If you’re a blogger, it can be very difficult to know who is reading your feed. Fortunately for us, Feedburner stepped in and gave us all a simple way of finding out exactly how many people were reading your feed, how many of those people were clicking on items and which items they were following up on.
It’s an extremely useful service that’s well worth the pittance they charge for their premium service (their basic service was and still is free) and Feedburner is a site that I’ve been a paying customer of since the day I took Plagiarism Today live.
However, Feedburner is now using both its position as an RSS go between and feed tracking technology to help bloggers in a whole new way: By detecting and pointing out people that may be illegally reusing your feed.
Not only is this, potentially, a major blow against sploggers and scrapers of all varieties, but it could easily showcase a whole new side of RSS, something few have been willing to talk about though it’s likely been affecting almost everyone.
Feedburner has always been able to help users find out who has been reading what on their RSS feed. For a long time it’s been able to tally up your subscribers, tell you how many people visited which items, what RSS readers they’ve been using to do it, including most Web-based ones, and which bots have crawled your feed.
However, when looking at classic Feedburner stats, a large percentage of them would be deemed unknown or unidentified. These hits could have been, literally, anything. From a lesser-known RSS reader to an RSS search engine, these hits on the feed could have been just about anything on the planet, save the better-known RSS uses.
Feedburner, as part of a recent upgrade of their service, decided to no longer leave these uses nameless. If they couldn’t tell you what the use was, they decided to show you where it was being used so you could decide for yourself. Like a bloodhound sniffing out a potential thief and pointing its master the right way, Feedburner tracks the use of your feed and alerts you when there’s something fishy about it.
This goes a long way in the battle against splogging and scraping as, for the first time, bloggers don’t have to rely on search engines or dumb luck to find people reusing their content. Instead, they get a neat report of all suspicious activity, complete with links to follow up on. For the moment at least, the guesswork is gone.
What it Showed Me
While some, including myself, might find the name “Uncommon Uses” a bit tongue in cheek considering how common splogging and scraping can be, it’s clear now that the vast majority of RSS users are legitimate. On this site, there were less than 12 Uncommon Uses of my feed, of which only two were truly suspicious and only one of those turned out to be a bona fide splogger.
While one splogger for a moderate-sized site such as this one might be a decent percentage, it’s not a sign of the rampant splogging plague many had feared. It’s clearly enough to worry about, but not enough to panic over. In the end, it may be the the drastic steps some have taken, including eliminating or truncating their RSS feeds, might be overkill.
This viewpoint is echoed by Feedburner CEO Dick Costolo when he said, during the beta testing of the new features, that “Very interestingly, we are so far finding that people’s content isn’t being repurposed as widely as they’d feared.”
Nonetheless, knowing is a lot better than not knowing and Feedburner’s new stats make it easier than ever to find out what your feed is being used for. That alone is wonderful news for people concerned about content theft online.
Despite its usefulness, it’s important to note that the new Feedburner features to nothing more than notify you of suspcious use of your feed. It does nothing to actually protect your work or prevent people from using it illegally. Instead, it falls upon you follow up on and stop any illegal use of your feed using whatever tools you have available to you.
The reason for this limitation becomes obvious once you log into your Feedburner account. Many, if not most, of the “Uncommon Uses” of your feed are actually legitimate, some even well known. For example, my page included a link for the Google Toolbar as well as several pages legitimately using my content either through my Creative Commons License or through BlogBurst.
Simply put, if Feedburner restricted access to your feed to all “Uncommon Uses” of it, far more legitimate uses would be stopped than illegitimate ones. No matter how good Feedburner is at recognizing new RSS readers and keeping on top of the world of syndicated content, they will never be able to recognize every potential legal use out there. Thus, it’s always up to human eyes, namely the content creator, to separate the wheat from the chaff and pursue those violating their copyright.
However, given how much help Feedburner is now offering in the war against content theft, I think that it’s a small price to pay.
I want to take a moment to thank Feedburner for letting me in on the closed Beta testing of their new stats. I greatly enjoyed using the stats this past week and am finding it a great relief to finally be able to write about them.
In the end though, I think that this is a very powerful tool that will go a long ways in the fight against content theft. Though it can do nothing to help protect against the more traditional forms of plagiarism, it definitely goes a long way to helping bloggers fight RSS content theft.
I have to thank Feedburner for not only coming up with the idea, but also dedicating the time and resources into making it a reality. It will be interesting to see what revelations this new service brings about in the blogging community and I, for one, will be dying to bring you the news.
It should be a very interesting few weeks ahead of us.
[tags]Feedburner, RSS, Plagiarism, Copyright Infringement, Copyright, Splogs, Splogging[/tags]