Feedburner Tip: Hide Your Feed

Feedburner is an incredibly useful service. In addition to providing valuable metrics and user data, it also provides some of the best protection against feed scraping available.

However, as was discussed earlier, some sploggers are able to scrape content in ways that escape the attention of Feedburner and its "Uncommon Uses" feature. Though some have turned to keyword splogging, others are taking advantage of the blog's original feed.

Because, even though the original feed is not publicly mentioned on most blogs, it's a fairly simple process to guess its location. Any splogger remotely familiar with blogging software and the way they work would probably be able to pull it on the first try, that is, unless precautions are taken.

Fortunately, solutions are available that can reduce or eliminate this potential risk.

Guessing the Feed

Visit nearly any WordPress-based blog. After the trailing slash in the address, type in either "wp-rss2.php" or "?feed=rss2" (without the quotes) and you will get an RSS 2.0 feed. This trick works even if the site is using Feedburner to protect its feed.

For an example of this, visit: https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/wp-rss2.php (Note: I am leaving this link active for demonstration purposes and will be disabling it within a week.)

The problem is that WordPress, along with most other major blogging applications, has a single default location for its feeds. Most users either can't or don't change it.

This is true on other blogging platforms as well:

  • MovableType or Typepad blogs: Place "index.rdf" after the site address. (Note: Feedburner has integration features with Typepad that can cause this feed to forward to Feedburner).
  • Textpattern: Place "?rss=1" at the end of the blog address to get an RSS 1.0 feed (add trailing slash if needed).
  • Blogger: Place "rss.xml" at the end of the address (add trailing slash if needed).
  • Myspace: Type the link https://blog.myspace.com/blog/rss.cfm?friendID=XXXXXXX where XXXXXXX is the friend ID number of the blog owner.
  • Xanga: Simply place "rss" after the blog address (add trailing slash if needed).

While having an easily-guessed RSS feed address is great if you're wanting to promote it and use it, it's bad for those who want to keep it hidden and use Feedburner or another service.

In short, whether you use Feedburner to provide metrics, prevent scraping or to save bandwidth, you need to take steps to hide your original feed. Otherwise, it is simple too easy for users to avoid Feedburner and cause you to miss out on the advantages it brings.

Forward… March

Sadly, there is very little that bloggers who don't control their servers can do to combat this. Blogger, Myspace, Xanga, WordPress.com and other hosted account users do not have enough control over their set up to hide or redirect their RSS feeds. Most can not even disable the feed if they want to.

The exception to that rule is Typepad, who, through a partnership with Feedburner, gives its users the ability to integrate their blog's feed into Feedburner seamlessly. However, at this time, other services have not signed similar agreements.

Users who host their own blogs have significantly more options before them. The easiest and most seamless way to simply forward the original feed to the Feedburner one and then create a new feed for Feedburner to pull from.

WordPress users, for example, can install Steve Smith's WordPress Feedburner plugin. MovableType users have a similar plugin available, this one by Rayners (Note: I have not tried the MT plugin, feedback wanted).

Also, any blog on a Web host that offers access to the .htaccess file can set up a redirect to funnel all traffic to the old feed to the Feedburner feed. Once a new, hidden feed is created for Feedburner to read from, it can successfully mask the old feed without harming any legitimate users of it.

There are excellent guides on how to do this for WordPress, MovableType and Textpattern.

But as simple as these methods are, the might not always work. Some servers have strange redirect rules or put restrictions on them. If that's the case, one might have to settle for a slightly more brutal solution, deleting the old feed and creating a new one, with a hidden address, for Feedburner to pull from.

This can be accomplished by either A) Renaming the old feed file or B) Deleting the old feed and creating a new feed template, as with MovableType. This will force legitimate users of the old feed to subscribe to your Feedburner feed since their existing one will return an error and, if you use a system such as WordPress, it might cause some template tags to break.

Still it is a very effective, if brutal, way to prevent others from circumventing your Feedburner feed.

Conclusions

No matter what reason you use Feedburner, hiding or redirecting your original feed will make it work better. You'll get more accurate metrics, better anti-scraping protection and lower bandwidth. Users, on the other hand, will get better compatibility along with an easier to use, more attractive and more reliable RSS feed.

It's a win-win situation where, by in large, the only people that lose are the scrapers who will likely be caught in Feedburner's "Uncommon Uses" feature.

In the end, there is no reason not to hide your feed. It's just too easy and too potentially useful to ignore.

tags: Plagiarism, Content+Theft, RSS, Scraping, Copyright+Infringement, Feedburner, Splogging, Sploggers, Spam

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