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