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Migrating from Feedburner: a Helpful Guide

Launched in 2004, Feedburner was a once popular tool that re-formatted often messy RSS feeds, prepping them for mass consumption. Over the years, it became a trusted platform for bloggers, podcasters, and anyone else with something to say. It provided basic analytics, spitting out reports of who subscribed to your feed, and where podcast listeners were. At the time, it was wonderful. I embraced it, along with most of my podcasting colleagues, who also launched their first shows in 2005.

All was well until 2007, when the service was acquired by Google. For the uninitiated, Google has a terrible habit of purchasing products and shutting them down — sometimes after integrating the functionality into their in-house products, and other times not. Since the acquisition, Google hasn’t tended to Feedburner as I believe it should, so the May 2011 announcement depreciating Feedburner’s APIs was expected.

Many content creators, myself included, believe the end of Feedburner’s usefulness is close. Google has killed their AdSense for Feeds product, their final income stream related to Feedburner. Many of my friends who are well-informed, some of them more so than I, believe the product has only months to live.

With the iminent demise of this popular distribution channel, podcasters are rightfully concerned. Thankfully, it’s a fairly simple process to migrate away from Feedburner, and take control of your RSS Feed. Wordpress, and other blogging or podcasting platforms have improved the quality of the rendered XML markup, so there really isn’t a reason to keep a third party platform in your workflow. It’s the ages-old maxim of the internet: if you create the content, you deserve to be in control.

Burned No More: A Case Study

(image: chillcast-artwork.jpg class: alignRight)My involvement in the Feedburner conundrum came by chance. I didn’t have any active programs using it, but when BiteSize networks dropped my friend Anji Bee, The Chillcast (her program) needed a new home. Her RSS feed was a relic from a previous age, still sporting the PodShow name. We set out to migrate The Chillcast from it’s Feedburner and Mevio roots to our state-of-the-art publishing and analytics system over at The Machine. Anji is one of podcasting’s foremost producers, and her show has been downloaded millions of times around the world. We couldn’t afford to lose listeners, when handling a property this large. Our workflow went something like this:

#1. Setup The New Origin Feed

The first step was to create a alternative feed that would become the new master. In the future, anyone wanting to subscribe should visit the new feed url. We didn’t share the new URL until a couple of old episodes were added to it.

In our case, the feed is generated by our custom publishing backend, but feel free to use Wordpress, Squarespace, or any other platform that can generate valid RSS feeds. Some of my friends use Feeder, while others swear by the PowerPress plugin for Wordpress. Either of them will work, but make sure you’ve copied over all of the appropriate media files and added them as enclosure or media tags. New shows will be published to this feed.

#2. Add Your New Feed to Feedburner

Edit the source feed field, and point it to your new origin feed. You may need to wait several hours (or days) for this change to take effect, but in our case, it was only a few minutes. Once your Feedburner URL is displaying content from your origin feed, you may proceed to step #3.

#3. Notify iTunes

Next, we planned to notify all existing subscribers who use iTunes. Thankfully, Apple provides a simple method for handling this: there’s a custom iTunes tag (much like the ones you use for duration and subtitles) that will automatically update the feed URL for any subscribers, and the iTunes directory listing as well. It looks like this:

<itunes:new-feed-url>
	http://new.domain/feeds/myshow.xml
</itunes:new-feed-url>

The feed inside the tag should be your new origin feed. Also, take care to add this at the Channel level, and not above or below.

Once added, we released two week’s worth of programming to make sure that every iTunes listener (and the podcast directory) had retrieved the feed. In our case, the show updates regularly, and the iTunes directory knows to sync updates on a weekly basis. If your program doesn’t maintain a regular release cycle, it might be best to email podcasts@apple.com, and confirm that the directory has cached your new feed.

#4. Enable 301 Redirect

This is the final step in your migration process, and arguably, the most permanent. Once you enable the Feedburner 301 redirect, you can’t go back. But if you’re sure this is the right thing to do, by all means, carry on.

Login to your Feedburner account, and choose to delete the burned feed. During the process, you will be asked about Feed Redirection: choose yes, and provide the full URL to your origin feed. Again, this could take several hours, but your Feedburner URLs should soon redirect to your origin feed, providing a seamless experience for subscribers.

Some of you might be wondering what this 301 business is about. “What’s the significance of three-hundred one?”, you query. Well, I’m perfectly happy to answer.

HTTP, the most popular communications protocol on the internet, defines a collection of Status Codes, which determine how two connected computers interact. The 301 code is understood by the recipient as “Moved Permanently,” indicating that a resource previously accessable by that URL has now migrated elsewhere, and the old URL is to be replaced.

By using the 301 code, all feed readers (at least the ones I tested) will update the feed URL automatically, using data sent by Feedburner in the HTTP headers. iTunes, in traditional Apple fashion, is the oddity — preferring it’s own iTunes delimited feed tag to standard HTTP behavior. We took care of all iTunes listeners earlier, so this will handle the remaining subscribers.

A Word About Other Feed Migrations

While authoring this article, I heard that Blip.TV (a popular video hosting site) is discontinuing it’s RSS feature. This is really a shame, because so many podcasters rely on them. I wouldn’t think that this would be difficult to maintain, but I also understand the need to prune a product’s capabilities every once and a while.

Regardless of where your feed is migrating from or to, you can easily use the same techniques outlined above. Your main concern should be getting a 301 redirect in place, and adding the iTunes-specific tag. Surely Blip, or any other service provider, can help you with this configuration if they don’t already provide it in the interface.

Wrap Up

There, was that simple enough? I told you the guide was friendly and approachable. If you followed the steps above, you’ve should’ve successfully transferred your podcast away from Feedburner. Of course, I can’t ignore an opportunity to plug Anji Bee’s Chillcast, on my podcasting network, The Machine. It’s the show that inspired this post! So, if you’re looking for great tunes, please come check out the show.

Here’s to a rockin’ 2014, when everyone is in control of their media.

Published 15 Jan 2014