Many people woke up this morning to find their RSS subscriber counts, as reported by FeedBurner, were markedly higher than they were yesterday. For some the numbers doubled but most, I’m willing to speculate, were less than that but still were larger than what they’d seen in previous day-to-day gains.
After what seems like a brief period of speculation that these gains were simply a problem with FeedBurner’s reporting, word finally began to spread that the jump was because FriendFeed was now reporting the number of subscribers a publisher has there as subscribers to the source FeedBurner feed, a change that was noted on the FriendFeed blog.
I’ve been a big advocate over the years of RSS subscribers being a more accurate measure of a blog’s influence. My thinking on this is built around the notion that RSS subscribers show who’s taken an affirmative action to keep up with a blog’s updates. That’s especially important when it comes to marketers looking to send out review products and such since those subscribers will actually see the eventual review. By focusing on site visits, you’re counting a huge percentage of people who come into a specific post or page through search but never hit the front page or dive any deeper and therefore never see the review or other relevant post.
Anyway back the FriendFeed change.
My first thought was that this was great since it meant that the FeedBurner numbers were now more truly representative of a feed’s reach. If someone has chosen to subscribe to my FriendFeed profile they’ve taken, more or less, the same positive action they would if they were subscribing to my main feed or my Twitter updates or anything else.
The more I think about it, though, the less entranced I am with this move and the less I think it’s going to be as useful as it initially seemed to be.
For one thing, FriendFeed subscribers almost certainly overlaps to a large extent with existing RSS subscribers. If someone is getting my FriendFeed updates I’m guessing it’s because they already subscribe to my blogs and just wanted to connect with me elsewhere.
For another, I’m not yet convinced that everyone is using FriendFeed as actively as a small subset of folks are, where that becomes a combination of Inbox and RSS reader and other input channels. I don’t have stats to back this up, but most people I talk to kind of have their FriendFeed account sitting there, collecting their various feeds and as a place to turn occasionally to see if they need to add any more friends but that’s about it.
I’ll admit these might be nit-picky points. But it seems like a somewhat artificial inflation of an RSS feed’s subscriber numbers. There are multiple Twitter tools that will let you pull your feed into your Twitter profile. Would those eventually report into FeedBurner reflecting the number of people who follow you on Twitter?
At the end of the day I do think that reporting FriendFeed subscribers into FeedBurner is a good thing since it does make those numbers technically more accurate. But there are things about it that marketers need to be aware of if we’re using those numbers to divine insight into the blog in question. Likewise there are things publishers need to keep in mind to make sure they’re not over-stating their blog’s reach.