Back in the early days of blogs, when social media was barely getting started, people kept up to date and networked through RSS feeds. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read What is RSS?)
People bookmarked RSS feeds of blogs they liked into online programs called feedreaders. They could stay up to date by having fresh content delivered into their feed reader program. Then they could scan headlines or excepts and see what they wanted to read in depth, and go visit the site.
In fact, quite a few people would read the entire article in their feed readers.
Fast forward to 2019. RSS feeds are still here. RSS is valuable in the sense of how plumbing is important to pass water from a main reservoir out to various locations and homes. The feeds pass data about articles out to various places.
Feed readers, on the other hand, have pretty much gone the way of the horse and buggy. There are still a few feedreaders around. But today, most people network and find content through search engines or social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and more.
So the following post remains a valuable insight. It delivers a lesson about staying up to date in your product — and competing. But it required some explanation for people today to understand what it means. So that’s why I wrote this introduction when I updated this piece here in 2019.
A Startup Lesson: Bloglines versus Google
Over the weekend FeedBurner, the wildly popular RSS feed statistics tracking package, started showing Google Personal home page and Google Reader stats among the FeedBurner counts.
Many blogs that use the FeedBurner service to monitor their RSS feed subscriber statistics, saw their numbers jump. Dan Dodge, a Microsoft executive, had such an experience.
So now it’s time for the obligatory FeedBurner statistics show and tell.
Here at Small Business Trends, the change more than tripled the reported subscribers, from 4,675 to 15,843.
It turns out that those of you who read this blog regularly through a feed reader do so primarily using Google, Bloglines, NewsGator and My Yahoo, in that order. (Lest you assume Google is just big among the tech crowd, consider that Small Business Trends tends to have a business audience closer to the mainstream than the tech community. We’re all business here.)
The reason so many are writing about the new Google feed statistics (aside from the obvious ego element) is that Google’s share of the feedreader market seems to have come out of nowhere. It’s a surprise.
Just a year ago, Bloglines was the darling of RSS feedreader programs. But it did not keep up.
The Bloglines interface has not changed in two years. Today it looks old fashioned. New features have been few and far between. The features that have been implemented have had little “wow” factor to them. They tend to be oddly named (like “image wall” which sounds vaguely offputting, like the digital equivalent of the Berlin Wall). Or they are inadequately marketed.
Google, meanwhile, has managed to create product advantage. It included features that seem like small nuances, but obviously have a big impact on those who use feedreaders regularly. Consider TechEvangelist who went from praising Bloglines to switching to Google Reader in the space of just four months.
Sound familiar? This is beginning to sound like the classic story of a technology startup that starts with a novel idea and fresh approach, gets a head start, but can’t sustain its momentum. Small startups = fast out of the gate and early lead. Big competitors = slower to start but gain speed and momentum halfway round the track. They easily take the lead toward the finish line.
When you are a small startup, competing in a field that looks attractive to Big Players, you can’t slow the pace even for a few months. Even though Bloglines was purchased by IAC, the company that owns Ask.com, compared with Google they’re still a small player.
The lesson in startups aside, what does all this suggest for the small business blogger or website owner? What’s the take-away for you?
- At the very least, it suggests that you should have that “Add to Google” one-click button prominent on any site with an RSS feed published on it. Make it easy for users to add your feed to their Google home page or Reader. If you need information about how to add this button to your site, visit the helpful Google Reader Publisher Guide. [Update Google Reader was discontinued in 2013.]
- Also, some are suggesting that RSS feeds will play a greater role in influencing search results in the future. Read this article suggesting you should optimize for Google services — it’s a tad technical but quite intriguing.
- Pay closer attention to your RSS subscribers, and use a service like FeedBurner that will give you statistics to understand subscribers better. As these recent Google developments show, the numbers are beginning to matter, even for smaller sites. Your audience and loyal following can no longer be measured just by who actually visits your site/blog. Your community may be actively following by reading your feed in a feedreader daily or once a week.
- If you advertise in blogs or sites with RSS feeds, consider that your ad also needs to be seen by those who read feeds. And not just by those who actually visit the site you advertise on. You may be missing a significant part of the site’s audience.
- Finally, don’t be discouraged when you read about other sites with large numbers of feed subscribers. Remember, every site started out with zero subscribers and built the numbers one by one over time. Persistence is the key.
Did I miss any takeaways? If so, please leave your suggestions as a comment below.