FeedBurner, Uncertainty and Doubt

On Scripting News today, Dave Winer writes that he can't trust FeedBurner:

If things were different I might use Feedburner. Especially on weekday mornings it's amazing how much traffic one file, my RSS 2.0 feed, gets. So it occurs to me that I could streamline things simply by offloading that file to Google. Now that they own Feedburner, this is something I might do, if they take a pledge not to break aggregators that depend on the format of my feed not changing. If someday my feed were to change format and break just one person reading it, I would consider that a serious support issue. It's not something I want to take a chance with. Some people trust me in this way. Not so many people as Google, but to me, they're very important. Could I delegate that trust to Google? No, not at this time.

He's laboring under the misconception that FeedBurner has taken sides in the RSS/Atom war. That's not the case at all. Since the day it was launched, FeedBurner has been Syndication Switzerland. The service won't break aggregators that require a specific format to work properly. In fact, it will even convert feeds from one format to the other dynamically so that they work.

For example, the AmphetaDesk aggregator, one of the earliest desktop feed readers for Windows, doesn't support Atom 1.0. When I tried to add an Atom 1.0 feed to AmphetaDesk, it failed with the error "AmphetaDesk could not determine the format."

I added this feed to FeedBurner, producing a new feed. The feed, when loaded in a browser, is in Atom 1.0 format. But when I subscribe to it in AmphetaDesk, it works without error. A feature called SmartFeed, which is available in FeedBurner's Optimize menu, detected that the request was coming from AmphetaDesk and converted the feed accordingly.

I can understand being cautious about adopting a third-party web service. I tried BlogRush recently and it was a swift and terrible disaster on par with Eddie Murphy's singing career.

But in this case, FeedBurner's painstaking efforts to make feeds work, regardless of which software or feed format are employed by web publishers and readers, are getting lost in the FUD. And that burns me a little.


If you have control of your own domain server or can ask your ISP to make changes, Feedburner lets you set up, for free, a new subdomain along the lines of feeds.yourdomain.com and point it at Feedburner, so you can name your feeds along the lines of feeds.yourdomain.com/blog. Plugins for software like WordPress will intercept and redirect all incoming requests for any feed, so there is no transistion problem.

So if worse came to worst, you could theoretically take your feed back and handle it yourself. Of course, at that point you'd have to figure out how to support the collection of feed formats used by your subscribers on your end, and I suppose that might not be nontrivial to do perfectly, but that's why outsourcing it to Feedburner is so nice.

Didn't anyone tell Dave that he stopped being relevant years ago? He might as well be typing into a Word doc ala "www.creedthoughts.gov.wwwcreedthoughts" from the Office.


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