This post is a bit of a rant, and somewhat off topic. So, if you were expecting hard-hitting federated search news today, you may want to browse elsewhere. But, please please please, do come back.

Today’s subject is FeedBurner. That’s the free service that most blogs use to track the number of subscribers they have. Yes, FeedBurner is owned by Google so I am ranting about both Google and Feedburner in a single post. My beef? FeedBurner’s inability to count in a sober fashion.

This morning the subscriber count for this blog was 308. Yesterday, it was 528. Did I lose 40% of you in one day? I don’t think so. While 10% count swings from one day to the next are not uncommon, FeedBurner’s recent volatility makes the U.S. stock market look stable. What gives?

FeedBurner has a report of where your subscribers come from so I compared yesterday’s breakdown of subscriber counts to today’s. Yesterday, 208 of you were noted to be reading this blog via Google Reader or IGoogle. Today there are only 39 of you. Yesterday, I had 56 people getting blog articles via email. Today that count is (gulp) zero! I really hope I didn’t offend so many of you all at once with a bad post or something.

The usual FeedBurner pattern used to be that it would drop a bunch of my subscribers on weekends and give them back on Tuesday or so. Now the counts are fluctuating more randomly. I should note that my other blog (Wild About Math!) has much less volatility in its subscriber count.

What does Google have to say about how it counts subscribers? Here’s a piece of one of the FeedBurner help pages:

FeedBurner’s subscriber count is based on an approximation of how many times your feed has been requested in a 24-hour period. Subscribers is inferred from an analysis of the many different feed readers and aggregators that retrieve this feed daily. Subscribers is not computed for browsers and bots that access your feed.

Subscribers counts are calculated by matching IP address and feed reader combinations, then using our detailed understanding of the multitude of readers, aggregators, and bots on the market to make additional inferences.


Being a curious sort, and being completely bewildered by the explanation straight from the horse’s mouth, I Googled around to see if others shared my confusion and pain. The short answer — yes, I am not alone in my suffering. Here’s a piece of one post, from Reid, in the FeedBurner help group.

I wanted to start a discussion about the daily fluctuating subscribers. The standard line from Feedburner is that they can only count a subscription when someone opens their feed reader, so that the
reason that your subscriber numbers fluctuate from day to day is
because some people will open up their feed readers on one day and not

However, after looking at the “Feed Readers” stats for all of the
feeds that I manage, this does not seem to be the case. The number of
subscribers for Google Feedfetcher and Bloglines will always stay the
same (or rise with new subscriptions), whereas the fluctuating numbers
come mostly from Mozilla, “Java-based reader” and “Other readers”.

Therefore, the problem does not seem with subscribers not opening
their readers on given days, but rather FeedBurner’s inability to
completely track subscribers.

There was no response to this post from any responsible party, or from anyone else. Reid, I feel your pain and I gave your post a five-star rating. I hope that helps.

The lesson here is, don’t believe those FeedBurner counts you see on people’s blogs unless they’re on my blog and the number is at a record high, which it was yesterday.

So, how many of my fellow bloggers have experienced the FeedBurner roller coaster? We haven’t had many comments lately so please do help to break the silence by sharing your story.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!


This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 at 8:16 pm and is filed under fun, viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or TrackBack URI from your own site.

5 Responses so far to "Where did all my subscribers go?"

  1. 1 Paul R Pival
    October 17th, 2008 at 5:26 pm  

    Interesting, with my recent drop it was 100% bloglines readers that disappeared. I’d seen some other posts suggesting bloglines did a purge of inactive users, or similar. Here are a couple screenshots showing my high: http://img.skitch.com/20081018-ekix38sraau5tsxfcsd5jc3947.jpg and then the very next day with the bloglines count way down (and staying down): http://img.skitch.com/20081018-r11urm7q8rw6d951edmxc9p9n8.jpg

  2. 2 Martin Belam
    November 3rd, 2008 at 5:08 pm  

    I always see a drop in numbers at the weekend. I figure this is down to people who only access the site at the office through feed reader software or browser live bookmarks. As they are not using their work computer at the weekend, these machines don’t make requests for the feed, and so they drop off the radar.

  3. 3 m J Maddox
    November 24th, 2008 at 7:13 pm  

    My subscribers disappear all the time. And then they come back. Today Feedburner shows that I have zero
    email subscribers.

  4. 4 Sol
    November 24th, 2008 at 8:38 pm  

    These days I lose roughly 50 subscribers over the weekend; they return on Tuesday.

  5. 5 Su Prieta | Aspire to Grace
    May 21st, 2009 at 1:26 pm  

    It still doesn’t make sense that “inactive” reader subscribers would drop off because they are not accessing their readers. They are still subscribed.

    I don’t know about other readers, but in my google reader I am subscribed to a blog, whether or not I am actually using my reader, until I unsubscribe. But, as long as I am subscribed, my reader should be communicating that subscribership to feed reader.

    Today, I am here because all of my email subscribers disappeared. I feel better knowing tha this has happened to other people (@m J Maddox) and that this is only temporary.

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