In just two years’ time, RSS has become more layered than a wedding cake. Once advertising models and various technologies were implanted into this field of syndicated, bite-size feeds of news and information, it became increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of who was actually pushing this medium forward.
While RSS feed readers are sprouting like May flowers nowadays, a little more research was needed to see who was actually steering the mothership. In doing so, a name that constantly came up early and often was Feedburner, a market-leading feed management provider founded by four web designers and software developers in 2003.
Now reaching millions of subscribers in 190 countries, Feedburner, according to VP of Business Development Brent Hill (above), is a universal RSS management platform. “We manage feeds on behalf of publishers,” he tells ADOTAS, “everything from blog and blog networks to commercial publishers in the online media sector. It can be an individual blogger like Jeff Jarvis and Buzz Machine or it can be a blog network like Gawker Media. Commercial publisher examples are US Today, Reuters, Fast Company, Ink Magazine and Tech Target. So, it’s very much small-to-big, and everything in between.”
But what exactly propels Feedburner to the upper echelons of RSS—a position from where this privately-held, Chicago-based company currently distributes nearly 11 million subscriptions per day while managing a quarter-million feeds from over 150,000 publishers? “One of the reasons publishers use us — and there are a couple — is for analytics,” Hill explains. “We’ve been writing analytics for publishers for two years around the number of subscribers to their feed, the reach that they have every day, and how users interact with the content, [along with] how many items [visitors] view in the space and how many clicks they have on those items.”
He continues, “I’ll give you an example of a very practical use of Feedburner. A blogger that writes about hotel properties around the world…uses his Feedburner to show basically the ranking of items in their popularity, uses that as a property for what his audiences are interested in, and knows that he needs more stories about New York vs. London vs. Paris.”
Besides the analytics providing benefit to publishers, Hill, a former EVP at Interactive Corp, and his Feedburner cohorts were well-aware — like any content-disseminating medium — that advertising would eventually be involved. “We recognized early on… that this would be an ad-supported media, because any time you start to get a meaningful audience that starts to build new media, then the marketers come calling,” he says.
In response, Feedburner has set up mutually exclusive advertiser and publisher divisions of its service, installing an aggregation system that could lead hapless media buyers on the right path with RSS. “The biggest benefit we provided to the buyers in the marketplace was we created from economy to scale for them,” Hill says. “If you were an agency, or a media planner, or even the interactive marketing director at a company, and feeds were interesting to you as an interactive media, you would have a hard time placing ad dollars a year ago — to be able to aggregate all this free content for these publishers, and bring it to market in a way that’s very efficient for the buyers. The way we’ve done that is we organized the feeds to publishers into content categories—and we have 12 of those content categories—and they’re things like city and technology, consumer electronics, arts and entertainment, and automotive.”
In fact, according to its biz dev VP, it is this specific content aggregation that gives Feedburner leverage over competitors when it comes to advertising gain. “We’ve aggregated more blue chip content than anybody,” Hill boasts. “So we have feeds from great publishers. Secondly, we’ve built an ad server that’s proprietary to feeds and is designed specifically for how people interact with feed content. [For example], there are about 2,500 different user agents that request feeds from us every day. That’s every thing from a feed reader that’s sitting on a mobile phone to something on somebody’s desktop. Some of those are ad-friendly and display a display ad, and some don’t. Feedburner’s got the intelligence to figure out when and how to send an ad to a feed reader. And that’s a big deal to our advertisers that are paying on a per-refresh basis.”