* #FeedBurnerFail Problem Fixed: The Perfect Storm Of Miscommunication

When feeds are out of sight, feeds are out of mind.

“By the way, and you can quote me on this, I was totally wrong about FeedBurner. Since starting to use FeedBurner three months ago, my readership has doubled, even though my blogging volume has stayed about the same.”
– 02/16/07 email from Erik J. Heels to Rick Klau

FeedBurner History

I first tried FeedBurner in 2005, dropped it, tried it again, loved it, ran into problems after the Google acquisition, recently considered dumping it, and just decided to stick with it.

Three months after I resumed use of FeedBurner in 2007, Google purchased FeedBurner. Over time, FeedBurner accounts were migrated to what is now called Google AdSense for Feeds. My FeedBurner account transitioned to Google in 02/2008.

You have to be very careful when changing feeds. If you fail to redirect the old feed to the new feed, then you will create an orphaned feed. If your readers use Google Reader, then they will likely not notice that your feed is dead because your items will simply stop showing up. I read lots of feeds and assume there are dead feeds among my subscriptions. It happens more frequently than it should.

Out of sight, out of mind.

From WordPress To FeedBurner To Google Reader

Fortunately, the WordPress FeedBurner FeedSmith plugin manages all of your blog’s feeds and automatically redirects them to the master FeedBurner feed. You can use the Reading settings in WordPress to configure your WordPress feed: how many items you’d like to have appear in your feed (the default is 10) and whether you prefer a full feed or a partial feed (full feeds are better).

The wrong choices can be fatal to your feed. More on this below.

As it turns out, FeedBurner has imposed a limit of 512 KB on feeds it manages. If you exceed FeedBurner’s 512 KB limit, then your feed will not update until it returns to below the limit.

I’m certain that there are practical reasons for FeedBurner’s feed size limit. I am equally certain that I never knew about this limit, nor would I have any reason to assume such a limit exists. Under the HTML 4.0 specification, there are no file size limits imposed on HTML pages, and Google’s webmaster tools suggest no such limits. Practically, most of us realize that longer pages take longer to load, but some of my most important blog posts are the really long ones (such as this one and this one).

The only thing that I knew was that my FeedBurner feed periodically stopped working. And it was maddening. My raw feed (for which there are no size limits) was validating just fine.

When my feed would break, I would blog about problems with my feed, and then the feed would appear to fix itself. What was really happening was that my feed was hovering around the 512 KB file size limit and periodically getting disabled and enabled when it when over and under the limit.

If I publish just one VERY BIG POST that puts my feed over the 512 KB limit, then I will have to publish 10 smaller posts to get my feed back under the limit.

There are several possible solutions:

  1. Shut up and write shorter posts (not a good option for me).
  2. Reduce the number of items in your feed from 10 (the WordPress default setting).
  3. Use a partial feed (but risk annoying your readers).
  4. Write a WordPress plugin to send full items to your feed when possible, partial items when your feed approaches FeedBurner’s 512 KB limit.

I had to experiment to get it right, but reducing my feed items from 10 to 4 fixed my FeedBurner feed.

So why didn’t I know that my feed was busted in the first place? Because the URL for my FeedMedic feed (accessible from the home page of your FeedBurner account) changed when my feed migrated from FeedBurner to Google. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about the FeedMedic feed (as I do with all orphaned feeds). The old FeedMedic feed (the one I was subscribed to) hadn’t been updated since 11/19/07 nor had it been redirected to the new FeedMedic feed. When I checked the new FeedMedic feed today, I got this very helpful error message:

FeedBurner had trouble retrieving your Source Feed: https://www.giantpeople.com/?feed=rss2

The error message is:

Error getting URL: 502 – Maximum allowed response size is 512K

Actions you can take:

Validate your Source Feed with Feed Validator. This service provides additional detail about the problem, and how to repair it.

Resync your FeedBurner feed once you have repaired the source feed.

Contact FeedBurner for help with your feed if all else fails.

Some versions of the above error message say “Error getting URL: 502 – Source feed is too large … maximum size is 512K” instead.

I also searched my email archives (I save/archive all of my email in Gmail) and found no mention of needing to update my FeedBurner FeedBulletin/FeedMedic feed.

In short, a broken internal FeedBurner feed (for FeedMedic) prevented me from knowing about my broken external FeedBurner feed (for my blog).

Lessons Learned

  1. If you are using FeedBurner, then subscribe to your FeedMedic feed. Note that the feed URL may have changed.
  2. If you use WordPress, full feeds, and the default of 10 posts per feed, then note that your feed may periodically break when you publish large blog posts.
  3. Assume nothing. Seek first to understand.

Related Posts

“I’m thankful for friends and family whom I love despite their flaws, and who love me despite mine.”
– 11/28/08 from Ping.fm, http://twitter.com/ErikJHeels/statuses/1028283902

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3 Replies to “* #FeedBurnerFail Problem Fixed: The Perfect Storm Of Miscommunication”

  1. yeah,I got this problem too today, then I found your artical from google.
    By them way, today, google has been totally blocked in China mainland.
    Made the God bless all of you, people living in land of freedom, and F**k my mother country!

  2. Greetings Jill,

    Yes, I have seen the “broken fixed broken fixed” messages from FeedMedic. I guess I prefer that to radio (or should I say “feed”?) silence.


  3. Hm. I had subscribed to FeedMedic when I started with FeedBurner, but it gave me “Feed Broken!” messages followed almost immediately by “Feed Fixed!” messages several times a day. I found this to be pretty annoying and finally deleted it.

    Have you had this happen? I’m assuming either you didn’t or you are just more patient than I with useless messages (which I have to say I doubt…)

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