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How to assemble a Feedburner alternative using WordPress plugins

June 2, 2007 @ 11:15 pm by Samir Bharadwaj  

Wordpress without Feedburner

Feedburner has become a ubiquitous part of every blogger’s arsenal. Over the past few months, before I actually got this blog up and running in May, I found Feedburner mentioned in every tips and tricks list on creating a successful blog. The Feedburner redirection plugin for WordPress appeared in almost every list of most important plugins, and there were reams of material on when to and when not to show your Feedburner reader count on your blog. So the question is, if it’s so important, why look for an alternative? After all, everyone uses it.

My main reason would be that I’m not comfortable with giving up the control and hosting of one of the most crucial parts of my blog, the RSS feed, into the hands of an external service. Not when I can be self sufficient in this. And I’m not the only one who shares that view. More recently, rumours were circulating about the possibility of Google aquiring Feedburner. While this was just more tech news to some, the prospect excited some people due to the possibilities of Adsense being integrated into feeds. As always it also filled others with dread about the growing Google monopoly over online services. I guess if you are one of those people, that would be another reason to find alternatives to the Feedburner service, because yesterday the rumour was confirmed. Google has indeed acquired Feedburner for an undisclosed amount, and now everyone is talking about it. For me, however, the main impetus is that it’s a challenge, and I love trying to solve these little technical conundrums.

My first step was to figure out what functionality needed to be replaced. The main one would have to be feed statistics. Most people sign up for Feedburner purely to see that wonderful number of readers widget/chicklet in their side bar. Then there is the ability to let people sign up for email updates on the blog, and last but certainly not the least is feed advertising. Advertising inserted into feeds is the new and growing segment of blog monetisation, and Feedburner has been offering this service for a while now.

I looked around for these three specific requirements and my first hits were actually alternative services to Feedburner. None seem to cover all the options, but if the aim was to purely move away from Feedburner specifically, you could always use Zookoda to manage your email update subscriptions, or you could use Fedafi for the tracking and advertising functions. Since I was looking very specifically for hosted WordPress solutions, I moved on and this is what I found.

1] WP-Feedstats

The Feedstats plugin is quite simple and effective and it does just what it promises – it provides daily statistics about visitors to your RSS feed.

I have tried out this system on this blog and the results are actually quite helpful. Hits on the feed urls are reported based on the calendar date. These hits are then plotted on a simple bar graph which lets you see traffic trends for the recent past on your blog.

Wordpress Feedstats plugin

The feed statistics become available on a new tab under ‘dashboard’ in the WordPress administrative back-end. I’m sure these statistics are rudimentary compared to what Feedburner dishes out. There are currently no fine grained stats about which readers are being used etc., but I have found them to be quite adequate to keep track of general trends in feed readership. That’s all I want of it and that should suffice for most bloggers.

2] Subscribe2

The Subscribe2 plugin has been around for a while and has changed hands a few times along the way. But it has always been growing from strength to strength, and it is now a very mature solution for readers to subscribe to email updates of your blog.

The latest version of Subscribe2 at the time of this writing is v2.35. It allows both WordPress registered users and anonymous users to sign up their email address for updates from blogs. This ability for the general public to signup makes this an ample alternative to email update services.

3] Feedvertising

Advertising in RSS feeds depends on an external advertising service, so this functionality cannot be completely fulfilled by any hosted plugins or software unless they allow direct ad sales by the blog owner.

But if you’re not into all that negotiating and sales, Feedvertising from the people at Text-Link-Ads provides the ad management services that you require to monetise your blog RSS feed.

There you have it. By using the above three solutions in conjunction, you can come very close to replacing all Feedburner functionality on your blog. It gives you the satisfaction and security of knowing your feed is being served off your private server without too much outside contribution or interference. And you also get full access to your data and your subscribers.

If you know of blog feed related alternatives I haven’t mentioned here, please leave a comment below and share the information.


63 Comments & links »

  • randy bryan says:

    Great article! I’ve posted it as part of my Blog Carnival at techloaf.com. thx

  • Samir says:

    Thanks Randy. Much appreciated.

    That’s a great lineup of content you have there. Should keep me busy for a good while.

  • Freigen'er says:

    Hey Samir,

    Thanks a lot for the great information you posted. I’m using the first two plug ins on your recommendation, also I haven’t yet completely figured out how to get “Subscribe 2″ working, but I hope I can fix this soon.

    Thanks for your post anyways

    The FreiGen’er

    • Good to know that this information is still useful to people.

      About getting Subscribe2 working, it could be any number of issues, but since I don’t have more details, here are some possible problematic areas:

      1] The version of Subscribe2 you are trying to use should match your version of WordPress. From the official plugin site, I quote:

      Version 4.2 is for WordPress 2.3.x users only!
      Users of WordPress 2.0.x should download Version 2.22 of Subscribe2. Users of WordPress 2.1.x and 2.2.x should download Version 3.8.

      2] Make sure you are following the installation instructions precisely.

      3] You could be suffering from one of the known issues with the plugin. There are fixes suggested at the link.

      … or it could be something completely different. If you’re still stuck, feel free to contact me. I will be happy to help if I can.

  • Ben Tremblay says:

    Have you looked at the comments on this post?

    Doesn’t leave the impression that you’ve got things under control.

    cheers

    • Thanks for dropping by Ben.
      Are you referring to the fact that most of the “comments” here are in fact trackbacks from other sites, or are you looking at something completely different?

      As far as looking at the comments, I obviously do, considering I spotted this one and I have replied to all the other real ones above.

  • Ben Tremblay says:

    Indeed, in deed!
    Hello Samir – Not only did you “spot”, but you replied, and mindfully to boot! So it’s evident that you are a principled practitioner?

    I find the stream of track-backs merely noise? *shrug* One man’s voice, heard.

    I’m glad enough to leave that just there, and wish you well.

    But know that readers don’t see this 1 by 1, as do you; readers are given the entire stream at once. So: I suggest your signal/noise ratio is sadly low.

    cheers
    ben

    • Thanks for the clarification, Ben. I completely agree with you that this mixing of trackbacks and comments is an unholy union.

      Truth be told, the reengineering of the trackback and comment layout has been on my todo list almost from the first day I patched together this template from various bits of code. Unfortunately, being the pathological control freak that I can be, I decided none of the available solutions looked quite the way I wanted. “I’ll make one myself!”, was the proclaimation I made that day, and one that I make often in various circumstances.

      As you can guess, that hasn’t yet come to pass. A shame, I know, and an inconvenience on the eyes of my readers, but this site is as much my playground as my laboratory. I’ve come to accept that some things will take their time, and some things might languish until I get to them. But get to them I will, and in the process I will hopefully learn and share what I learn.

      So, thank you for your thoughts and your patience with the less than optimal signal/noise ratio. When I do get around to tackling this issue, I’ll be sure to wave in your direction to get your feedback on what I come up with. You obviously care about such matters, and passionate and educated opinions are so hard to come by these days.

      cheers
      Samir

  • Ben Tremblay says:

    *I wonder … if I clicked the “subscribe” box, would I get multiple copies of the comments since I am already subscribed?”

    Hello Samir –

    I’m certain I’ve seen a plugin that separates trackbacks from comments. Not sure that it will work with WP2.5 (global variables, you know) but I’m positive it worked with 2.3

    Let me know if you can’t locate it and I’ll hunt it down.

    best
    ben

    • * I would hope the plugin that handles the comments subscription recognises the redundancy of multiple subscriptions, but I’ve never really put it to the test.

      Hello Ben,

      Thanks for dropping by, and as you can see I’m still slacking off on the comment issue. But, your friendly ‘ping’ has resulted in my doing a bit of searching.

      I think the plugin in question, to seperate comments from trackbacks is this one:
      BM-TrackPing
      It seems a lot more streamlined than the one I remember seeing a year or so ago. I will try this out ASAP, as soon as I figure out whether it will play well with my comment threading plugin.

      In case there are others reading this who are interested in similar and related solutions, here are some interesting comment plugins:

      Comment Sorter — As the name says, a complex sorting solution, but also lets you completely disable the display of Trackbacks if you want to get drastic.

      Comment Highlighter — Allows you to apply custom CSS classes to specific types of comments, including those of the author of the blog.

      Sexy Comments — A complex suite of comment functions. Includes everything from a forum-like look, to highlighting, to threaded commenting.

      Thanks for prompting the research into these solutions, Ben. Hopefully the comment section on this blog should be getting a lot cleaner soon.

      Thanks again,
      Samir

  • Ben Tremblay says:

    Good on yuh, Samir. Not sure that’s the one I had seen in action (BTW http://bentrem.wordpress.com is where I blog a few that catch my eye.) but I’m sure you’ll find one that works.

    WP Plugins … a veritable cornucopia of delights! Yesterday (day before?) I bookmarked sites/plugins dealing with categories/tags and heh ended up with over a dozen.

    FWIW my “stealth project” is so ?what? novel, it approaches “unstructured information” along such a different vector (It’s all a matter of taxonomy, ontology, and cognitive schema, ehh whot? *grin*) That none (read 0.00) meet my need. In fact it looks like I might need to hack core code … mebbe.

    So: thanks kindly for your list of pointers.

    p.s. perhaps we should chat about co-blogging? I think this morning I happened onto a very interesting / relevant niche.
    I’ve logged in with my legacy email account.

    cheers

  • Ben Tremblay says:

    Hi – I just peeked the “Sexy Comments” link. With such a huge list of features, it’s pretty impressive! And what did I find? No author-page, no plugin page, no real explanation of functionality, and the example site very very rarely has any comments at all.
    This sort of thing I describe as “brain-damaged” … it might be very good code. But the author (unidentified) seems to know very very little about communications. Which, you’ll understand, leaves me more than a little skeptical.

    And yet, and yet, WP remains a cornucopia of delights!
    ;-)

  • Thank you very much for listing those plugins in here. I am building a new blog for my photo business ( http://www.FotografIasi.ro )and I really don’t want to use Google’s monopoy

    • Glad I could be of help, Daniel.

      The feed statistics plugin mentioned above can now be found in the official WordPress plugin directory here:

      http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/feedstats-de/

      This article was written a long time ago, and while I still use the solutions mentioned here, there are some new plugins that you might want to look at as well.

      Feed Statistics

      This one can do more than just count the number of readers. It can be set to display statistics about the Feed Readers, Post Views, and Clickthroughs in the admin area.

      http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wordpress-feed-statistics/

      Feed Master

      Still in beta, and hasn’t been updated in a while, but it tries to collect detailed feed stats by creating a unique feed address for each reader by adding a random ID. I don’t know if using this on a live site is a good idea, but its out there if you want to experiment.

      http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/feed-master/

      Hope this helps with you project. Best of luck with your photography and your blog.

      Samir

  • I’m still interested in going back to feedburner. I like to outsource as much as possible :) (with the benefits of new features and updates which I dont have to maintain myself).

    However, I have 1 front page feed, 9000 posts feeds, 1000 tag feeds, etc… how in asimovs name can I get each one of them tied to a unique feedburner feed?

    Do you have any clue?

    • That’s an interesting problem you’ve presented, Edward. While I set off to answer the question here as best as I could, it was turning out to be much longer than expected. Also, since it had nothing to do with WordPress plugins or FeedBurner alternatives, I though it was best to move the discussion to a new post. You can read it here:

      Adding FeedBurner RSS Feeds Ad Infinitum

      Hope this is helpful, and thanks for dropping by.

      Samir

  • abhishek says:

    bt why so much fuss over feeds? i guess most users opt for emails instead of feeds, or can you explain how this feeds help as a blogger?

    • Abhishek, while email is popular and very useful to bloggers and readers, feeds also have their place. There are two important advantages to feeds:

      1. Tens of thousands of people can follow a feed. Sending tens of thousands of emails out to people is not as simple.
      2. As a reader I can follow hundreds of feeds with good feed reader. Getting hundreds of emails if all the blogs I want to follow update regularly, would be a pain.

      I think both feeds and email updates have their uses. As a blogger and as a reader, you learn to use each to its strengths.

      Samir

  • bee says:

    Thank you! I prefer hosting my stuff on my own, too. Just installed FeedStats and am curiously awaiting the first stats!

  • sergej says:

    Thanks Randy. Much appreciated.

  • I am having a hard time struggling with feedburner then suddenly i came across your article. Thanks for this info. I will give it a shot for sure :)

  • Joni says:

    Keep on writing, great job!

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