I got burned by [Google] FeedBurner

On Friday night I wrote a post which optimistically suggested that I’d successfully migrated this site’s RSS feeds from FeedBurner to the new Google FeedBurner platform. Unfortunately many people won’t have seen that post (at least not until after I spent a good chunk of my weekend enlisting the support of known subscribers to try and work out why the primary URL given out for this site’s RSS feed wasn’t working: Thanks go to Bill Minton, Alistair Doran, Garry Martin and Aaron Parker) – it all turned out to be because FeedBurner’s instructions for users of their MyBrand service have a vital step missing…

I’ve made the point before that free online services are not necessarily an ideal solution but nevertheless, many of us rely on them and hopefully my experiences will help out others who are going through the (soon to be forced) migration from the (old) FeedBurner platform to (new) Google FeedBurner.

If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Some time ago, Google bought FeedBurner. That’s not all bad – I’m sure the guys who started FeedBurner were pretty stoked, and for us customers (who, after all, were largely using free services), things got better as premium services like MyBrand (more on that in a moment) were made free.

It was inevitable that at some point the service would be absorbed into Google’s infrastructure and if I hadn’t moved voluntarily in my own timescales (i.e. over a period when I was off work and potentially had some time to deal with any resulting issues), account migration would have been forced upon me at the end of this month.

What’s all the fuss about?

I may not have the largest blog in the world but I’ve worked hard for several years to get this blog to where it is now. With that in mind, I approached this migration with some trepedation but the Transferring FeedBurner Accounts to Google Accounts FAQ made it all sound pretty straightforward, including this text:

“Will I lose all my subscribers in this process?
You should not lose any readers of your feed during this transition process. All feeds.feedburner.com URLs will redirect your readers to feeds hosted by Google.

[…]

I use MyBrand, the service that allows me to map a domain I own to my feed. Do I need to change anything?
Yes. After transferring your account, you will be sent an email with instructions on how to change MyBrand. You can also get these instructions on the MyAccount page after the transfer.

You will be required to change your DNS CNAME to the Google hosted domain service, the same service that handles custom domains for Google applications like Blogger and Google Apps for Your Domain.

Please note that the CNAME will no longer be the same domain as the domain that serves feeds, but the service level and functionality will be identical.”

That all sounded straightfoward enough, so I followed the migration steps on FeedBurner’s website until I saw a message that indicated successful completion. The follow-up e-mail included this text:

“Important! If you use MyBrand, FeedBurner’s custom-domain service, you need to make a very important change to ensure your feeds remain available to subscribers using your custom domain(s).

To make this change in your Google account, follow the instructions listed in your account’s new MyBrand page: http://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mybrand”

I followed the instructions (i.e. made the changes to my DNS zone) but, 48 hours later (and after confirming that the name was resolving correctly) I was still receiving HTTP 404 (Not Found) errors when I used the http://feeds.markwilson.co.uk/marksweblog/ URL (i.e. the one that uses the FeedBurner MyBrand service to redirect subscribers to the real location.

The missing step

Double-checking my account settings and the DNS record I had edited, I decided to deactivate the MyBrand service and reactivate it. Some time later (I’m not sure exactly how long afterwards, but not long) the 404s were gone and I was able to check with some of my subscribers that their feeds were updated with posts from after the migration. Whilst I waited for this confirmation, another FeedBurner user confirmed that this had worked for him too but it would be good if the instructions included this step…

Why is this Google’s problem?

To be fair to FeedBurner/Google, buried in a post on the FeedBurner Status Blog is this text:

“4-DEC 2008: Have you recently moved your feeds to a Google account? Seeing a ‘404’ error when trying to view your feeds, and you use our MyBrand service? Try the following workaround to fix the problem:

  1. Sign in to feedburner.google.com.
  2. Visit My Account > MyBrand.
  3. Click the remove link next to your current MyBrand domain(s), and then click Save.
  4. Re-enter the domain(s) you removed in the previous step and then click Save.
  5. Try to view the feed(s) that were showing 404 errors before. They should now display your content.”

It should be noted though that these instructions don’t work (there is no remove option in the new interface)… and there is nothing more recent in the blog about this.

Meanwhile, the MyBrand page in the FeedBurner account settings is typically Googlite in its tone, basically telling us that we’re welcome to use the service but if it breaks we’re on our own.

FeedBurner provides no technical support for MyBrand; you must configure DNS settings correctly with your domain/web hosting provider’s help. More technical detail and discussion of the requirements for using this service are available in this Help topic.

It can take up to 24 hours for a new CNAME entry to take effect. If your new feed address isn’t working, have a nice day and check back tomorrow.”

Thanks a bunch Google. My DNS is fine… but your migration process is broken and it seems that you don’t provide any method to report the problem.

Several other people have written about this problem (including one particularly useful post on the whole migration process) so it’s certainly not an isolated case but Google responses are nowhere to be seen on this two-week old post on the FeedBurner Help Group (providing a service without formal support is one thing but monitoring your own help forums is a basic courtesy).

Conclusion

Ironically, the FeedBurner MyBrand service (which let’s me host a FeedBurner Feed under my domain name) that caused this a problem but, because I use this service, many of the subscribers to this blog are using a URL that is under one of my domains (so, ultimately, under my control). This problem may have cost me a good chunk of my weekend but at least I got it fixed and if I hadn’t been able to work out what was happening then I would have reverted to serving the feed directly from WordPress (with the consequential hit on bandwidth and loss of analytics). Imagine if I had a popular blog with a large number of subscribers that wasn’t hosted on my own domain name and the service went belly-up…

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