Email Subscriptions In Bloglines

Tonight we rolled out a new Bloglines feature called email subscriptions. Basically, an email subscription is like a normal subscription, except that each one comes with a unique Bloglines email address associated with it. The email address is not easily guessable (hard to spam). Whenever an email is received for one of these email addresses, it appears just like a normal blog entry. We support HTML email and even embedded images. When an email subscription is deleted (ie. the user unsubscribes), the associated email address disappears.
Email subscriptions are great for announce-only or broadcast mailing lists that don’t provide RSS feeds. They are also useful as temporary email addresses.

Happiness is a Warm Server

Or 12 new warm servers, to be exact. The hungry beast that is Bloglines continues to grow and is demanding more horsepower.
When I first started ONElist, there was a period where we had to stop allowing new user registration because the system was so overloaded. That was a very painful lesson that we were luckily able to fully recover and learn from. I vowed then to never get back into a situation like that. A big part of avoiding that problem is architecting the system correctly in the first place. Back then, the database we were using was a simple GDBM thing that I had created. It couldn’t handle the load and wasn’t scalable in any way. I didn’t know any better; ONElist was the first Internet service that I had architected. Until we re-wrote the backend to use Oracle, we were dead in the water.
Bloglines doesn’t use Oracle (there’s no need these days; sorry Larry), but I did pay special attention to the database architecture when I first designed Bloglines. It meant a longer development time in the beginning, but now, we can just add more machines when things get overloaded.
This does not mean that Bloglines is overloaded right now. Based on our metrics, it’s still very responsive. But we can see the trend. Hence the 12 new servers to ensure that Bloglines is always responsive.

Adventures in Flying

I’m getting ready for my private pilot checkride. Today my instructor and I flew from Palo Alto over to Hayward to practice short-field landings. I don’t quite have the hang of those yet, and it was good practice. On the way back to Palo Alto, the Hayward tower announced that a plane had gone down with an emergency. It was last on the radar near Coyote Hills, which was directly in front of us. After looking around a bit, we saw the Cessna sitting in a field. We called the tower and circled until a helicopter came and landed. People were walking around the plane, and it looked intact, so hopefully nobody was hurt.

Bloglines Update

I’ve been extra busy over the past couple of weeks. Bloglines continues to grow and add features. We will be moving the servers to a new colocation facility in the next few weeks, and at the same time we will be adding several new machines (and replacing some old ones). All of that takes a lot of time. And we continue to add new features based on the great feedback from our users. I’m especially pleased with our announcement tonight of a Mac OS X version of the Bloglines Notifier. The Windows version has been very popular, and I suspect that our OS X users will enjoy the Mac version. The notifier is a tiny program that you install on your machine. It places a little Bloglines icon in your system tray (or dock for Mac OS X), and pings the Bloglines servers every 30 seconds or so for new items in your account. It’s a great way to be notified that you’ve got new items to read.
This past Wednesday, we also announced support for the new Atom syndication format. We are commited to providing seamless integration of all popular syndication formats. It’s just something that our users shouldn’t have to worry about.
In addition to all of that, we’ve got many other things in development. Stay tuned!

Nice Bloglines Mention

Very good article on Salon yesterday called That 1994 Feeling about RSS and syndication. Syndication and aggregation are unfamiliar concepts to many people; a lot of education still needs to happen. This article is a good step in that direction. And I’m of course grateful that Scott mentions Bloglines. User testimonials are the best kind of advertising.

Popularity Contest

Interesting data on aggregator hits by Mark. He doesn’t mention Bloglines, but I pointed out in the comments to that entry that he has 456 subscribers who read his site through us. Now the numbers aren’t exactly apples to apples. You could argue that just by counting unique IPs, as he did, that there will be some amount of overcounting, due to people hitting his site from multiple IPs due to dynamic IP addressing. Unfortunately, there’s no other way to gauge the popularity of the various aggregators and aggregation services.
Anyways, the numbers taken at face value put us at number two in terms of popularity, behind NetNewsWire, a Mac-only aggregator. I guess this is an appropriate time to mention that we will soon be announcing an OS/X version of the Bloglines Notifier. It’s just getting some final polishing right now, and should be ready very soon.
In addition to that, and the features that we rolled out over the weekend, we have several more things in the works at Bloglines. Stay tuned!
Update: While Mark has updated his post based on some other comments, he still isn’t including Bloglines in the graph or even mentioning us. For completeness, I would think he’d want to include us. There are some nice comments attached to that entry about Bloglines, including one from Tim Bray who says that his mother is quite happy using Bloglines. That’s perfect because that means that we’re succeeding with our goal of making Bloglines easy to use.

My New Phone

So, like apparently everyone else, I got a Treo 600 yesterday. I only upgrade phones every 4-5 years, so this is a big deal (my last phone was a Nokia 6120). I’m with AT&T Wireless, and finding and purchasing the phone was very difficult. Most stores in the SF Bay Area haven’t gotten them yet, or the few that have received a shipment sold out quickly. I got the last one from the Santa Clara store.
The form factor is great, the keyword is very workable, the sound quality is a huge improvement over my last phone. The speakerphone even seems to work ok. I love the fact that I can ssh into machines at work from this little device. You wouldn’t want to code an app with it, but it’s a good safety net.
The downside is that, as it’s a GSM phone, the coverage is almost non-existent in my house. I have found a couple of places where it works. Luckily one of those places is upstairs within hearing distance of our bedroom, so midnight pages won’t go unheard. I have 30 days to decide whether there is enough coverage at home to keep the phone. I really want to keep this thing, but the lack of coverage might be a deal-breaker.

Bloglines Work

Over the weekend, we pushed a couple of changes to the internal architecture of Bloglines. The changes were designed to off-load work from one of the databases (the Bloglines back-end consists of several different databases, spread over multiple machines). While the system was fairly responsive before the changes, these changes will help us continue to scale up. Last week was our best week so far, in terms of traffic and user growth. We have over 11 Million entries in the database. Alexa ranked us at 1,014 in terms of Internet traffic (our traffic drops on the weekends, so the number is higher right now). Traffic ranking systems are always inexact, but we are continuing to grow.
Scaling an Internet service is equal parts science and art. There is no one set blueprint that you can apply to every type of service. There are some basic concepts that you can adhere to, but everything else is application specific and varies over time. As long as you have growth, you are never done scaling an Internet service. It’s a fun but demanding challenge.

Bloglines Update

We launched a new feature for Bloglines yesterday, search feeds. You can search on something and then subscribe to that search. It appears as a normal subscription and whenever new items are received that match your search, they show up.
In other Bloglines news, this is so cool, I could pop:

    Hmmm…I wonder how many people have “taught” Bloglines. I did today, showing my students the wonders of aggregation and setting them all up with accounts. They all subscribed to the New York Times front page, and I’m going to be feeding them some feeds on a pretty regular basis. The important thing at this stage is that they get the concept.

Will R. is an educator who has been spreading the word on RSS and aggregation (and Bloglines!). Fantastic.

Favorite Comment of the Day

Came across the following this evening: “Client side aggregators are so 2002.”

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