After years of struggling to find a solution to something that's bothered me, I'm finally making a big change on my site. Starting immediately after this post, I will no longer syndicate my content out in an RSS feed. After this post, if you want to get notified of new posts, you can subscribe to my newsletter using the widget at the bottom of all pages on my site or signing up using this form.
If you want to understand why I made this decision, keep reading...
The Problems with RSS
I started my blog in September 2003 as a personal tech journal. While it started as a journal, over the years I've wanted to get better insights into what my readers were interested in so I would write about stuff that was not just interesting to me, but also to my readers. There are many reasons for blogging... for me, it's public self-documentation, how-to / documentation that I haven't found in other places, updates on what I'm up to (where I'm speaking) or opportunities. I don't post ads on my site (although I did for a period) nor allow guest posts (even though I get the request a bunch) as I think this is my voice and that's what you expect.
It's Hard to Get Good Reader Insights
Getting good insights into what people are interested is challenging. Sure, there's Google Analytics which you can use to see what pages people are interested in, but it's hard to see the types or categories of posts. This takes a bit more work.
More and More People Want Notifications Pushed, not Pulled
Over the last year or two, I've noticed more traffic coming from people coming from non-RSS sources. At the same time, I'm seeing more people asking for an email notification for new posts. This leads me to believe people, at least for my blog, aren't using feed readers as much as they used to.
Inherit Problems with RSS
Aside from the trends and wants above, there are a few problems with RSS for a technical blog. First, feed readers strip the
<script> tags which are commonly used to embed code snippets or other media from external sites. For a technical blog like mine, it's really annoying to get messages from readers saying they don't understand the post, only to realize there's a whole different experience if they go straight to the post
Also, fewer and fewer blog self-host their comment system - they are outsourcing it. People use Facebook, Disqus (which I use) or some other system. Regardless, you can't comment straight from feed readers, rather you have to go to the post and add a comment or see other comments.
Finally, there's the issue of people ripping off your posts. I finally gave up years ago trying to battle this. You'd see people take your RSS feed and use the body of the post to re-post it on their own site, stripping your name & anything about you off. At first I was irritated someone was stealing my content, but let's face it - if you post it on the internet on a public site, trying to keep people from stealing it for their own use is a fools errand. But what irritated me the post is when someone would take credit for your work. There's no way to completely stop this, but I can at least stop the bots that just suck in RSS and create new posts automatically.
OK, RSS has Downsides, but Why Email?
Switching to email solves all the problems above. You opt-in to getting email notifications when a new post is published. I won't include the entire post in the email so you don't get these long emails, rather I'll just have an excerpt that you can quickly scan and decide if the topic interests you or not. So, because you will go to my site to see every post, you will get the embedded
<script> & comment system.
No, this isn't a goal to get you to come to my site for Google AdSense impressions. I haven't added any ads to my site.
Using email it's also easier to see what people are interested in. If you visit a post, it's super easy to see that you came from my email subscription and that you were interested in this specific topic.
Email also makes it a lot easier to have a conversation with readers of my blog posts. I can easily send you a message or you can just hit REPLY to send me a message.
At first I'll just have a single email that I send out for all posts, but this approach allows me in the future to create special categories of subscriptions. Maybe you aren't interested in Office 365 and you only want to see posts where I mention Azure or Docker? That will be easy to setup down the road... and you can easily manage your subscriptions. Would you be interested in this? Let me know by clicking this link (after you signup for the newsletter)... I didn't do this out of the gate because it's a bit of work to setup and I wasn't sure if folks would like it.
I'm sure some folks will not like this change. That's fine... but let me answer just a few questions / reactions I expect to get:
- I don't want your SPAM! - (1) It's not spam... spam is unsolicited email. (2) I'm only emailing you if you signup for my newsletter. If you want to stop getting emails, just click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email I send... it's entirely self-service subscription management that requires no work by me; unsubscribing is immediate.
- I don't want more email - No worries... don't signup. I'll continue to tweet when I publish a new post.
- Will you offer filtered newsletters for specific types of posts? - Right now it's just one newsletter for everything, but it's certainly possible in the future...
- Who are you using for the newsletter? - I'm a big fan of Drip... that's what I'm using. We use it for our podcast, Microsoft Cloud Show.
Wait, I Was Already Getting Posts via Email using Feedburner... How Does That Change?
I was using a service called Feedburner that was syndicating my RSS feed for me. One feature they offered was to email posts to subscribers. In the last year or two, I saw that list of subscribers had grown quite a bit. Well, I've shut this off, but if you were one of those subscribers, I imported your emails to the newsletter so you're all set. By now you should have received an email from my newsletter service letting you know this with the link that you can unsubscribe if you don't want future emails.