FeedBurner Releases Major User Engagement Report

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RSS management megavendor FeedBurner released an interesting report this morning about the relative market shares of the various leading RSS reader vendors.  The statistics go beyond mere subscription numbers and focus on what FeedBurner says is more important – reader engagement.

That engagement is measured in two ways, the number of times the feed’s items are loaded and displayed in the reader (called views)  and the number of times a feed’s link is clicked through (called clicks).  TechCrunch, for example, may now have almost 300,000 people subscribed to its feed who log on to their feed reader in a given day – but only a portion of those people view the TechCrunch feed in particular on a given day. I know I’m subscribed to many feeds that I almost never actually read, FeedBurner’s engagement metrics try to parse that behavior out from active readership.

The winning vendors in reader engagement are interesting but so are the larger implications of the numbers being reported. Full details and discussion below the fold (for those not viewing this in a feed reader, that is!)

The moral of the story is that Google Reader has come out of nowhere and stolen the hearts of active RSS users.

Views

When it comes to views, Google Reader is the clear leader with a methodologically conservative 59% of views.  That means that 59% of the time a FeedBurner published feed is being displayed in a web based aggregator – it’s being displayed in a Google Reader account.  That’s amazing.  Google Reader just began reporting subscriber numbers to FeedBurner last week.  Bloggers everywhere saw their subscriber numbers jump an average of 53% according to FeedBurner.  Now this statistic indicating that Google users are actually accessing the feeds they have subscribed to far more than any other vendor shows that in just a short period of time since the product’s relaunch – Google Reader owns the online feed reading market.

Bloglines, perhaps unsurprisingly, is in second place on views at 33%. Newsgator online, a feature fantastic service long plagued with deal-breaking performance problems, is trailing in third place with a mere %3 of views.  The company’s desktop feed readers, NetNewsWire and FeedDemon, probably have a much larger percentage of views as they are older, more stable products.  Newsgator is also the only one of the top feed readers in the chart with an enterprise feed reading product, which is undoubtedly the company’s focus – though the enterprise market has been slow to adopt RSS. (Update: NNW and FeedDemon sync up with Newsgator online and thus are counted here – which is a bad sign. For the record, I prefer NetNewsWire and Netvibes used together.) (UpdateX2: Newsgator’s Greg Reinacker contests much of this report and says that Feedburner’s stats in this report are very limited.)

Other interesting numbers when it comes to views are that Netvibes and Live.com are the only Start Pages that register on the charts.  Netvibes, tellingly, scores three times higher than Microsoft’s Live.com – which is supposed to be the StartPage for computer users everywhere.

Clicks

The second statistic offered by FeedBurner this morning is click throughs.  I don’t believe that statistic means much at all – some publishers don’t offer full feeds and require a click through to read the full text of an item but the most lovable ones don’t.  The difference in user behavior between a StartPage like MyYahoo and a full text reader like Google, Bloglines or Newsgator makes comparing click throughs between these two classes of readers a matter of apples and oranges.  Unsurprisingly, MyYahoo drives the majority of all RSS click throughs (54%) – MyYahoo has a huge user base and there’s no other way to read anything in the service other than clicking through.  Google Reader is in second place, probably as a consequence of its huge numbers and engagement via views.

Feed Diversity

The final statistic in the report is the percentage of FeedBurner’s active feeds are subscribed to by each user agent.  At 76%, Google Reader users clearly subscribe to the widest breadth of feeds from FeedBurner.  MyYahoo is in third place behind Bloglines in this metric at 51% – that means that 49% of FeedBurner published feeds don’t have a single MyYahoo reader.  Firefox Live Bookmarks and IE 7 score a 33% and 21% respectively.  In other words, browser based feed reading isn’t very substantial and it isn’t very diverse.

Conclusions

What sorts of RSS user behavior isn’t being measured here?  There’s no recognition of mobile feed reading, possibly in part because most of the products available on the market are generally anemic and little used.  It’s also important to remember that there are many types of feeds that aren’t being counted in this survey.  Desktop feed readers, including iTunes for media reading, isn’t included here.  FeedBurner tends to work with bog and news feeds – but there are a million other possible uses of RSS.  From search query feeds to weather information to package tracking – for all its market reach there are many important feeds that FeedBurner does not manage and thus cannot track.

The truth is though that RSS use is still in its infancy and the vast majority of use cases are likely covered in FeedBurner’s analysis.  This report makes me hunger for more data over time.  

The most immediate message here though may be that when it comes to reader engagement and sheer numbers, Google Reader has come from no where and is now indisputable champion in this market.  Bloglines and to some degree MyYahoo are important and Netvibes is doing admirably.  Everyone else is a relatively minor player in the web based consumer feed reading market.

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