The Problem with Caching RSS

By Deane Barker on December 4, 2005

My content, my readers, my numbers, damnit: Here’s a funny rant that points out a very real problem: it’s virtually impossible to figure out how many people are subscribed to your RSS feed because of feed aggregators and cachers.

If you took a song and cached it and fed it out to lots of people these days without reporting back to the owner, you’d get sued or slapped in jail.

Well, all I ask that you do for caching my feed is to report back the number of subscribers. Not much to ask. And not doing that is tantamount to theft.

It’s true — Bloglines hits me once every 10 minutes, but that represents 661 people, at this writing. I have no idea how many readers I have through Yahoo and Google, or other services.

The author provides several updates to the post, and apparently Yahoo is going to add the numbers back. Google is considering displaying them.

This is actually more valuable that just having a hit in your logs. With RSS, people don’t just browse like they do on the Web — it’s more binary. They’re subscribed, or they’re not. This means you can count them easier…if subscribing services hand over their numbers.



  1. Every time I see this come up again, I try to work up the energy to ask “you do know that you have absolutely no idea how many people read your HTML, right?”

    Other than ads on hosts that may well be blocked by any given reader, you don’t have anything sent with “Cache-control: private” so any request for /post/4701 means somewhere between 0 and 100,000 readers (at least, I assume AOL still has 100,000 users). Welcome to the web.

    You and Jeff may want to know how many subscribers you have on various services, but you don’t have any absolute right to know it, and you don’t know how many subscribers you have in general based on how many hits you have directly to your feed: any hit to it may be stored in any number of intermediate caches which have no requirement to tell you that they are re-serving it without telling you.

  2. Ooh, another near-random number on which to vent my spleen!

    Don’t forget, while looking at Feedburner’s statistics on link clicks, to notice how many people grab the Feedburner redirect link for a post from their aggregator and use it to link to your post, thus simultaneously messing up your statistics and leaving you permanently dependent on Feedburner to keep you from having broken incoming links.

  3. Given the number of services out there now for doing some kind of site tracking, I’m surprised there aren’t some more techniques/services for tracking RSS feeds..

    As Phil Ringnalda points out, you’ve actually got a better chance at getting accurate stats from RSS subscribers… It does need some collabaration with the rss caches, but there’s mostly a known number of them…

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