How To Publicize your FeedBurner Feed

I’ve told you that FeedBurner is awesome, and I’ve given you some tips about how to optimize your FeedBurner Feed. Now let’s take a look at using FeedBurner to get the word out about your site, bringing more traffic to both your website and your feed.

Not Your Mother’s Marquis

Headline Animator

Remember the spinning .gifs and scrolling marquis bars across our wonderful Angelfire and Geocities web pages of the mid- to late-nineties? When I first read the words Headline Animator, my mind went to those wonderful examples of web design stupidity, but I clicked on the link anyways to see what it was. I’m glad I did.

FeedBurner’s Headline Animator is actually a way to get your article titles into places you wouldn’t normally see them. For my purposes, I created an email signature using FeedBurner’s tool, and I’ve found it to be a really good way to subtly get the word out about my website in a fresh way that people might actually use.

Under the Publicize tab inside of FeedBurner, you’ll find Headline Animator right at the top of the left column. Click on the drop down menu to see the different themes and you’ll notice that more than just email signatures are available; this tool allows you to get your headlines to a variety of different places and formats, and as you move through the wizard, you’ll get a good idea of how powerful the Headline Animator really is.

Play around with it a bit, and I’m sure you’ll find a good use for this. I will forewarn you, though, that using the email signature can sometimes be a pain. Mozilla Thunderbird can use it pretty decently, but Mac Mail certainly does not :-

Some People Like it Old-Fashioned

Email Subscriptions

For a variety of reasons (I can think of three off the top of my head), some people prefer email and web pages to RSS and readers. This being the case, it’s your job to give readers alternatives to keep them engaged with your site, and subscription by email is a good way to do this. Thankfully, FeedBurner offers a simple tool under the Publicize tab to handle this.

This will add a link to your Browser Friendly feed page, but FeedBurner’s Email Subscriptions also gives you a static link you can use anywhere to spread the emaily goodness. Let people subscribe to your content in the way that best suits them and I guarantee you’ll have more and happier subscribers than you would otherwise.

Shout it From a Mountaintop

PingShot

When you’ve written a great post, you want to let people know about it. Unfortunately, it’s a bit obnoxious to call or email everyone you know everytime you’ve written something, and besides, that’s a relatively small audience. FeedBurner invites you to spread your horizon a bit with PingShot, which notifies different web search engines so that people can find what you’ve written more quickly and easily.

While search engines might find your content eventually, you can use this to let them know right now. In addition to those pictured above, there are a couple more static options and then you can select from 5 other search engines (I also notify NewsGator, Google, Ping-o-Matic, IceRocket, Weblogs.Com, Blogdigger, Alexa, and Snap).

If you’re using WordPress, you can do roughly the same thing with Google XML Sitemaps, but not to as many different services. Using FeedBurner’s PingShot in conjunction with Google XML Sitemaps gets you the widest exposure and biggest bang-for-your-buck, so to speak, and since it’s free there’s no reason not to.

Make Sure Your RSS is Yours

Creative Commons Feed

The last option I’m going to talk about in the Publicize tab is the Creative Commons tool. Since all of my work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States license, it is free for anyone to use provided they follow the rules of that license. Though you may have copyright information on your site, it’s probably not in your feed.

As far as I’m aware, copyright over content in RSS feeds has been upheld, but I still like to put this symbol and link into my feed. I have to deal with people stealing my content on a fairly regular basis, so I always want to have something clear I can point at regarding the licensing of my work.

So Many More Options!

As you can see from the Publicize tab in FeedBurner, there are a ton more things you can do. FeedCount is one of the cooler ones, which allows you to display a little badge with how many people are subscribed to your feed, but I didn’t write about it because I just don’t use it.

Play around some with FeedBurner and I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the services it provides. Happy burning!

How To Optimize your FeedBurner Feed

I wrote on Monday that FeedBurner is a great tool for jazzing up your feed, and I also told you why investing in your feed was important, but I haven’t gone into any specifics yet. Today we’ll discuss three powerful ways you can use FeedBurner to optimize your theme. I’ll tell you why each step is important, how to do it, and the result you might expect from using FeedBurner in this fashion.

Making your feed Browser Friendly

Browser Friendly

As I wrote last time, you invest a lot of time and effort into making your site look nice, and you do so to impress, attract, and keep readers. It stands to reason that you would likewise want your RSS feed to be attractive and usable, and this is where FeedBurner comes in. There’s absolutely no sense in reinventing the wheel, so let FeedBurner do the work of making your feeds more beautiful.

Once you have burned your feed, you can navigate to the Optimize tab and select Browser Friendly from the sidebar on the left. The default settings will probably do, but as you can see above, you can also add more subscription options either before or after you activate Browser Friendly. Hitting the activate button at the bottom of the page will turn this on, and within an hour or so you’ll have a beautiful RSS page.

To get an idea of what this would look like, check out my RSS page, helpfully burned, styled, and optimized by FeedBurner. Why don’t you subscribe while you’re there? 😉

Don’t Have a Dumb Feed

Smartfeed

One of the problems with RSS is that there isn’t just one way to do it. We use the term “RSS” to refer to site content syndication that we can then put into a centralized reader, be it desktop or web based, but the truth is that there are two different kinds of  web feeds (RSS and Atom), and each one of those has a handful of different versions and specs. Due to this, compatibility between a feed and a reader (I use Google Reader myself) can be a problem.

That’s where SmartFeed comes in. FeedBurner can automagically translate your feed into the different protocols and versions so that any RSS reader will be able to interpret and display your feed. This gives your readers a seamless, trouble-free experience.

We all know that web browser compatibility can be a pain. Don’t let your RSS feeds cause the same misery; optimize your feed with SmartFeed and you’ll never have to worry about your feed compatibility again.

Because You Want to Express Yourself, Right?

FeedFlare

Once you’ve got people subscribing, it’s really best if you can keep them actively engaged with your site, rather than just passively reading. FeedFlare adds content to the bottom of your feed, almost like a footer, so you can give your RSS subscribers some additional ways to interact with you and your site.

You can see the flare I’ve chosen to use above, but there are a ton of different options. Since you’re already in the Optimize tab from doing the earlier two steps, just click on FeedFlare in the left column and take a gander at everything that’s available to you. I’d recommend, though, that you don’t add too many. If you’ve got a whole wall of flare at the bottom of your RSS feeds, people’s eyes will glaze over and they’ll start to drool before they move to their next article to read. Then they’ll blame you for getting their shirt damp and will unsubscribe to your feed. Don’t engage in such foolishness.

I’ve got five flares, which makes for a single line at most resolutions. Once you’ve added flare, you can easily drag them around to get the order you want. Activate and save your FeedFlare settings and FeedBurner will take care of the rest.

Optimize Prime

Using the above tips will make your feed a whole lot more appealing and useful, but it probably won’t bring any more traffic to your site. Tune in again on Friday to learn about using FeedBurner to get the word out and bring more visitors to both your site and your feed. See you then!

Burn Your Feed with FeedBurner

silverpenfeed

When we visit a website, our eyes often begin around the center-left of the page and scan rightwards, picking up the colours and general content in a fraction of a second. Within seven seconds humans form a first impression, so it’s important for a site to look good and suitably impress readers.

Once you’ve made a good impression, you’ve got the opportunity to hook your readers and get them coming back again and again. And when they start doing this, they might just subscribe to your RSS feed. You’ve worked hard to make your site look nice, so why wouldn’t you put some time into sprucing up your feed? Once you have regular readers, this might be the primary way they interact with your site, so you want to make it a pleasant experience.

I’m not a coder by trade, and can barely hack my away around PHP to change the plain text I want displayed on a given page. Since I focus on content rather than presentation or code, I look for tools that can handle that part of the job for me. When looking for something to improve my feeds, it was immediately clear that FeedBurner was the solution.

FeedBurner makes improving, managing, and tracking your feed easy, to the extent that I had almost overlooked it altogether. I had taken FeedBurner for granted and assumed that everyone had discovered its wondermous properties of joy and goodness, but when talking with a friend of mine recently, I realized that not only had not everyone discovered FeedBurner, but that those who had might not be using it to its full potential.

You can easily use FeedBurner to syndicate your RSS feed, but it does so much more than that. Over the next week, I’m going to cover how you can optimize and publicize your feed to the best effect. When using these steps myself, I saw traffic to my site increase, and my feed has more subscribers than it did pre-FeedBurner as well. This isn’t just a tool for displaying or tracking your RSS feed, it’s a tool for improving your website and your readers’ experiences with your site.

The first impression is made based on the design and content, but the back-end has to run well to keep people coming back. I hope you’ll return this week to learn about how you can get the most out of FeedBurner; of course, the best way to get the scoop would be to subscribe to my RSS feed 😉

Why I don’t use Flickr

Note: I’ve closed the massive photo gallery once hosted at SilverPen of well over 3,000 images we had taken and uploaded. We’ll continue to maintain a smaller set of public photos on Flickr, but will reserve the local photo gallery for our backups and friends/family who want to see more images.

I know, I know. This whole article is about why I don’t use Flickr, yet I’m moving there. I’ll write a new one and link it from here about why I have changed my mind and habits.


As I was uploading pictures from our housewarming party to our photo gallery over the weekend, I thought I might take a gander at the other offerings in the photo-hosting business. Conventional wisdom tells us that we should speed up our sites as much as possible, and a good/easy way to do this is to host videos and pictures on someone else’s web server. After all Flickr, Google Photos, and Youtube are all free, so why not use them? That way, when people are looking at our pictures and videos, they’re using Yahoo’s or Google’s bandwidth, not ours.

And while it’s true that having the pictures hosted there makes your site load faster, it can make setup take a lot longer. Let’s take a look at my photo gallery.

I’m not really much of a photographer. April and I usually forget to take our camera anywhere we actually want to take pictures, I’m not artistic in the least, and when we do have our camera, we still have a tendency to forget to use it. That being said, take a look at the text just at the bottom of that picture.

7 albums, 40 subalbums, and 3,168 images. I hadn’t really used my camera until I met April, so that’s all within the last 3 years, and while Flickr et. al. have many good qualities, dealing with a large photo gallery is not one of them.

Since Flickr is free, there are a number of limitations on its use. One of these is the number of images you can upload at a time. Right now, when I have a few hundred photos to add to my photo gallery, I simply zip them up in a file, upload that single file to my web server (start the several hundred MB upload and walk away), then unzip them on the server. Bam, a new album has been added to my photo gallery.

On Flickr, however, you can only upload 5 images at a time with the free account. Google Photos starts you off with 1gb of storage space, and you can pay to get more, but my photo gallery is currently sitting at 6.7gb. I’m not sure on Flickr’s pricing, but either way, it’d be a lot more work to upload and orient my photos. Flickr also has a limit on how much you can upload in a day. Right now, I believe that limit is 20mb, and while I can resize my photos to make them smaller, just 85 photos = 14mb for me on average. If I don’t resize them, or have 2-600 (like I usually do in a batch upload), I simply wouldn’t be able to upload all of my images in a day. It’d take me a week to get everything uploaded.

What’s more, you lose control when you use those services. Right now, I have my photo gallery, and I can style and organize it any way I like. Since I’m not an artist or stylistically inclined, it’s not phenomenal, but it’s mine. Someday, I may try and make it better, but I like how it is now. (::Aside:: Except for only having 15 pictures per page, but I did add a slideshow feature (bottom left when you’re looking at an album), and only having 15 images per page speeds up load time quite a bit and cuts down on bandwidth usage, so it really is a good thing.)

I feel like I’ve been rambling, so let me conclude succinctly. I don’t use Flickr (or other hosted solutions) for my photo gallery because

  1. Too many limits on how many pictures you can add at once
  2. Too small storage size
  3. Have to pay for larger storage size (and I’m already paying for web hosting)
  4. Can’t style the photo gallery myself

Therefore, I use Zenphoto. It’s not as full featured as what I was using before (Coppermine), but it’s a lot easier to use and a lot more attractive. The administrative interface doesn’t have many options, but it’s simple and it does its job well. I recommend Zenphoto, and I enjoy using it.

What’s more, I discovered ZenphotoPress today, which should make it easier and faster to add images from my Zenphoto gallery to my blog articles. As someone who self-hosts WebPress, there’s no better way to manage your photos than to self-host a photo gallery as well, and WP and Zenphoto integrate pretty seamlessly.

As for videos… well, I don’t do any of that right now, but I suspect I would go ahead and use YouTube for that and embed the videos here. They take significantly more bandwidth and storage space, and I doubt I’ll ever be to a point where I would need more space than they offer. However, if I did go into video production and had a lot of them to share, I would most certainly self-host those as well.

Updated – Why Chrome Concerns Me

Google has recently announced their web browser, Google Chrome, and while a variety of bloggers and news sites have begun reporting on and hypothesizing about Google’s motivation and the browser’s functionality, nobody seems to have any negative concerns regarding Chrome other than its competition with Mozilla Firefox. Some have shared their concern that this will kill Firefox as well as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which is a fine concern to have, but one I think isn’t major. People who care more about privacy will look at Google’s continuous data mining and give Chrome a miss. Firefox will still be used, and it’s Open Source, so it’ll continue being developed (unless Google buys it…). But again, not my main issue.

My concern is where Google states that Chrome is more than a web browser. Rather, it’s “a modern platform for web pages and applications,” with the word application mentioned 5 times in three paragraphs there. While Mozilla Firefox uses Gecko as its application engine, Chrome will use Webkit (along with Safari and Konquerer), just as Google’s mobile operating system (Android) will use Webkit.

Application compatibility and development could certainly put a dent in Mozilla Firefox’s usage statistics, but more importantly, it sends up a red flag to me. I fear we’ll return to the lack of standardization that was a hallmark of the browser wars in the early to mid 90s. As webapps become more prevalent, I fear web developers will have to begin writing apps to be compatible with Gecko, Webkit, and Microsoft, and that’s simply ludicrous. We are finally achieving standardization when it comes to HTML, and with Javascript, PHP, and ASP we’ve got languages that are understood equally by all browsers.

With Google entering the browser wars and choosing Webkit, it appears that we are establishing a lack of standardization for the future, which bothers me. Moreover, as Google moves more towards web development, with their own web browser in place I fear that they will build something akin to Microsoft’s ActiveX, where their web applications will be even more advanced and powerful, but will require their web browser to achieve that full functionality. I am concerned that Chrome will encourage Google to create proprietary web applications.

Of course, they may stick to their creed of “Do No Evil,” and my concerns may be completely unfounded. But as Google gains more power and popularity, I wonder how far they can push the definition of “Good” before losing the favour of their users. Regardless, I’ll check out Chrome so I can support it, but I doubt I’ll be switching to it full time. I already give Google my email and contacts, but adding my browsing into that… I like to pretend to have at least a little bit of privacy.

Addendum:: Google Chrome is Open Source, as is Webkit, so it’s not like THE END OF THE WORLD if they develop stuff that’s Webkit-only. It would just make me a little sad, and be a step in the wrong direction, I would think. Unless Webkit became a standard (and I’m sure someone will make the argument that Mozilla could always switch from Gecko to Webkit), and no news or rumours have arisen yet that such a move is likely in the web development community… though with both Android and the iPhone using Webkit, it certainly wouldn’t be absurd for Webkit to become so prevalent it became a standard…

Regarding Privacy:: Another update, since I mentioned this earlier. Since I’m in meetings all day, I haven’t downloaded, installed, and tried Chrome yet, but CNet takes a closer look at the Terms of Service attached to Chrome. Of particular concern to me is:

By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any content which you submit, post or display on or through, the services.

Since my own content is copylefted under Creative Commons, I don’t particularly like the idea of Google serving up my content in any sort of advertisement and potentially making money from it.

Pagerank

When I first started my website back in 2004, I registered it as spiritgod21.com and, to justify the .com suffix, I registered for Google Adsense and placed discrete advertisements on all my pages. Over the course of the next year or so, I made maybe $7 off these ads, and since Google doesn’t send you a check until you hit $100, I didn’t really make anything. I always felt like a bit of a sellout, having ads on my page, so when I made a new site last August, I chose the .net suffix and committed myself to having no advertisements.

One of the drawbacks of not having Google Adsense is that my page isn’t ranked as highly as it was before. Google claims that having Adsense on your site doesn’t change your pagerank, but I think it’s telling that if you search for my name, my site doesn’t show up until pages 3-5 in the search results. When I had ads, it was on page one. To be fair, I partly blame this fact of poor search results on having lost some readership when my site was down for over a year, and that’s certainly not Google’s fault*, but I occasionally look at my miniscule pagerank (the number that approximately denotes how Google views your site and therefore gives an idea of where you’ll be ranked in search results) and get depressed.

Until yesterday, when my pagerank rose 2 points (out of 10) to a firm 3. I know, 3’s still pretty small, but it’s encouraging to me to see the number go up at all. What’s kind of sad, though, is that it is all because of my tech blog.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me; people search for tech stuff more than they do for poetry or the random junk I usually write about. I’d just avoided having a blog dedicated to technology for so long and had tried to avoid it that, again, I feel like a bit of a sellout for having one. Still, despite how it’s related to my job and how nerdy it is, technology’s a big part of my life and I kind of like writing about it. And on the plus side, it has drawn more attention to my writing; prior to this, my photo gallery got the most hits, but now the two blogs I host on my site are above the photo gallery by quite a bit.

As a final note on this subject of blogs, there’s been a bit of controversy over the FnC blog and Brian was asking himself why we bother with it in the first place, as it seems to have pretty much no readership. We’ll probably keep it, but if we don’t, chances are I’ll be starting a ministry-focused blog on my site as well. Heck, that might be fun just to do anyways. Lord knows, I always need more motivation to write.

*Originally, I had mistyped this as faul, which Firefox had not flagged as being misspelled. At first, I thought this meant there was some obscure word spelled faul that I was unfamiliar with, but now Firefox is underlining it in red. Sadness; I was all excited about the potential of learning a new word.

The death of the LUG

I looking into the local Linux Users Group a few months ago, going so far as to join their mailing list and contribute via email a bit. I read up on LUG meetings and the various groups around the country, and much to my chagrin, discovered that I’m about 15 years too late. It seems that the groups are not just waning, but mostly gone. The ironic bit is that the tool which grants Linux its popularity and proliferation is the same that strangles its face-to-face groups.

Once upon a time, LUGs would meet to swap disks, install new distros, ask questions and troubleshoot each others’ problems, and socialize with those who shared one’s interests. With the Internet (particularly high-speed services such as DSL and Cable), however, we no longer need such face-to-face interaction to meet those needs. Questions can be posted to listservs, forums, and chat rooms, and along with the rise of wikis, we can find what documentation we need quickly and easy. I’d like to blame Google because it’s cheap and easy, but there are myriad reasons the LUGs have died.

This topic only comes up because I was required to join some listservs last week for Banner. I’ll receive a digest (presumably daily) of the discussions occurring around a variety of topics related to Banner and the four specific modules I signed up for. The Internet’s a wonderful thing, but it certainly allows us to abstract ourselves from humanity to the n’th degree quite easily. A listserv is more interaction than reading a static webpage, but it strikes me as even less than emailing a person directly; the listserv is faceless and easy to ignore. It certainly differs from calling, or walking down the hall to talk to a person, or going to a conference to discuss these matters.

It’s not like there’s anything to do about this trend, and I don’t necessarily consider it a bad thing. Personally, I prefer the convenience and instant-response of most web applications; if I need information, I search for it and find it. My quest is more dependent [now] on my own abilities and determination and less on whether someone is willing to get with me or not. I don’t have to go anywhere to find the information I need; it’s already out there. The catch is that someone, somewhere, has to have done the work to make it available.

We are, in a sense, more interconnected than ever before; more reliant on one another providing what knowledge they have so that we might find it. Instead of a LUG of 20, we have millions to whom we can potentially go for help. Yet this connection is so abstracted that we are in danger of forgetting that humanity exists outside the walls of our offices and homes. When do we draw a line and just go to the park for a while, or spend time with our old friends?

Hopefully before we spend more time waxing philosophical about these subjects than we do engaging Life.