How to move from Google Reader to Netvibes

With yesterday’s startling news that Google Reader is shutting down (startling to me, anyways, if not to others), I’ve been casting around for a new RSS reader that I can use on both my desktop and my phone. One of the services that has been highly recommended is Netvibes, and while I’m not confident I’ll be using it long-term, I did discover that it’s super easy to get your feeds from Google Reader over to Netvibes.

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Envisioning a Recording Studio

As someone who loves to write and also really enjoys reading, book reviews seemed like a natural fit to my activities. Read a book, write a bit about it, be happy. However, as I delved into the world of book reviews, I found that I really didn’t enjoy it. I lack the ability to make such things wholly entertaining, and I have trouble conveying my feelings on books through writing. I love to talk about books, but I just don’t enjoy writing about them.

The idea to do book reviews through video crept upon me slowly, so I can’t point at a flash of insight where I finally hit upon the idea of a video book review. Nevertheless, I have begun doing them, and specifically I recorded two today. Expect to see those on Saturday for the next couple of weeks, and who knows, maybe it’ll become a regular feature here. I enjoyed doing them quite a bit, and the process was relatively painless. YouTube makes it pretty simple.

iTunes, on the other hand, has been rather frustrating when it comes to podcasting. In addition to the Online Bible Study I am writing (which is essentially where I study the Bible and then write what I’m thinking), I wanted to record a podcast on the same topic. The podcasts are on the same verses I thought and wrote about, but generally expanded with more thoughts. I can speak a lot more quickly than I write, so where I might have spent a couple of hours thinking and writing, I can record in twenty minutes and be done with it. It’s not professional by any means, but then again neither am I.

Unfortunately, the plugin I use for podcasting with WordPress has designated an RSS feed location that I simply cannot find. I wanted to burn the feed with FeedBurner so I could track how the podcasts were doing, but there’s no way to easily modify the URL in iTunes that it pulls from, and I also can’t find the XML file locally to edit. This means that I pretty much need to just pull the original feed from iTunes and set up a new one.

I sent in a request that the current SilverPen Publishing thing on iTunes be pulled, but when I tried to create a new feed on there, it kept reporting that iTunes had timed out. In looking at Apple’s forums, they’re having a lot of complaints on this issue, so I’m glad it’s not just me. At the same time, I receive no solace from knowing other people are having problems with this too. I wish it just worked.

At any rate, I did create a new podcasting feed to which you can subscribe if you are into such things. Both videos and audio podcasts will be on here (if I did it right, anyways) and you’ll see them trickle in over the next few weeks. Hopefully I’ll get things straightened out with iTunes soon and can link to that as well.

And if you’re the retroactive type, I recorded a podcast for my first OBS entry. It’s pretty rough because this was my first recording and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was saying or where I was going with it. Please be assued that the podcast going live this coming Wednesday is far superior in every way.

Now that all that’s out of the way (about four hours of work so far), I think I’m ready for a cup of coffee and maybe playing some World of Warcraft with April. Because I obviously didn’t get my fill after yesterday’s all day adventure.

Update your feed

FeedBurner + Google

FeedBurner was purchased by Google some time ago, which was comforting news to those of us using FeedBurner for our RSS feeds. When you rely on a third party to handle part of your site or business, there’s always the risk that they’ll go out of business and leave you in a lurch, but that’s not really a concern with Google. They’re pretty solid, so there are no worries.

However, the other shoe has finally dropped and, in the transition from FeedBurner to Google’s FeedBurner, feed addresses are now changing. For the moment, the old address will forward to the new one, but that will presumably go away eventually, breaking the old address and forcing people to update.

I wanted to let you all know in advance so you can get your RSS reader(s) updated. The new address is http://feeds2.feedburner.com/SilverpenPub

For more information, see: FeedBurner is Dead, Long Live FeedBurner

RSS Full vs. Excerpts

Modify your WordPress Reading Settings though the Administrative interface.
Modify your WordPress Reading Settings though the Administrative interface.

RSS, short for Really Simple Syndication, is a wonderful tool that allows readers to subscribe to your content and passively pull it into an RSS reader. For the writer, this means that your content is being distributed more widely and conveniently, helping ensure that people will read what you’ve got to say. And for the reader, it makes it easier to remember to read someone’s work; you receive a notification every time they publish something.

But you don’t have to put all of your content into your RSS feed. WordPress very simply allows you to just submit a summary or excerpt from your entry into the RSS feed. I can think of a couple of reasons to do this, but truth be told, I don’t like them.

Why bother with summaries?

I think that, for most people who use summaries in their RSS feeds, the goal is to get people to come to their actual site. Maybe they have advertisements they want people to see, or they just think their site is pretty and feel that the article needs to be framed within their theme. By only providing a summary in the RSS, it lets readers know that something new is available on the site and teases them with a bit of content, encouraging them to click through to read the full article.

Part of me can sympathize with the plight of the site owner whose livelihood is based on advertisements, but I also know that it’s annoying as hell to me to have to click through and read the article on the site. Google Reader formats text much nicer than most sites do (due to line length, height, etc.), making reading more pleasurable. Having to open up Yet Another Tab is a pain, especially when you’re like me and usually have 20-30 open at a time.

The only semi-valid reason I’ve heard for RSS summaries is on sites with a lot of photos or other media. If your posts are photo-heavy, you may not want to put that bandwidth load into your RSS. It slows down people’s readers, and you don’t know that they’re always going to be on a high speed Internet connection.

But surely those people know what your site is like, else they wouldn’t have subscribed. I can’t really find a good reason to inconvenience people by only posting summaries.

Post your full articles, RSShead.

You want your stuff to be read, right? To my mind, the noblest goal is to make it as easy as possible for the reader to access your content, and the best way to do that is to post full articles into your RSS. If your site is worthwhile, people will probably visit to read additional articles or just to support you. What I’m saying is, if you don’t suck, it’ll work out. People will come, view, read, and click regardless, so there’s no point in being an inconvenient jerk.

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 😉