This past Thursday, I logged into my FeedBurner account for a quick subscriber count of our various sites. Usually the counts go up a little, but this morning nearly all our sites went up by about 250 subscribers. It’s great to see such a jump in subscriber count (especially network-wide) but also unusual, especially since there wasn’t any huge traffic jump or buzz to go along with it.
Subscriber Increase Investigation
My first instinct was that Google fixed something on their end that showed more accurate numbers than before. Not satisfied with going off instinct, I set off to investigate. In a sign of the times, my first stop was search.twitter.com. After plopping in feedburner and scrolling through the tweets, one from Marko Saric told the feedburner story:
FriendFeed subscribers show as RSS subscribers in FeedBurner now. I have 3500 RSS subscribers!?! Stupid change.
Many other bloggers had similar sentiments about the FeedBurner-friendfeed integration. David Spinks from Scribnia gave three reasons why adding friendfeed to FeedBurner sucks:
- …someone may subscribe to me because they’re interested in my twitter and facebook updates without ever really having interest in my blog.
- On FF, similar to twitter, you can miss a post, and unless you go back to check if it’s there, you’ll have no idea you missed it.
- Friendfeed isn’t as active as it may claim to be.
Louis Gray builds off David’s first point, that not all your friendfeed subscribers actually read your blog:
The company’s comments on this change state that “you are putting your words in front of a lot more people”, so theoretically, they should be counted. But I believe it is less-intensive to follow someone on FriendFeed than it is through standard RSS, and I have no idea how this handles duplicates, though I can guess it’s somewhat controlled, given my own stats jumped by a mere 5,000 when my wife went up by more than 9,000.
The latter half of Louis quote is interesting. It seems that FeedBurner somehow accounts for duplicate subscribers, in other words people who are subscribed to your blog via RSS and friendfeed don’t necessarily get counted twice.
So, is this change really a negative for blog publishers? Does it skew your subscriber data and make it inaccurate?
But, is it a big deal?
Not a Big Deal
I don’t think so. All FeedBurner really did is provide more data about people who are potentially reading your blog. Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of chatter about how some people were ditching their feed reader and relying purely on Twitter or friendfeed for new blog posts. Considering that trend, it’s not a bad idea to pull in subscriber counts from the various social outlets and include them in your subscriber count.
Some bloggers, like Bill Bolmeier, actually like the change as it gives them a nice boost to their subscriber count.
A better way to categorize these social subscribers would be via reach or a new category, but including them in the total subscriber count is still not a big deal.
There is one main reason why adding friendfeed subscribers to the FeedBurner count is not a big deal, you can filter out the friendfeed results.
By clicking subscriber stats, FeedBurner will show you where your subscribers come from. Just take your total, subtract out your friendfeed numbers and you have a number closer to your true subscribers. Personally, I’d rather have more data than less data, especially if with one click I can calculate the total minus friendfeed count.
Having said that, here’s an interesting note on how Google defines subscribers:
FeedBurner’s subscriber count is based on an approximation of how many times your feed has been requested in a 24-hour period.
Are all my friendfeed subscribers really requesting my blog feed?
Whereas in a feed reader you pull in feeds, on friendfeed they’re pushed out and some people pull them in. To that effect, I’ll agree that the new total subscriber count it not a true representation of your subscribers, but it’s still not a big deal. So do a little bit of simple math to get at your real subscriber count and don’t buy into the hype, the friendfeed addition did not ruin FeedBurner.