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A little help with an RSS experiment?

© October 2009 Anthony Lawrence

Toward the end of September I posted Why I don't trust RSS subscriber figures, which questioned whether RSS subscriptions really represent real readers. My suspicion is that they do not.

Today I happened to read this Dear Reader, Who Are You? post at the popular DailyBlogTips site. That post asks readers to introduce themselves by leaving a comment. The blog displays a Feedburner stats chiclet that shows almost 32,000 RSS subscribers, but so far, less than 200 people have posted a comment.

Actually, a LOT less than 200 - many of the comments are the blog owner respondng to reader comments!

Sure, some people are shy. Some people just don't care. I understand that. But less than 200 from 32,000? That seems very low - unless, as I suspect, most of those subscriptions aren't really being read.

So, I thought we'd try the same thing here. If you are reading this, please take a moment to leave a short comment introducing yourself or just saying "Hiya!" if you'd prefer. It's OK to do that anonymously! - I'm after statistics, not your name or website if you feel strongly about privacy.

Feedburner tells me that we have over 2,000 subscriptions. However, there are subscribers who won't see this post - people can and do subscribe to only Linux posts, only OS X posts and so on. That only knocks a few hundred off though - approximately 2,000 RSS subscribers would see this post if they really are there.

My bet is that we get less than 20 posts in response.

No, I don't mean that there are only 20 real readers. I'd guess the real number is North of 500 and South of 1,000. But less than 10% of those are actively involved.

As a point of reference, Google tells me that there were 377 Adsense impressions in yesterday's feeds. So that's less than 377 readers with Javascript, anyway.

If you can, tell me whether your reader shows Adsense ads too - that's just idle curiousity on my part. I know Google Reader does, but I'm not sure about others.

So, let's see what actually happens.

You can leave a comment if you didn't first read this in RSS, but please indicate that so we have more accurate results, thanks.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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-> A little help with an RSS experiment?


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Wed Oct 7 14:23:17 2009: 7090   NickBarron

Not got enough time to write a quick this is me, but a hello is a start!

Wed Oct 7 15:14:13 2009: 7091   GaryBarnett

I usually read your blog via RSS from MyYahoo front page.

Wed Oct 7 15:18:21 2009: 7092   Stefan

Hi there,
I really like this page and the way it balances technical stuff with day to day issues.

Keep going like that.

Wed Oct 7 15:56:24 2009: 7093   RickBrandfass

Greetings from Wild Wonderful West Virginia! I probably should not be posting this since I really have not subscribed but I stop by almost daily to see what's new.

Wed Oct 7 15:59:45 2009: 7094   MarcFarnumRendino

Real person here! :)

Wed Oct 7 16:46:35 2009: 7095   anonymous


Wed Oct 7 16:47:24 2009: 7096   MikeHostetler

I really hope your theory is wrong, for some reason.

Wed Oct 7 17:00:47 2009: 7097   Ed

Add in another frequent reader via RSS, who likes your posts enough to come in and comment :-) I'm a technical editor/writer, average programmer, and sysadmin... FOSS fan, especially Linux.. and while definitely junior to you, I empathize with many of your experiences, and agree with many of your views on software, cyberspace and the world at large (which is why I keep reading! :-) ).

I just checked my Google Reader, and I've shared 13 of your posts that I *really* liked, with the few people that follow my GReader shared items.

Oh, and a little suggestion - if you could make the 'Click here to post comments' link a little more prominent (font size/weight) it would help people looking for it. No doubt frequent comment posters already know where it is, but this being my first comment here IIRC, I spent quite some time scrolling up and down trying to find out *how* to start a new comment. You may be losing 'real readers' who give up after a few seconds of scanning the page for a button to click, and go away without commenting.

Thank you,

Wed Oct 7 17:08:02 2009: 7098   anonymous

I'm here. I'm subscribed using Google Reader which shows the adverts. (No surprises there!)

Wed Oct 7 17:10:26 2009: 7099   AndrewSmallshaw

I am not here and didn't read this article.

Wed Oct 7 17:13:56 2009: 7100   BruceElrick

I read using Google Reader on both my laptop an iPhone and only rarely click through to the site.

Wed Oct 7 17:23:52 2009: 7101   anonymous

I read your site all the time in a RSS reader. I only read sites with RSS feeds. I do not "browse" the web - totally waste of time.

Wed Oct 7 19:13:10 2009: 7102   PhilHudson

Several months. Prefer your posts to your guest posters'.

Wed Oct 7 19:24:24 2009: 7103   anonymous

Another reader through rss feeds.

Wed Oct 7 19:47:43 2009: 7104   Ralph

Your blog usually has #1 priority in my RSS feed reader.

All the best.


Wed Oct 7 20:18:40 2009: 7107   anonymous


Wed Oct 7 20:29:04 2009: 7108   rbailin

Long time reader, sometime commenter.

Wed Oct 7 20:43:05 2009: 7109   anonymous

I'm a real RSS feed subscriber.

Wed Oct 7 20:47:13 2009: 7110   ScottCarpenter

Hi, Tony -- I'm here! I follow your feed in Google Reader. I skim/skip a lot of posts by just clicking on them to mark as read (or navigating with j/k keys) -- I wonder how that reflects in the stats for each post? It might look like you have a reader for that day/post, and maybe you do since I took long enough to evaluate the post and dismiss it.. (FYI, I tend to like reading your "opinionated" posts. The techie posts are all right, but not immediately applicable so I just pass over them. I'm here more because I enjoy your take on things.)

Anyway, now you owe me one -- I'll be posting something soon with a similar (well, not really) request for my regular readers, so I hope you'll humor me. (If you're one of my regular readers.) :-) (Although it's not *quite* as simple as adding a comment...)

Wed Oct 7 21:19:40 2009: 7111   anonymous

Hiya! I think there are lots different ways people use RSS, but for myself, I at least skim everything that comes through my RSS inbox. So all of your posts at least get a once-over, which can range from 2 seconds to reading the whole thing.

For what it's worth, I doubt if ads in RSS feeds get a lot of traction. Though I can't block them with GreaseMonkey, so I suppose they have that going for them.

Wed Oct 7 21:48:11 2009: 7112   anonymous

I am a real RSS subscriber!!!

Wed Oct 7 23:15:21 2009: 7113   MartinMalden

Hi Tony,

And yes - my reader (Google Reader) does show Adsense ads.



Wed Oct 7 23:37:16 2009: 7114   TonyLawrence

I will add some comments now. So far, just a little over 20 comments. Email subscriptions don't go out until tomorrow, so we may pick up a few there, but I think it's pretty obvious that I'm right. The guy at DailyBlogTips doesn't agree - he says "People are busy, and few have time to click on links (let alone to write a comment!). This, however, does not mean that they are not reading your posts or that they are bots in my opinion".

Well, he's entitled to his opinion, but I think he's wrong. But even if he is right, consider this: people place great value on RSS subscriber numbers. Some have placed that value at up to $30 per subscriber! But if 99% are so uninterested and uninvolved that they can't even post a comment when asked, how can they be worth much of anything?

To the person who said "I doubt if ads in RSS feeds get a lot of traction",that's absolutely true. They earn pennies per month. I keep them because they do help me know more about RSS subscriptions being looked at.

To the person who doesn't like the guest posts as much: well, sometimes I don't like them either. But I feel an obligation to help people out when I can. Those posts can help them get business or just get something off their chest.

I took the suggestion to make the Comment link larger - good idea! I also added the comment link to the RSS - duh, why didn't I think of that before?

Scott: I'm looking forward to your experiment (or whatever it will be).

And thanks to everyone else who took the time to leave a note!

Thu Oct 8 00:16:44 2009: 7117   MikeSchwartz

I read everything in your feed religiously...

Thu Oct 8 00:39:48 2009: 7118   Ed

(2nd comment on this post - please adjust count accordingly)

I can't help wondering if you're closing your count a bit early... Not everyone gets through all their RSS feeds every single day. For example, if bogged down with work, I often don't open Google Reader for several days - then I might try to catch up with the feeds on the weekend. Even if I'm checking every day, there might be days when I find something earlier in my reading that takes me off into some rambling on the Net, perhaps downloading and installing or trying to compile some software, etc... you get the idea.

Do your ad statistics give you per-day breakdowns of RSS ad impressions against a single article, or only a single cumulative number?

Just saying you might want to hold off on closing the count for perhaps 3 days, so that delayed readers who want to comment could also do so.


Thu Oct 8 00:46:47 2009: 7119   TonyLawrence

No - I'm not "closing". I just don't expect many more.

I'm very skeptical of RSS feed counts. I just don't believe 2,000+ people really *read* here and I don't believe 32,000+ read DailyBlogTips (though I do believe a lot more read there than here!)

Thu Oct 8 01:17:09 2009: 7120   TonyLawrence

To answer your question, no, the Adsense stats are just daily impressions. No breakdown.

Thu Oct 8 01:25:12 2009: 7121   anonymous

What is RSS?

Thu Oct 8 01:34:24 2009: 7122   TonyLawrence

See (link) "RSS Syndication Feeds and Why Do I Care?"

Thu Oct 8 03:05:59 2009: 7124   Zhu

I happened to post a comment on another blog that I follow and is doing a similar experiment, and you stated you were afraid you wouldn't reach 20 comments. It got me curious and that brought me here ;-)

From what I see, quite a few people replied -- yes, there are humans out there! ;-)

It's not because people don't comment that they are not reading. Trust me, no comment is sometimes better than a thousand "great article" spammy thing.

Thu Oct 8 03:45:55 2009: 7125   anonymous

I read the RSS feed regularly. Curious to read your post on the results!

Thu Oct 8 05:57:54 2009: 7127   DonalZurich

Your blog is still the one I'm most likely to read if I have a few minutes to spare, rather than a few seconds to skim through the 40 or so available RSS feeds. (NetNewsWire for RSS reader on PC & iphone)

Thu Oct 8 10:43:18 2009: 7129   anonymous


Thu Oct 8 11:28:13 2009: 7133   TonyLawrence

From what I see, quite a few people replied

Remember, we're talking about a supposed base of more than 2,000. Twenty or thirty out of that is NOT a lot of people.

The point is that when blogs are valued by RSS subscriibers, I think it's a bogus measurement. As I noted above, if 99% of these oh-so-valuable readers aren't involved enough to be motivated to leave a "Hiya", how "valuable" are they?

So let's say you were interested in buying some blog. It has 4,000 RSS subscribers and the asking price is $25 per subscriber. Are you going to pay $10,000? I wouldn't.

Of course there might be other factors that would make it worth that much or more. And as I've said before, a blog with 40,000 RSS subscribers is obviously much more popular than one with 4,000 - we have to assume that the "uninvolved" percentage is fairly constant.

Though it might not be - a blog that just acquired 4,000 subscribers this year might well have more "active" readers than somewhere that has built up a higher number over a number of years.

It's a complicated subject. This experiment doesn't provide definite answers to anything; it's just part of the big picture.

Thu Oct 8 11:40:12 2009: 7134   TonyLawrence

For example, if bogged down with work, I often don't open Google Reader for several days

Yes, and that's exactly why I think the subscriber figures aren't accurate.

I do the same thing. But I subscribe to several hundred feeds, so if I get behind, I do major skimming - maybe only reading the headlines before marking everything as read and sometimes not even that.

So the blogs at the top of my list get read. The ones way down at the bottom may not have even had a chance for months to even show me headlines - but the feed reader has fetched their feeds, so I'm counted as a "subscriber".

I think that might account for quite a lot.

Thu Oct 8 12:57:03 2009: 7140   AaronBenedict

I'm your biggest fan. :)

Thu Oct 8 13:01:10 2009: 7141   TonyLawrence

I'm your biggest fan. :)

Because I give you so much money!

Thu Oct 8 14:53:16 2009: 7151   GMartins

Mr. Lawrence, as an usual reader from AP.Lawrence Weblog, I wish to come here and register my visit.

Best Regards,


Thu Oct 8 23:45:08 2009: 7156   Ed

(quote) So the blogs at the top of my list get read. The ones way down at the bottom may not have even had a chance for months to even show me headlines - but the feed reader has fetched their feeds, so I'm counted as a "subscriber". (endquote)

Yes, I see your point. In order for any RSS reader to display unread item counts, it has to re-fetch the feeds... but that does not imply that your feed is necessarily read. Agreed.


Fri Oct 9 10:50:25 2009: 7159   BrettLegree

I never miss an article - usually read them in RSS first, then often come over to comment.

Fri Oct 9 14:04:06 2009: 7161   TonyLawrence

Certainly a few more posts may drift in, but plainly the response rate is under 2%.

At the DailyBlogTips post that inspired this, the response rate is a little over 0.5%, which the owner there attributes to people being too busy. Yeah, out of 32,000 people, all but 200 are too busy.

Remember, this is not to say that subscriber counts are meaningless. That 32,000 people signed up for DBT's feed certainly says a lot about the value of his posts. But he isn't influencing 32,000 people and I'm not influencing 2,000 - most of those subscriptions are NOT active, involved people.

So, if you've built your subscribers up to 500, 5,000 or 50,000 - be proud. Just don't be too proud :-)

Fri Oct 9 23:51:19 2009: 7164   anonymous

I read the rss feed from Liferea reader. As a retired technician, your blog helps me keep my head in the game.

Sat Oct 10 00:29:34 2009: 7165   TonyLawrence

You know, I'm glad we did this. It's nice to know a little more about readers I have never seen before.

Sat Oct 10 01:31:37 2009: 7167   Sledge

I read the feed that feedburner uses in Firefox. I use RSS instead of going to web sites because I can leave it for a few days and still get caught up in the time I have left. I do have almost as many more subscribed RSS feeds as stories I actually read as you report having more subscribers than actual readers (that made more sense in my head). I have a friend who is a blogger that recently installed clickheat on his site to "track clicks" and because Web 2.0 is cooler than it is useful (so far). I am trying to script clicks on areas of his page that contain no links just to throw him a curve.

Sat Oct 10 01:44:53 2009: 7168   TonyLawrence

I am trying to script clicks on areas of his page that contain no links just to throw him a curve.

That's mean.

But funny :-)

Sun Oct 18 19:15:17 2009: 7290   manny


about your theory, well am a new reader (just subscribe a few minutes ago) =D

well let me give you some more data for your research

right now am sub to dozens of blogs about tons of topics

i have over 1000+ unread (sadly), but am trying to catch on (2 weeks ago i had like 1200)

if it weren't because "i want" to contribute to the experiment then i probably would not had commented.

also if i wasnt here in your site right now i would had read this entry a few weeks later.

so i agree 50% with you and 50% with the blogging tips site you mentioned. People are either busy, don't really care or didn't caught the eye.

remember you're competing for some luv here.

Another example is some readers won't ever follow you on a daily basis, but on a "random" basis. They may visit the site once in a while and start reading random stuff like posts from 2007, 2009 then some others from 2006

is like adsense. Take a look at your ads right for a few seconds and tell me on which you would "really" click. 98% of those ads don't interest you (sometimes none caught your eye), but people click on them from time to time and is really hard to find out why (many don't leave a pattern). It's a combo of what am doing now + with what i have to do + with what i enjoy+ with what thoughts i have at this moment + with what i need, how am feeling, etttttcccc.

i.e. i was reading a linux article and saw some food or medicine ad. (linux + food or meds?) nor was i really hungry or ill, i was just curious.

well 1 day google or msft will scan our brain waves, but hopefully i'll be able to -optout- xD

the only thing i can advise is to build on *mindshare* and focusing 50% on new readers. Since you said you get lots of traffic from search then you're pretty aware :)

i wouldn't worry too much. This Is like the 'forum thread paradigm'. You start a thread on a Big forum and get unique 100,000 views and no comments... You feel pretty weird and bad. You had much prefered 100s of comments , even if it were just 100 views/people who saw the thread.

Sun Oct 18 19:36:59 2009: 7291   TonyLawrence

Don't misunderstand: I'm not "worrying". As your own RSS habits show, subscribed readers doesn't necessarily mean much. That's all I'm pointing out. For this site, RSS traffic is only a very small percentage of visitors anyway, and is of almost no significance for Adsense. Most traffic here and almost all income comes from Google searches, not RSS.

Thu Oct 22 16:27:47 2009: 7341   manny

oh yes totally agree with the adsense part

i have experiment it with my own site visitors and i do it myself when i need support i just click anywhere i can get the info even if am aware they're ads (well if i like the site i don't really hesitate, but random unknown sitesi totally avoid clicking on anything, way too many bad experiences with popups/unders/trojans-alerts/and worse)

the most impulsive or "young/inexperience" seem to click more - seems is just how life is

you could say returning commenters keep the site active and provide data (when asked) or motivation (when needed) so a sense of community is built, which in turn fuels your posts as a good source of information for the new visitor who can see your credibility and that people already back you up

oh and am doing better with the rss, i just installed a firefox plugin "simple rss reader" has a ticker that updates every 10 secs, great stuff also seems to keep me relax while working :)

totally recommended to anyone with tons of feeds, keeps you sane lol

Thu Oct 22 19:41:21 2009: 7342   TonyLawrence

"keeps you sane" is a little late for me. Do you have something that will return my sanity?

Sat May 8 22:49:04 2010: 8555   Aldrich


This is my first visit to the site. I'm browsing from the Netherlands, I like the site, and posting here a comment!!! Great job!

Sun May 9 19:08:46 2010: 8565   TonyLawrence


Welcome. You must be browsing through a lot of stuff to come across this old post!

Mon May 10 01:43:08 2010: 8570   BigDumbDinosaur



Mon May 10 11:03:51 2010: 8572   TonyLawrence



Did I miss something???

Mon May 10 11:13:54 2010: 8574   Aldrich


When I like a site, I continue browsing around. Txs for the reply.. I'm looking forward to buy your electronic-book Unix/Linux troubleshooting experience. I work with solaris and debian. Hopefully this will be a great book in my collection,


Mon May 10 11:50:38 2010: 8575   Ed


Is the unsubscribe-from-comments system broken? I have twice clicked the unsubscribe link in alert mails from this page, and still keep getting new comments mailed to me, despite being told I've been unsubscribed. Could you please take a look at it?


Mon May 10 12:45:47 2010: 8577   TonyLawrence


Possibly your ip has changed - just send me an email and I will remove you manually.

Mon May 10 13:21:34 2010: 8579   BigDumbDinosaur


Did I miss something???

So, let's see what actually happens.

You can leave a comment if you didn't first read this in RSS, but please indicate that so we have more accurate results, thanks.

I was leaving a comment...it was right after dinner in the dinosaur pen. And I didn't read the above via RSS. Forgot to mention that. <Grin>

Mon May 10 13:47:46 2010: 8580   TonyLawrence


OK :-)

I still don't get what the bletching and farting was about, but that's ok -


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