What Google should really do with FeedBurner

Several years ago, Google developed a simple concept called AdSense. You sign up, a robot approves your site, and pretty soon you are making millions from the ads you display next to the outstanding content you create. What Google didn’t consider at the time (IMHO) was the customer service mess they were creating. Tons of ads on a myriad of platforms, placed there by a multitude of folks that may be less than technology savvy. I can’t remember having any deadly problems with AdSense or most any other Google service, but I’ve heard the horror stories. You inquire about an issue and receive an automated response. Generally, it is dumbed down below solution level. You reply to that response, and receive another inadequate recommendation obviously pulled from an unknowledgeable knowledge base. You ask a more difficult question, and the discussion magically (and abruptly) ends. It is a testament to the unimportance of the “little guy,” but it is something a now ubiquitous publicly traded organization full of geniuses should have thought about anyway.

Enter FeedBurner.

The service is, for the most part, seamless and simple. Any joker can sign up and enter the URL of their feed, hence creating a new feed which they can then load with clickable goodies and view readership statistics on. Kind of like AdSense, but that’s about where the similarities end.

FeedBurner’s customer service approach, summarized in a single word, rocks! The site itself is inundated with humor and a touch of kindness. They maintain ultimate transparency through searchable forums full of knowledgeable company moderators. And their response to inquiries, however automated they may be, are comprehensive and targeted in such a way to make the client feel comfortable, and wanted. I’ll admit that FeedBurner is a technologically proficient service, but even if it tripped and fell in that regard it wouldn’t matter. Someone in the marketing department got together with someone in the customer service department and created many dimes of the $100 million Google just paid for the company.

Instead of spending their time building the next online spreadsheet that no business in their right mind should ever use, Google should go through the customer relationship portion of the FeedBurner subsidiary with a fine toothed comb. The view should be adopting as much of the “attitude” that FeedBurner exudes as possible. There is incredible value there.

As a side note, I believe people should watch the results of this acquisition closely. Should Google choose to assimilate FeedBurner into their organization in such a way that dry, ineffective, dead end customer communication becomes the norm, there will be opportunities for others to step in. Also, I’ve attached the context of an email I received from FeedBurner regarding the (now free) MyBrand feed service. The offering is definitely not for the layman, but FeedBurner clearly and effectively points this out while giving the technical set everything they need to know to implement. It is a classic example of getting the right information into the right hands, while simultaneously detering the simply curious from getting themselves (and their network) into a world of chaos. Bravo.


Howdy!

You recently contacted us about activating the MyBrand service on your account. This e-mail is intended to walk you through the steps necessary to get this up and running. NOTE: This is not for the faint of heart! If you aren’t sure whether you can modify DNS at your domain, or you don’t have your own domain and instead maintain a blog at wordpress.com, livejournal.com, typepad.com or some other hosted provider, then MyBrand is NOT for you. Since we cannot provide DNS-specific support, we’d really appreciate you reading through this entire e-mail, not simply because it took us a long time to write it (it really did), but because it will ultimately save you time.

What MyBrand Does

MyBrand lets you create an alias at your domain so that you can “mask” your feed URL at FeedBurner. For purposes of this e-mail, we’re going to assume that your domain is “yourdomain.com” (yes, we’re clever), and you have a feed that today is at feeds.feedburner.com/BestFeedEver. Once MyBrand is active, you can use feeds.yourdomain.com/BestFeedEver instead of feeds.feedburner.com/BestFeedEver. Cool, right?

Please note: This does not in fact change where your feed lives. The feeds.feedburner.com address is still valid, and feeds.yourdomain.com is just an alternate URL that users can use to access your feed. That’s good news: all of your subscribers today will continue to get your feed content without having to resubscribe.

Several of you asked whether you could “redirect” your existing subscribers away from the feeds.feedburner.com address to the feeds.yourdomain.com address. Not really, no. Since they’re both in fact the same feed (you’ve just created an alias that points at the FeedBurner URL), redirecting from one to the other would in fact create a loop. And nobody likes loops.

Creating a CNAME

Remember when we said this wasn’t for the faint of heart? This is the part we were talking about. You need to create a CNAME for your domain. IF YOU DO NOT OWN A DOMAIN OR HAVE THE ABILITY TO MODIFY DNS FOR YOUR DOMAIN, YOU CANNOT USE MYBRAND. OK, now that the shouting is behind us, let’s go ahead. Create a CNAME for your domain that looks something like this:

feeds CNAME feeds.feedburner.com.

That first word is the actual subdomain for your domain. If you don’t want to use “feeds” and instead you want to use “rss”, you would simply change “feeds” to “rss”. The domain that follows the CNAME needs to be “feeds.feedburner.com.”. Yes, the trailing period is important.

If you need a pointer on creating a CNAME at your domain, here’s a couple directions at GoDaddy: http://help.godaddy.com/article.php?article_id=666&topic_id=163 . Don’t use GoDaddy? Contact your domain registrar and/or webhost for more guidance. Like we said up above, we can’t help with DNS-specific issues on your domain because there are just too many domains out there.

Once you’ve done this and DNS has propagated (usually a 24-48 hour process), you should be able to type in your subdomain into a browser (feeds.yourdomain.com) and end up at FeedBurner’s homepage. If that worked, congratulations. If it didn’t, you might want to give your registrar/webhost a shout.

Configuring MyBrand

If you’re receiving this e-mail, it means your [michaelgracie] account is now enabled for MyBrand. (If you have additional accounts, you’ll need to repeat this process for those accounts.) You can now go to “My Account”, click on “MyBrand”, and in box 3, enter in the full subdomain you created in the CNAME step up above (i.e., “feeds.yourdomain.com”). Click “save” and from that point forward, every feed in your account will be addressable under your domain. You may add up to five subdomains for your account (feeds.yourdomain.com, feeds.yourotherdomain.com, feeds.howmanydomainsdoyoureallyneed.com, etc.) – note that any feeds in your account will be addressable under any of the subdomains you add: feeds.yourdomain.com/BestFeedEver and feeds.yourotherdomain.com/BestFeedEver will both point to the same feed.

A note about redirecting

Those of you using the FeedSmith plugin for WordPress, or who use a server-side redirect to redirect feed subscribers from your site to ours, can update those redirects to use your new MyBranded URL. Just go into the control panel for your plugin, or into the .htaccess file for your site, and update the FeedBurner URL from our domain to yours.

Where to go for more help

In the event any of this wasn’t clear, please head on over to the Forums (http://forums.feedburner.com/). You’ll get an answer quickly, we promise. (On the other hand, if we didn’t do a good job explaining things in this e-mail, let us know.)

Thanks so much for continuing to use FeedBurner, and for your interest in taking advantage of the MyBrand service. Keep in touch!

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