We all use Feedburner to track our RSS subscribers. It’s not just to feed that egotistical need to know how many people are hanging onto our every word, but the number of RSS feed subscribers you have is an important metric for indicating the success (or failure) of your blog. It seems that the number of subscribers has a connection with the number of visitors to a site since I’ve found that the number of people visiting a site seems to rise in relation to the number of feed subscribers, but this metric also indicates the stickiness of your content.

But recently Feedburner has not been behaving. We have one client whose feed consistently showed a page that said something like “Kraaak bork, your Feedburner feed is not working,” a stressful site to say the least for a guy who wants to make sure his feed subscribers are getting his content. Many people have been complaining about problems with Feedburner in the last while: ReadWriteWeb reported that Feedburner was slow on pinging feeds, and over here at WordPress Garage I had the pleasure of watching our readers plunge from 1030 to 380. The next day the number went back up, and I can’t imagine it’s because 700 of you unsubscribed and then regretted your decision and resubscribed.

(And may I just take this opportunity to thank all our subscribers for sticking with us. We love you. You rock.)

Anyways, this situation is yet another example of the scariness of a) The Google monopoly (Google bought Feedburner) and b) The problem with allowing services to “own” your content. This is similar to the problem with hosting your blog on WordPress.com, which I’ve discussed here in the past. In the case of Feedburner, your are at their mercy if they have trouble with the service, or if for some reason they decide to cancel your account, in which case  you lose all your preciously collected subscribers.

So…the question is: is there an alternative to Feedburner? After doing a bit of searching, I found the following alternative ways for measuring feed subscribers:

  1. Check how many people are subscribed to your blog on feed reader services that offer these types of stats, like Bloglines and Google Reader. See this post for instructions on how to see the number of subscribers on each service. This solutions would allow you to see general trends, like if the number of subscribers is going up or down, and you could even calculate percentage growth or decline. However, you would not get a good indication of the total number of subscribers on all feed readers.
  2. (The following methods were all described on this post on the Free Marketing Zone.) Access logs: Use server logs to track how many times your feed page was accessed. This apparently does not give accurate results.
  3. Images: Put a 1px by 1px image in your feed, which will be accessed every time your feed is opened in a reader. However, this only tells you how many people are reading your RSS, not how many are subscribed.
  4. RSS Buttons: track the number of clicks of your image button that leads to an RSS feed. This is also not accurate since some people may just click and then not subscribe, and many people subscribe to an RSS feed without clicking on a button on your site; they use the RSS access in their browsers address bar, or simply enter your site’s URL in their feed reader, and the reader detects the URL automatically.
  5. Tracking URL: Create a unique URL for every click to access the feed, so that whenever a person clicks the button, a unique URL is assigned, like the following: http://domain.com/feed.xml?uniqueurl_countvisitors. But I don’t know about that option – it sounds a bit much to create so many new URLs for a site.

As you can see, these options are ok, but not great. So if anyone knows of another service that provides feed subscription stat services, please let us know. And if there isn’t another option, please can someone create one? It would do all of us a great service.