Atomizing FeedBurner?

Share via Twitter Share via Facebook Share via Linkedin Share via Reddit

Just for the record, I have no interest in the Atom/RSS debate personally (this disinterest, however, does not extend to the APP – that’s potentially very important). I know and respect people on both sides, and am of the opinion that to most feed consumers the difference isn’t likely to matter any time soon. Which standard Google or Microsoft chooses to back may well be important longer term as we begin to see the formats used as backing stores for Web 2.0 build outs, but as long as both work credibly in my reader of choice I can’t really get in a twist about the political battles that seem to accompany any discussion of the various syndication formats.

But while reading Tim Bray’s piece the other day, I began, for perhaps the first time, to consider standardizing on one over the other; Atom, in this case. The reason was simple: there are a great many pieces I click through to twice or more, simply because my reader doesn’t recognize them as individual entities. Let’s take an example.

Gentoo developer Donnie Berkholz’ blog here is subscribed twice in my aggregator: once in my firstfeeds category – the feeds that I prioritize – and again within the context of the Planet Gentoo feed. Despite the fact that I’ve already read his entries, when I go to read Planet Gentoo his entries are marked as unread along with the rest of the people in that feed. And if one of his entries triggered one of our RedMonk or name searches and got picked up and dropped into our Technorati or Google Blogsearch feeds, it would show up as unread a third (or more) times.

As Tim explains, Atom has the ability to avoid this:

Here’s the exciting part: he pinged me over the weekend and said “Hey, look at this” wanting to show me his cleverly-Atomized Planet Intertwingly feed. I looked at it in NetNewsWire and was puzzled for a moment; some but not all of the things in the feed were highlighted as unread, even though this was the first time I’d seen it. Then the light went on. This is Atom doing exactly what we went to all that trouble to make it do. NetNewsWire has good Atom support and, because Atom entries all have unique IDs and timestamps, it can tell that it’s seen lots of those entries before in other feeds that I subscribe to.

Many of you won’t care about this, but for someone in my position this is indeed a big deal. Anything that saves me time – even the couple of seconds it takes me to determine that I’ve already read something – has value. This also, presumably, would have avoided this highly irritating situation.

So here’s my plan. I’m using FeedBurner, and am not at all inclined to switch. Near as I can determine, FeedBurner does not have the option to force Atom delivery. In fact, I have their SmartFeed service activated at the moment, which apparently delivers one or the other as circumstances warrant. If I want to force delivery of Atom, then, the onus would seem to be on me (unless the FeedBurner folks want to provide me with an Atom or RSS option) to provide that to FeedBurner, who I assume would deliver it as is if SmartFeed is deactivated. Here’s how the FeedBurner guys describe their support for Atom 1.0. Sometime over the next day or two, then, I’ll cut FeedBurner over to Atom 1.0 using Niall’s MT template, and see where we go from there. Anybody see anything wrong with that particular plan?


  1. Hey there Stephen. If you’d really like to force a particular format, you can disable the SmartFeed service and choose the “Convert Format” service. Select your favorite flavor if you’d like to experiment.

    Feel free to switch over to Niall’s Atom 1.0 template — it should work just fine, though your readers might feel an initial “bump” with some of your old items being marked as modified. Other that that, though, it should be no problem.

    Eric Lunt
    CTO, FeedBurner

  2. Note to self, discuss this in depth with SOG @ lunch tomorrow. In particular, can feed readers trust GUIDs?

  3. In general, feedreaders can’t trust guids because there’s never been a culture of paying much attention to them. Atom comes with all this stern anal pedantic lecturing about “Your IDs must be unique, we mean it man!” – which now seems to be paying off.

  4. Alex, see Section 8.4: Spoofing.

    Once a reader detects a possible duplicate via atom:id, it will probably want to look closer.

  5. Eric: thanks very much for the clarification. should have noticed the convert format feature.

    Alex: mission accomplished. now i’m waiting for the guid post 😉

    Tim: i’ll let Alex spill the beans, but apparently there’s at least one example of a very notable service provider issuing completely useless guids that are completely transient.

    Robert: what’s the approach then? flag the feed?

  6. I used to read feeds w/ Blam, and it caught dupes like this. After switching to Liferea, it no longer did, but I found prioritization more valuable (Blam lacked that).

    Choices I wish I didn’t have to make.

    PS: If you hadn’t noticed, not all my posts show up on Planet Gentoo, only the ‘[Gentoo]’-tagged ones. Subscribe to the Universe for everything.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *