New Subscription Feature Delivers Full-Text Content from this Site

Another way to get new content here.

A while back, I switched to summary post format for RSS feeds. I did this, in part, to stop the feed scraping activity that was violating my copyright to the contents of this site. This disappointed a lot of people. They apparently preferred reading content in their RSS reader application or via email instead of coming to this site.

While I understand the convenience of reading sites in a feedreader — I use a reader on my iPad to keep up with my favorite sites — I don’t have enough subscribers to justify putting my content at risk for scraping. And I figured that people who really wanted to read what’s new here would take the extra effort to follow the link in their feed reader or email notification to go to the site. Hell, it only takes one extra step.

In the meantime, the WordPress folks added a new subscription feature that makes this kind of moot — provided you like to read new content via email. They’ve added email subscription capabilities. Extremely easy for bloggers to configure, it adds a subscription widget to the sidebar. All the reader has to do is enter his/her email address and click a button. Moments later, an email confirmation message arrives in their inbox. Click the link in that message to start the subscription.

Sample MessageThe resulting email messages are nicely formatted to present the entire contents of the blog post. This is an example from earlier in the week; I subscribed to test it out. I chose the HTML format, but there’s also a plain text format. This even looks good in a mobile device like an iPad.

Links in each message give you easy access to settings and the ability to unsubscribe at any time. In addition, all of your subscriptions to WordPress sites are maintained in the same place, so it’s easy to modify settings for all of them at once. In addition to email format, you can also specify delivery frequency: immediate, daily, or weekly. The Delivery Frequency settings lets you specify what time of day or day or the week you prefer. You can even click a check box to temporarily turn off the email messages when you think you might be too busy to read them.

I think this is a great compromise between full-text RSS feeds and summary feeds. After all, if you want the convenience of new content delivered to your mailbox, you have it. My content is protected from feed scraping because it never appears in an RSS feed. But if you prefer to check in via RSS reader, you can continue to do so as you may already be doing — you’ll just need to take the extra step of clicking a link to read the full text of a post that interests you.

What do you think? Your comments are appreciated.

This Blog Now Available as Podcast

Let a computer read it to you.

A few weeks ago, I quietly added a few feature to this blog, mostly as a test. Provided by AudioFeed Creator, it automatically creates audio files from the text in my blog entries. Visitors can then subscribe to the audio content as podcasts or listen to individual entries from their Web browser or Web-enabled mobile phone.

AudioFeed Creator LogoAll of this is done automatically for me, based on my full-text RSS feed. And no, there isn’t a group of people locked up in a room and forced to read all these blog entries aloud into a microphone. AudioFeed Creator uses voice synthesis. The result is actually pretty darn good.

Best of all, it’s free.

At this point, I’m considering the experiment a success. The entries are being created on a timely basis and they’re easy to listen to and understand. There’s absolutely no effort on my part. It seems like a complete no-brainer to add this feature to the site permanently.

Who might listen to it, other than people who like my words of wisdom read to them by a computer? I can see only two other groups:

  • People who like to follow this blog and have more time to listen (usually while on long drives) than read.
  • People with visual problems who can’t read the blog at all.

This second point makes is pretty clear that the audio feed adds accessibility to this site. While I realize that accessibility issues are important overseas, it’s something that most U.S. based blogs ignore. I’m not an accessibility expert, but I assume that making each blog post audible must increase accessibility somehow.

Anyway, I invite you to try it out for yourself. Let me know what you think by adding your comments to this post.

And if you have a blog with a full-text RSS feed, why not give AudioFeed Creator a try?

Now if only I could figure out how to change the voice to a female’s.

Declaring RSS Feed Bankruptcy

When there are just too many posts to read.

When I started subscribing to feeds about a year or so ago, I only subscribed to a handful and quickly read through the new posts each day. In fact, I recall asking other readers for suggestions on feeds I should subscribe to.

Things change. I began accumulating feeds. I use endo, an offline feed aggregator, and I’m very pleased with it. It sucks down my feeds each morning when the computer starts up and presents them to me as I’ve organized them, so I can read them at my leisure.

Unfortunately, I started subscribing to a number of feeds that put out 5 to 10 new posts a day. And there were more than a few days that I didn’t read any new posts. And then days when I felt rushed and put aside certain feeds for another day. And another day.

The problem got serious. At one point, I had over 2,000 unread posts in endo. Not acceptable. I killed off a bunch of feeds that were just too heavy with a low percentage of content that actually interested me.

But today I decided to take drastic steps. I went into endo and deleted any unread post that hit the Web before August 1. That brought 1300 unread posts down to 124. A much more reasonable number.

Did I miss great content? Possibly. But one of the things I’ve noticed — especially in blogs about blogging — is that the same basic topics come up over and over again. If you missed the “5 Ways to Energize Feeds” this week, you’ll catch the “7 Ways to Make Your Feed Pop!” next month. You get the idea. Same old, same old. You can read this stuff for two months before it starts to recycle with very little content that’s really new.

Hmmm…I feel a new topic coming on. I’ll have to put this on my list of things to write about here.

After I’ve gone through those 124 posts waiting for me in endo.

I Don’t Like Being Seriously Dugg

The activity finally winds down — I think.

In yesterday’s post, “Getting Seriously Dugg,” I reported the history of a blog post that rose quickly to stardom in the world of Digg users. But that report was done early in the day, before the shit hit the fan (so to speak).

The Heat is On

The Digg count continued to rise throughout the day. And the hits kept coming. All morning long, there were at least 100 visitors online at my site at once. This is not normal here. And it was rather frightening. I kept expecting something to break.

But it wasn’t just the popular Digg post that was getting hits. It was the post about getting Dugg, too. Soon, it had more hits than the dugg post — even though it wasn’t dug by anyone at all. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Things came to a head at 11:15 AM when I got an e-mail message from my ISP:

Our Hosting Operations Admins have alerted us to an issue with your hosting account. The account has overutilized resources within the shared environment. As a result, the account has been moved to an isolated server for Terms of Service violators. You have 30 days to research and resolve this issue. After this time, the account will be evaluated again. If the issue is resolved, the account will be migrated back to the shared environment. If it persists, you will need to move to a full Dedicated server.

I got on the phone immediately and called my ISP. To my knowledge, I hadn’t violated any terms of service by getting hits. My plan allows 2,000 GB of bandwidth per month. The billing month starts on the third — that day. So far, in all the years I’ve hosted there, I’ve never exceeded 6% of my monthly allowance. Just because I was getting 30 times the usual number of hits I get in a day, it was still not much more than I’d get in a total month. So there was no way I’d even come close to 10% of the monthly allowance — let alone exceed it.

The guy who answered the phone was extremely polite but equally clueless. He had to talk to Advanced Hosting. He couldn’t let me talk to them. They gave him a song and dance about too many domain names pointing to the same site. He attempted to hand the same thing to me. I told him that that shouldn’t matter since none of those domain names were advertised anywhere. Besides, there were only about a dozen of them pointing to one site and maybe 15 pointing to another. I wasn’t aware of any limitation.

“I’ve been dugg,” I told him. When I got no answer, I asked, “Do you know what that means?”

“No,” he said.

I explained that it meant that one of my blog’s posts had become very popular and that people were flocking to my site to read it. I told him this was a temporary thing and that it should be back to normal by the end of the day. I hoped.

He told me that if I continued to get so many hits to my site, I’d have to get a dedicated server. I told him I’d evaluate after I’d seen my stats for the day. (My account is updated daily in the middle of the night.)

We hung up.

A Brief Intermission

I went flying. I took a couple from Virginia on an hour-long helicopter tour in the Wickenburg area. I showed them mine sites and canyons from the air. We saw a lot of cows, too. Afterward, I goofed off at the airport, chatting with two jet pilots who’d come in and were waiting for passengers. Then I went shopping for dinner. I got home and had a snack. Then I looked at Digg. It was 4 PM.

What Happened in Five Hours

The post that had started it all now had more than 1,200 diggs. It had been viewed almost 30,000 times. The post about that post, which hadn’t been dugg at all, had been viewed more than 40,000 times.

But thankfully, there were only 33 people online. So the flood had begun to subside.

On the Digg Technology page, my dugg post was listed near the bottom, under newly popular. (Ironically, on the same page, near the top, was a post about how Digg was losing popularity. That had more than 1,200 diggs, too.)

The Morning After

It’s the next day. I can now look back objectively on my blog’s day with a Digg Top 10 Tech post by studying some of the stats for the day and how the differ from other days.

My ISP reports that for the first day of my billing period — yesterday — I used up .55% (that’s just over half a percent, folks) of my monthly bandwidth. That means that if every day was like yesterday, I’d still come in at less than 20% allowable bandwidth. So I don’t know what “terms of service violation” they were whining about.

W3Counter, which I use to track page hits and visits, says I got just over 27,000 page hits yesterday. Look at the chart below; it makes my site look flat-line dead before yesterday. Honestly — it wasn’t that dead.

Hits

Today’s hits are about 3 times a normal day. Nice, but I’m willing to bet it drops down to normal within the next few days.

W3Counter also sent me an e-mail message warning me that their free service doesn’t cover sites that get more than 5,000 hits a day.They say I need to upgrade to a pro account for $4.95/month. We’ll see how long before they disable my current account — I’m not paying them to tell me how many hits I get when I can easily set up some stat software with a free WordPress plugin. (ShortStats, which we wrote about in our WordPress book, comes to mind.)

(I have not been able to reconcile page hits as reported by W3Counter with article reads as reported by a WordPress plugin. I have a sneaking suspicion that the WordPress plugin counts bots.)

Digg, as a source of hits, kicked Google out of the top spot on my site. Google used to account for 54% of my visitors. Now, for the 14-day period tracked by W3Counter, Digg is the big source. Google doesn’t even make the list any more, with all the different Digg URLs people used to find my site. So my sources stat is completely skewed and pretty much useless for the next 13 days. And 93% of the hits in the past 14 days have been to the 18-year-old mouse story.

Meanwhile, WP-UserOnline reports that yesterday saw the most users online at once on this site: 375. I don’t think this site will ever see that many concurrent users again.

My RSS feed subscriptions have more than doubled. That’s great. (If you’re a new subscriber, thanks for tuning in. And don’t worry — I don’t write about Digg every day.) It’ll be interesting to see if that number continues to climb or if I manage to scare all the new folks off by failing to provide more Diggable content on a daily basis.

My Google AdSense revenue for yesterday was right in line with an average high day. When you consider that I got about 20 times my normal number of page hits yesterday, you might think that I’d get 20 times the revenue. I didn’t. Obviously, Digg users don’t click Google ads.

The last I checked, the 18-year-old mouse story got just over 1,357 Diggs. I think that I actually encouraged the extra Diggs by placing the Digg icon at the top of the post. I’ve since taken it away from all posts.

I’ve realized that I don’t want to be seriously Dugg. Other than the surge in new RSS subscribers, there really isn’t any benefit to it.

What do you think?

Have you been slammed by being dugg? How did it affect your hosting account or other services? Use the Comments link or form to let the rest of us know.

Using Creative Commons to Stop Scraping

An excellent article on PlagiarismToday.

As a blogger, feed scraping is one of my pet peeves. It irks me to no end that sploggers use automated tools to copy my copyrighted content from my site to sites that exist solely to attract clicks on AdSense and other ads.

Jonathan Bailey likely feels the same way. He writes about the topic regularly in his blog, providing well-researched and insightful commentary to help understand and fight the problem.

His recent article, “Using Creative Commons to Stop Scraping” on PlagiarismToday:

Many sites, including this one , have expressed concerns that CC licenses may be encouraging or enabling scraping.

The problem seems to be straightforward. If a blog licenses all of their content under a CC license, then a scraper that follows the terms of said license is just as protected as a human copying one or two works….

However, after talking with Mike Linksvayer, the Vice President of Creative Commons, I’m relieved to say that is not the case. CC licenses have several built-in mechanisms that can prevent such abuse.

In fact, when one looks at the future of RSS, it is quite possible that using a CC license might provide better protection than using no license at all.

The article then goes on to explain what a Creative Commons license is and what it requires of the licensee. As Jonathan explains, the automation tools that sploggers use simply cannot meet all of the requirements of a CC license, thus putting the sploggers in clear violation of the license terms.

If you’ve been wondering about copyright as it applies to your blog or Web site, be sure to check out this article. While you’re at PlagiarismToday, poke around a bit. I think you’ll find plenty of other good material to help you understand copyright and what you can do when your rights are violated.