FeedBurner stirs in its slumber to announce more feature deprecations

Last week, Google announced that they’re making changes to FeedBurner. Like everyone else who received the email from Google, I expected this to be the time when the service passed on to the Google Graveyard. However, they merely announced the deprecation of yet more features.

FeedBurner is a syndication feed “optimization” and analytics service that Google acquired in 2007. It can count feed subscribers, track views and click-through links, a feed-to-email conversion service, WebSub/PuSH, and it presents people that open your feed in a browser with a webpage preview view of the feed. The service is probably best known for its “subscriber count” widgets that many bloggers proudly display on their blogs.

The search giant announced that the valuable feed-to-email service is being discontinued in July 2021. This is going to be a rude awakening for many, as newsletter services are surprisingly expensive for a service that costs next to nothing to provide. I developed my own feed-to-newsletter service. The high costs of the commercial offerings were one of the main reasons behind my decision.

FeedBurner also announced it’ll discontinue its webpage preview of feeds. These page previews are intended to help users who stumble upon a feed file get started with feeds. However, the previews are incredibly outdated and still contain once-useful button-links like “Add to My Yahoo!”

The feed preview pages are powered by XSLT, a web-standard technology that can be used to do in-browser conversions of your newsfeeds’ XML into webpages. After reading the announcement, I expected to learn that XSLT was slated for removal from Google’s Chrome web browser. That was considered in 2013, but Google didn’t go ahead with the deprecation. It would seem Google just finds the preview pages embarrassingly outdated and doesn’t want to maintain them anymore.

The feature is easy to replicate — I wrote about how it works back in 2014. However, you won’t be able to use a do-it-yourself solution on your FeedBurner feeds. Google removes external XSLT stylesheets when loaded through FeedBurner as a security precaution. Web browsers will refuse to load these when served from a different domain than the feed itself anyway.

On a more positive note, Google also announced that it would move FeedBurner to “new infrastructure”. It’s unclear what this means exactly. It could be that they’ll update the service and migrate it into another product like the Google Cloud Console or Google Search Console. Or, it could just mean that nothing noticeable will change, and Google will do as little as possible to maintain service.

The whole FeedBurner service hasn’t received much attention over the last decade. Google hasn’t even maintained a landing page for it since (have a look in the Wayback Machine). Many of its features no longer work. It’s full of references to- and integrations with discontinued services of yesteryear like del.icio.us, Technorati, Furl, and Sphere. The FeedBurner Status blog reads like one long and steady list of feature deprecation. The FeedBurner website is stuck in a decade-old design from an age where background images were misused to display rounded corners.

FeedBurner is still relevant and used by major news publishers and podcasts. Publishers still route their feeds through FeedBurner to get subscriber and impression analytics. FeedBurner also helps speed up feed delivery using the PubHubSubhub (PuSH) standard. PuSH has been deprecated for some years in favor of WebSub. FeedBurner is the web’s biggest distributor of syndication feeds — and it’s stuck on an early draft of the old PuSH standard.

The WebHub standard is easy to implement, but most publishers rely on either FeedBurner or Superfeedr to handle the technical details for them. Superfeedr is a service that specializes in handling WebSub implementations for publishers and feed clients. It was acquired by Medium in 2016, and has remained mostly dormant since. The Superfeedr service began being unreliable in with aborted connections and many error messages.

Google may not have deprecated FeedBurner yet, but you should plan to migrate off the service as soon as possible. It’s very surprising that Google hasn’t shut it down yet. If you want feed subscriber analytics and enhancement service, you may want to consider alternatives like FeedPress. WebSub for FeedPress is handled by Superfeedr. eThe service may therefore not be entirely reliable.