My content, my readers, my numbers, damnit

Hey, My Yahoo, Google Reader, Pluck, Newsgator Enterprise and other RSS readers: Hand over my numbers. You are taking my RSS feed and caching it to serve more efficiently, which would be fine if only you told me how many times you are doing that. But you’re not.

Brad Feld is much more polite than I am about this. He complains that My Yahoo just stopped reporting how many subscribers a feed gets there and Google Reader never did report and many others, including those I list above, don’t report subscribers, even though there is an easy and automated way to do that.

That’s theft. If you took a song and cached it and fed it out to lots of people these days without reporting back to the owner, you’d get sued or slapped in jail.

Well, all I ask that you do for caching my feed is to report back the number of subscribers. Not much to ask. And not doing that is tantamount to theft.

Why do I care? Because I have an ego. Because I want to see how much RSS I serve and learn about it. Because I want to see how efficient my advertising is. And just because. Damnit.

RSS is becoming a ever-more-important transport mechanism but without metrics, some will refuse to be transported by it. My Yahoo and Google Reader are making hay including RSS in their new products. They should practice good citizenship and share the data those feeds generate with their creators.

I can’t go to the Syndicate conference this time, because it’s in California, but if I were there, I’d wear a T-shirt and carry a picket sign to all the players listed here and in my Feedburner report:

FREE MY FEED SUBSCRIBERS. HAND OVER MY NUMBERS.

: LATER: I should add that I’m not against caching because it saves on my server load. But I do want to maintain a relationship with readers who subscribed to my blatherings and the barest way to do that is to get statistics. I also am not crazy about services changing feeds without my permission; some cut my full-text feed back to just headlines. Do newsstands refuse to tell you how many copies of your publication they sell? Do they cut out pages and give you only covers? No. Online distributors should operate by similar rules of the road.

: UPDATE: Jeremy Zawodny, of Yahoo, reports in the comments that the Yahoo counts will be back; it’s a bug to be fixed. Bravo. Now how about you, Google?

: LATER: See a followup post on a fundamental principle, above.

: LATER CONFIRMATION: I also just heard from a Yahoo exec who confirms that, indeed, something got broken in an upgrade and that they will feed back stats on feeds. Once again, thanks, Yahoo.

: LATER STILL: (Repeating this from the post above): Matt Cutts of Google says in the comments here that he will mention this to the guys at Google Reader and believes there’s no reason not to build it into a next version of that new product. Bravo again.

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  • http://www.podtech.net John Furrier

    Try iTunes …the podcasts are cached there too

  • http://robertdfeinman.com/society Robert Feinman

    I don’t know about your RSS feed, but most I’ve seen only give a headline or slightly more, so the reader needs to click through to see the story. If this is true for you then you would see the traffic at your site as well as a refer (sic) field telling you where they came from.

    If your RSS extract is so insightful that nobody need to click through then you shouldn’t be putting so much up, or perhaps the headline is enough to get the gist.

    You should also see the numbe of times your RSS page is fetched in your log as well.

  • http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/ Jeremy Zawodny

    The My Yahoo numbers will be back. A bug caused them to go out of wack, so they disabled it for a bit until the fix can go out.

  • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

    I’m 99% sure NewsGator Enterprise is reporting subscribers via user agent. All the other NewsGator products do – I’ll double check on this one. Yes – I’m more polite, but just as annoyed .

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  • http://oddharmonic.livejournal.com/ Melissa (oddharmonic)

    LiveJournal’s syndication feature offers full-text of your RSS feed, so I only click over to read comments here on one in every ten to twelve posts.

    LJ offers a userinfo page for every syndicated account — that is, every RSS feed a user has requested to be able to view from their LiveJournal Friends view. Yours indicates that you have ten readers there.

  • http://dotnetjunkies.com/WebLog/paul/default.aspx paul

    My Feed pops up all over the place next to other peoples ads!

    I like to think of it as a Radio Transmitter amplifying my signal….

    http://feeds.feedburner.com/PaulMooney

  • Louis

    The popularly accepted spelling is “dammit”.

  • Anonymous

    There are sites like this where feeds are just republished as web pages (with ads). There’s no way count readers when sites are doing this.

  • http://buzzmachine.com/ Darrell Haight-Jackson

    Listen, websites have had to deal with this problem for far longer than bloggers. Many, many ISPs (like AOL) heavily cache site content, and thus make it difficult to identify the real number of visitors to a site.

    To see a similar thing happen to blogs only means that their particular type of content is now large enough for delivery effiiciency to trump fine-grained usage statistics.

    So? Get over it.

  • http://tinfinger.blogspot.com Paul Montgomery

    Theft is a strong word, Jeff. They’re providing you a service, and because they are not providing you another service as well you accuse them of theft? Bloggers accuse Google of arrogance all the time, but it doesn’t help when bloggers display it themselves while criticising Google.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Darrell, and major websites, including ones I worked with, objected strongly and got around that by serving redirects and invisible gifs. But RSS doesn’t enable that as consistently.

  • http://weblogs.macromedia.com/jd John Dowdell

    Jeff, it’s not “theft”, because you didn’t provide a contract agreement for your XML version upfront — you just put a resource out into the universe, free for anyone to use. It’s not surprising it gets reused in ways you may not have imagined.

    I think that what you’re asking for is reasonable, but it’s harder to demand such a contract after the fact.

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  • http://livejournal.com/~mcfnord John

    Embed a tiny image hosted on your site and grep your log. That’ll be more accurate than anything else.

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  • http://jaycurrie.info-syn.com Jay Currie

    I agree that having stats is a good thing. But there is no reason why your RSS feed should be sending more than a headline and a sentence. It is easy to set it up so this is exactly what it does and, from an aggregation perspective it is way easier.

    I have a small aggregator in Canada at http://canada.info-syn.com One of the banes of my existence are people who post long and whose RSS feeds are full post.

    (By the way…the big bucks are a tiny bit elusive in the aggregator world. If I see ten cents a day, admittely US, I crack open the bottled water.)

  • http://blog.softtechvc.com Jeff Clavier

    Rojo used to have the same issue (reporting one pull down of the feed irregardless of the number of suscribers), and they came around to fixing it. I see my numbers dropping hundreds of readers sometimes, just because of an API call issue.
    I guess that all these services will report their detailed numbers eventually.

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  • daudder

    So, will you pay for the cache-ing? You wnat the benefits bit not the costs.

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  • http://www.freeke.org/ffg d.w.

    The web is (aggressively) cached. Deal.

  • http://crueltobekind.org/archive/2005-11-27/yes_i_want_those_numbers_too cruel to be kind: Yes, I want those numbers too

    [...] If you just see it as an egoistical usage, please go on and blog about it or give a comment. It helps me to get to know you, because in the world I am living in, those numbers matter. Not to pimp my ego, not to go around and talk about them, but as information for myself if you appreciate the work I am doing here or if there is room for improvement. [...]

  • http://www.julieandseth.com seth

    These services are doing Jeff a favor? Does Jeff pay for caching? Please. It’s a two-way deal: RSS publishers get broader readership and lower bandwidth bills and the services get a business model (they hope). Jeff (and all other RSS publishers) make these businesses possible and it’s neither unreasonable nor arrogant to ask for some basic statistics in return.

  • http://lesterblog.blogspot.com Jon Lester

    I don’t think you really need much of an ego to care about your content, which is your intellectual property.

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  • http://www.bladam.com/ Adam

    Jeff,

    I’m a blogger, too, and I agree that the lack of decent numbers is — at least — an annoyance. But with that said, I find your sense of entitlement to be even more annoying… not to mention your obnoxiously hyperbolic use of “theft” to describe the issue. What next…? Should folks scream at the NYT when they don’t get to know how many folks read a letter to the editor they got posted there?

    As I commented on Threadwatch, I think many of us bloggers need to put things in perspective and, quite frankly, get a life.

  • http://www.mattcutts.com/ Matt Cutts

    Jeff, that’s a good suggestion. Google Reader is a pretty recent product, so I’m sure that the team has a lot of things that they’re working on, but I’ll mention this as a request. I’m guessing that no one is opposed to this at Google, but that they just have to prioritize and that they’ll get to this at some point down the road.

  • http://www.rassoc.com/gregr/weblog Greg Reinacker

    NewsGator Enterprise Server definitely reports subscriber statistics – here’s an example from my blog’s server log:

    NewsGatorEnterprise/1.0a+(http://www.newsgator.com;+51+subscribers)

    However…this can be turned off by the enterprise administrator. Some companies do not want to release subscriber information to external sources (investment banks are an example), so they have the option to turn it off.

  • http://www.bladam.com/ Adam

    Whoa… did someone throw a switch somewhere? My Feedburner RSS numbers increased by 20% yesterday after holding steady for a long time. Not complaining, but still…. :D

  • http://ladow.net Bob

    For someone who preaches to stop thinking like old media, comparing your RSS feed to selling magazines and theft of photographs is off-the-mark.

    But I do want to maintain a relationship with readers who subscribed to my blatherings and the barest way to do that is to get statistics.
    The barest way to do that, Jeff, is to write well. You have readers because of what you say, not because of the number of folks who read your pieces.

    I am surprised by your outrage over this. Eventually, all that is new is old again . . .

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  • http://feedlounge.com Scott Sanders

    FeedLounge has reported subscriber numbers in the User Agent from near day one.

    The question I have is the aggregation of these numbers. Does FeedBurner read FeedLounge’s User Agent to know that FeedLounge is more than one subscriber? This is where it gets interesting…

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  • http://www.mysticliquid.com Steve

    Looks like you got a little bit of Spam going on.

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