 1 person’s feeds every 3 hours!

  3. Man, the times are sad. Is it me, or does the “World Wide Web” feel a little smaller nowadays?

    If feedburner goes down? I don’t even know how to reply to that.

    I know allot of devs say they get their news and stuff from twitter, but where is all that coming from?

    I don’t read all the feeds I subscribe to, but some I do. I just hope something new pops up to keep the information flowing.

  4. This would be sad and a mess, but we must be ready for the possibility! Thanks for this.

  5. I never actually used the Google Reader interface, but pulled the feeds into other services from that account.

    Good content sources are always in the front of your mind when finding other syndication sources. If I subscribe to your RSS I probably also follow you on Twitter and will find other ways to get your content. Actually, that is how I stumbled onto this article here. Anyone else in the comments actually get here through RSS?

    • Luke Wright
      Permalink to comment#

      I actually wouldn’t have read this had it not popped up in my RSS feed. That feed is still through Google Reader and I’m waiting to see how the other services hold up until I make the jump.

    • Luke,

      I’m surprised that anyone responded saying they made it here through Google Reader, but I guess I was wrong on that point.

      I guess my main point was, that the best content is always going to be searched out by readers like me. There is a little list of “Sites I Follow” at the footer of my personal website. CSS-Tricks is at the top of that list. I notice when people I like stop publishing content and I hope other readers would as well. wesleyeterry.com (check the footer)

      Aside: Soh Tanaka’s old site was on the list before “1 and 1″ dropped the ball on getting it back from the people who stole it.

    • James Hollenbeck
      Permalink to comment#

      I use RSS. I don’t use Twitter. RSS carries more information, and I’m guaranteed to get all of it. It is too easy to miss things in Twitter, and the messages are too short for me to filter effectively. Twitter is no replacement for RSS; They’re just not the same model.

    • Corran
      Permalink to comment#

      I read all articles here (and on so many other sites) through Google Reader.

      RSS really is one of the best internet ‘inventions’ ever.

    • Batfan
      Permalink to comment#

      Yep. Got here through RSS. Google Reader specifically.

      I very much despise the idea of having to wade through my social media accounts to read the news.

    • I agree that RSS is great, but Google is almost never my entry point. Basically I’ve always used Google Reader as a free utility to keep my feeds together.

      I’m also surprised no one has mentioned Yahoo Pipes. You can mash-up a bunch of different kinds of feeds and send them out as a single RSS feed to your reader. I created one years ago for a skatepark project that would pull together industry news. Check it.

  6. Arlen
    Permalink to comment#

    Yup, it’s going!!! I think Google Voice is next. Someone commented that end of the drop down list of apps in google when you’re logged in are probably the next to go.

    I switched to Feedblitz for my sites and I’ve been happy. And when I launched a new site, I went native with Feedblitz.

    I’d recommend it as an alternative.

    • Alex
      Permalink to comment#

      Google Voice isn’t going anywhere. It’s just too popular on both desktop, and mobile platforms.

    • Arlen
      Permalink to comment#

      Popular, just like all the apps that are using Google Reader???

      My hunch is that outside the geek circles, there aren’t millions of people using it, and even if they were…

      Google has changed. It’s not about what’s popular, but what makes them money and I don’t see Voice making them money.

    • James Hollenbeck
      Permalink to comment#

      Google Voice does have paid features. Calls between most countries cost money, and porting your number to Google Voice costs money too. Considering that I paid to port my number, and that there are no alternatives, if Google shuts down Voice I’ll be royally pissed and will be moving off all of their services.

  7. Patrick Corcoran
    Permalink to comment#

    It is my humble opinion that centralized services under the control of a single authority have always run counter to the oldest spirits of the internet. Peer-to-peer maintenance of large shared data sets seems more robust in the long run.

    I don’t know of an instant here’s-a-GitHub-repo solution to replacing FeedBurner with an opt-in P2P replacement. But I’m sure it’s not out of reach for those who want it badly enough.

  8. Rob
    Permalink to comment#

    Chris you made it to the front page of hacker news! (No CSS or TRICKS ;)

  9. I believe Feedburner will ultimately shut down, the question is just when. We have a simple to use Feed Fetching API at https://www.feedsapi.org with at our extended documentation (in work) at http://goo.gl/tf7Os , it’s not a clone of the Google Reader API, but it’s really good for what it’s supposed to do. Feedback is more than welcome.

  10. The only thing that we we lose as feed publishers are readers using weird RSS reader apps that don’t update or don’t honor the redirects.

    If by “weird” you mean “typical”, then yes. You will lose all of those subscribers. They probably won’t even realize you’ve stopped publishing for months or years.

    Of course, that’s based on my knowledge of RSS consumers before Google came in and valiantly slaughtered them all and then got bored and went off to spend more time maintaining Orkut. Maybe it all magically got better during the golden age of RSS stagnation. But I wouldn’t bet on it. If you’re not transitioning your subscribers to a feed URL that you control, you’re making a very high stakes wager.

    Sorry — I’m in a bad mood. But my non-sarcasm laden answer is the same: don’t count on Google to do the right thing, and don’t count on feed consumers to follow and store for the future 301 redirects.

    • That’s the big question then: will the new breed of feed fetchers (e.g. Normandy) permanently update URL’s in their stores when they find 301s? If you were them right now, freshly developing this new service, wouldn’t you?

  11. Great article, Chris.

    Two things I might add:

    The other sign that FeedBurner is shutting down soon is that the “permanent redirection” on delete is a new option since October. Before that it was only a “30-day redirection”. Update an outdated service like FeedBurner just to improve the deletion service is generally not a good sign.
    The RSS readers / fetchers should handle HTTP redirection statuses. A 302 means temporary, a 301 means permanent, so in a case they have to update the feed URL, in the other they don’t. It’s pretty basic but we’re working at URI.LV on a best practices page for these services.

    Finally, at URI.LV we strongly encourage people migrating from FeedBurner not to show our feed URL but their own. We have a whole set of free white label solutions that allows the user to easily use another service if someday they want to leave.

    Hope you’ll try my service some day. :)

  12. David
    Permalink to comment#

    For those transferring away from FeedBurner, what are you doing about the people who are subscribed via their email service?

    • Arlen
      Permalink to comment#

      Feedblitz also does email subscriptions. However aWeber is quite impressive.

    • You can export your contacts on FeedBurner and import it in any newsletter service quite easily. URI.LV provides that.

    • JA
      Permalink to comment#

      Yes, this would be my worry too. I’ve used feedburner to handle automatically emailing news/blog updates for a couple of websites I’ve built. Not sure what I’d do without it… (need a free alternative)

    • Had the same question myself, I’ll have to manually move all my subscribers (or via an excel list if possible with any future email subscription services) to a new service.

  13. Permalink to comment#

    Thanks for the URI.LV suggestion guys. I need to (at least) count my RSS subscribers so this will be perfect replacement.

  14. Evert
    Permalink to comment#

    I have always said one should never put their full trust in 3rd parties to maintain your resources. Sure, it is convenient and it has advantages. But there is always the chance that you lose everything. While reader is a ‘not very important’ service, suppose what would happen if they discontinue GMail? Or what if you put all your files in the cloud and that gets discontinued? Don’t say it won’t happen. It will. If not in a year, then maybe in 20 or 30. Nothing is forever.
    But, if you want real convincing that you should never trust a 3rd party with your resources completely, just look at banks over the past few years, and now at Cyprus. Many people lost all their money, while thinking it was safe at the bank.
    Yes, I use 3rd party services, but I always make sure I have a backup of some kind of my own if it is important.

    • Permalink to comment#

      backup money too ? ;)

    • Evert
      Permalink to comment#

      @Piet: I don’t have a lot of money, but if I did I would probably spread it to at least 3 banks and keep half of it in a safe at my house, yes. Strictly speaking not a full backup, but half a backup (either way).

  15. You could also try pipes.yahoo.com It’s another way to have your feeds in one location, cache and with a nice option to manipulate them.

    (dis: I’ve worked on it few years ago)

  16. I’m concerned about my feedburner podcast URLs that I submitted to iTunes. As far as I know there is no place to change the URL of your podcasts in their system.

  17. unfortunately the once mighty google that promised “no evil” seems to have caught a human infection / virus of management thought akin to that once glorious ms dos company that is now so well known for arrogance and unsympathetic customer sensibilities but i digress …

    anybody here remember google video ..??.. yikes … before youtube took off and other video lockers like blip.tv and vimeo were mainstream, google video was a great service to upload long form videos (meaning over 15 minutes) … i had hundreds of videos that one day were just orphaned when google shut down their video hosting service … their emails said “not to worry – your videos will still be available just that you won’t be able to upload any more now that we own youtube yada yada..” … so i took them at their word, started moving new videos to youtube and other services, but then one day i looked back at my old links to those original google videos and humbug, they were gone … they weren’t even transfered to my youtube account … well, i guess that’s to be expected with a free service in that we get what we pay for but again i digress …

    looping back to feedburner, the only real part of the service i was after was the email newsletter subscription service for my site feeds … their service made it easy for people to get emails and while i concur with some of the comments here about twitter, the good ole inbox with a set of well organized folders is certainly my preferred way to keep up …

    as fyi – with respect to video hosting, forget youtube and their just roll over DMCA take downs with robo removal of your videos and instead go park them on super friendly, radically honorable, way cool Internet Archives – now they are a management team that google and others could learn something from but i digress for the last time :)

  18. It never occurred to me that FeedBurner would disappear. Now I know what to do if that day ever comes. Thanks so much for the info! Would hate to lose all that hard work.

    • Arlen
      Permalink to comment#

      What’s really surprising to me reading the comments is why people aren’t taking proactive measures to leave Feedburner because the writing is on the wall.

      :)

  19. Warren Baskin
    Permalink to comment#

    I haven’t used Feedburner in a very long time. It looks like its from 1999 and doesn’t offer in-page validation and submissions.

    I strongly feel as if we should be taking full advantage of the RSS-to-Email services that MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, and others are offering. I was a little sad to not see them mentioned in this post.

    http://mailchimp.com/features/rss-to-email/

    http://www.campaignmonitor.com/rss-to-email/

    • Jups, mailchimp is a valid alternative. though the initial “setup” curve is a bit steep for smaller websites. (this was my first thought though, still playing around and tweaking it a bit). but many nice professional looking features, be it not always for free after x-mails.

  20. Brad Metcalf
    Permalink to comment#

    I really feel like the odd man out in this conversation as I might be one of the few to have RSS support be low priority compared to most of my fellow nerds. The sites I have been part of to be journalistic in nature seemed to be in the most need of RSS support. But alas, it hasn’t been the case in the past 5 years.

    In concept it was a great idea. A tool I could use to read all I needed to see on the net from news, to blogs, to random shit, to even social networking feeds. Basically a better way I could digest the internet. So I am not knocking RSS. I am knocking it in the theory I think only a shrinking demographic uses RSS feeds. I am expecting a large usage of RSS users here due to the technological nature. But my experience and statistics from my web sites show they rarely get touched anymore unless you try hard to pimp out your feed.

    My next site is to be a journalistic site that focuses on alternative arts. I am just going to put a basic RSS feed for each section and leave it at that to let more used features get my attention. And the RSS is just getting put in because I would feel it to be foolish to drop it all together.

    Maybe one day we will see a reinsurgence. I suspect in the form of a facelift and attempt to rebrand by some company tricking less suspecting users into using an old technology through a completely different type of interface. But right now I would suspect we are in it’s dark times. And happenings of this nature are going to be more common.

    • Brad Metcalf
      Permalink to comment#

      And a last minute thought. It really makes you realize you should have as many features as you can inhouse. The features Feed Burner did such as news letters from feeds, etc could be done via many open source scripts today. I think it is always best to handle your own resources rather than depend on another entity. Especially one you don’t interact with personally.

  21. It is interesting to read this. Because actually FeedBurner shut down in Japan last year and I saw what happened.

    Google shook hand with a local company GMO and launched FeedBurner.jp , which is using the same engine but had Japanese UI wrapper, in 2006. Both FeedBurner.com and FeedBurner.jp URLs pointed the same generated feed but eventually majority late comers registered and used .jp URL. It just stopped the service in the latter of 2012, they did not even do redirection to .com but just dropped the domain.

    There are many inaccessible feed registered in several feed readers. Most bloggers may noticed and changed their feeds on their sites, however, they had no way to call back their old readers.

  22. Timely article. I was putting a client’s post onto their Google Plus page yesterday and wondered how long it would be before G+ would offer an automatic feed to pick up your blog posts. They’re doing a lovely job of adding those posts right into search. Getting those posts into email, however, requires that you be part of the club.

  23. I agree with your post. This is what Google does. Nothing is free from start. Diversification is healthy rather than relying on one source.

    http://itcbok.com/what-if-beautiful-things-in-life-turn-not-to-be-free-google-case/

  24. Permalink to comment#

    Good point. With GReader going away (I still don’t understand why! Why throw away a popular and somewhat loved service, to “help” promote something useless like Google+?!), Feedburner can easily follow the same route.

    But it’s sad. Google bought it years ago, now they can’t just shut it down like that. If they decide they don’t wanna pay for Feedburner’s infrastructure, they’d rather sell it. And to a good company, very very far from M$, AOL, SCO and other junks like those.

  25. It’s dead by yeaterday – No Logins, no change of feed url’s, TOTAL DISASTER !!!
    Feedburner killed all my development overnight – Podcasts, Podcast Mac OS X Dashboard Widgets, no more news —> NOTHING

    The worst is, nobody care !!!

  26. Another replacement for Reader/Burner http://feedstream.io/

  27. What Feedburner alternatives are you guys using right now?

    • Salman: We’re still actively working on FeedPress and have seen a lot of users migrating from FeedBurner, usually because they want something sustainable for their feeds but also sometimes because FeedBurner was simply not working anymore (a lot of bugs happened in the past months).

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