For at least six years I’ve been using Feedburner to send a single email to registered subscribers after each new post is published. A few weeks ago Feedburner stopped working for reasons I cannot ascertain. I’ve tried everything possible to get it to work, but even though all systems appear go the emails are not being sent.
I know this is not a new complaint, and that Google (which owns Feedburner) has allowed the site/service to languish. It is, technologically, adrift, and has been for a long time. I used it because it works, it no longer works, so it’s time to do something else.
One complicating factor is that Feedbuner handles both emails subscriptions and RSS feeds, and I think I’ve been using Feedburner for both. I say ‘I think’ because no matter how much I learn about RSS feeds I’m never quite sure what they are. They seem to be a kind of parallel channel to my published site — like a radio version, or maybe a telex or telegraph. If you don’t want to click on my site you can point your browser or feed-reader to the Ditchwalk feed and get my content that way.
What’s never clear to me is what Feedburner is actually doing to make that feed happen, because I think it’s actually doing nothing. Rather, it takes my feed — which WordPress creates — and then redirects it, or repurposes it, or maybe even reporpoises it, or something. Which means not only that Feedburner isn’t doing anything for me in terms of email subscriptions, it’s doing nothing for me in terms of RSS. Or at least nothing I need to care about if the rest of Feedburner’s functionality is on the fritz.
Given that Feedburner has been moribund for years, and that technology marches on, you would think a simple plugin-fix would be available. You would be wrong. Yes, there are all kinds of services you can sign up for and configure, but in the Free + RSS + Email Subscription space there actually aren’t that many options. And of the options that exist, many of them include regulatory requirements that I have apparently been in violation of as a Feedburner user for many years.
So, what to do….
Honestly, I don’t know. It seems like I should be able to allow people to subscribe and unsubscribe to a post-notification email without being indicted, or shelling out money, or providing personal information, but the more I drill into the issue the more it seems I’m wrong. I took a look at MailChimp, which meets many of my needs, but in the process of building an email list it turned out that I needed — as a matter of law — to include a physical mailing address in each and every email sent.
Now, I imagine that many people just blow that off, or make up an address, and that MailChimp probably doesn’t validate addresses that are submitted, but with Feedburner I didn’t have to actually choose between being a liar (and thus not in compliance with the law) and giving our personal information. Were I a business with a storefront or office that wouldn’t be a problem, but as I live in a box under a bridge and have no interest in guests dropping by it seems a bit intrusive.
The CPanel Solution?
Since I pay to host my own site, it also seems as if I should be able to configure a subscribe/unsubscribe option for an email list through Cpanel, and I’ve been passed a few helpful links in that regard, but so far no turn-key solution has presented itself. I’m not sure I want to mess around with my.sql and all that — mostly for fear of accidentally unplugging the universe — but currently that seems the most viable long-term option. If I can get things set up so they work, and there are no third parties involved, then I can get on with sending out a few emails each month to the small handful of people who probably don’t realize they’re still registered.
Still, there is a persistent strain of rhetoric on the web that you should NOT use your own site or web hosting to send your own emails. While that at first seemed quite odd, it turns out that by using a third party you actually indemnify (or maybe that’s an overblown legal word in this case — try ‘protect’ instead) against regulatory risks. And in a world where we’re all amazed that email spam just fell below 50% of all emails sent for the first time in twelve years I guess that’s a real concern.
I think the right solution is to just remove the plugin that allows people to sign up and junk my small email list, because life is too short. I offered the list as a convenience, and over the years I’ve never sent a single email other than an auto-notification after a new post. I have no interest in blast emails or conversions or marketing myself, and I’m never selling an email list to anyone else, so for the most part email itself may be extraneous to Ditchwalk.
The irony, of course, is that none of the people who are currently registered will know. I’m not saying it would matter to them if they did, just that it’s a kind of technocomic Catch-22. The emails no longer go out, so I can’t write a post updating readers on why the emails are no longer going out. Or I can, but they won’t be notified of the post.
— Mark Barrett
— Mark Barrett