A few weeks ago I noticed the Feedburner feed for my blog was not updating. Since changes to my WordPress blog can take awhile, and are “not to be taken lightly” since a mess-up can render my blog inaccessible, I delayed an investigation of the problems creating this situation at the time. Recently my mom asked if I’d posted anything to my blog since February 18th, and I realized I’d forgotten to remedy my frozen Feedburner problem. In this post, I’ll share the steps I took to fix this problem and what I learned as a result. Intermittent problems like this are a hazard of self-hosting a blog, and can be avoided (generally) by using a commercially-hosted blog option like WordPress.com, Blogger, Squarespace, EduBlogs, etc.
Feedburner is a free service, now owned by Google, which lets content producers put a web feed into their web service and use their provided “Feedburner feed” as a more extensible content feed to which others can subscribe. Feedburner offers several advantages over “normal” web feeds, including browser-compatibility (so feeds show up in browsers not configured to handle RSS feeds) and metrics indicating how many people are accessing and subscribing to your feed. Feedburner can create “chicklets” which content creators can display on websites to display numbers of feed subscribers. Although I’ve used Feedburner on my blog for years, I never activated a plug-in which forces all blog subscribers to use the Feedburner feed version, instead of the default WordPress feeds. I have been hesitant to do this because I wasn’t sure what would happen to others who had subscribed to WordPress feeds, and I want to make my content as accessible as possible. As a result, the Feedburner chicklets in my blog sidebar have never accurately reflected my blog subscribership.
There were two obvious signs my Feedburner feed had become “frozen” as of my February 18th post about the Heartland eLearning Conference. On my wesfryer.com homepage, I use embed code from Yahoo Pipes to display my recent blog posts.
As you can see in the screenshot below, prior to today’s troubleshooting this Yahoo Pipes embed code wasn’t displaying my most recent posts.
When someone clicked directly on my Feedburner blog feed, the most recent feeds were NOT being displayed there either.
To test if this was a WordPress or Feedburner problem, I accessed the direct WordPress-generated feed for my blog. This is simply websiteaddress.com/feed, in my case speedofcreativity.org/feed. That feed displayed my Feb 18th post as the most recent entry, so I knew the problem must be with WordPress and not Feedburner.
Before making changes to my WordPress installation, I created a MySQL database backup using PhpMyAdmin. I need to purchase and start using an automated backup solution like BuddyPress, but have not taken time to do that yet. After downloading my backup database, I made several updates and changes to my WordPress installation.
First, I updated three of my plug-ins for which updates were available. Sometimes out-of-date plugins can cause feed sync problems. I also updated my WordPress installation to the latest 3.1 version. Last of all, I performed some routine “mainenance” on my WordPress MySQL database by removing “overhead” from some of the tables. This is done with the “Repair Table” command in phpMyAdmin, and a process I detailed in the May 2009 post, “WordPress commenting restored thanks to phpMyAdmin table repair.”
I’m not sure which of these steps fixed my problem, but after making those changes my WordPress-generated feed started updating correctly. I used the Feedburner troubleshooting tools to “resync” my feed, and verified the public Feedburner address is now updating correctly.
I have needed to correct the display of an apostrophe as HTML code in the embedded version of my Yahoo pipe on my homepage for awhile. While fixing that, I made a few changes to my Yahoo pipe so it now combines my most recent tweets with recent posts from both speedofcreativity.org and storychasers.org. This is the new syntax of the pipe:
This is the output, which (thanks to a conditional filter I added in the pipe) removes duplicate Tweets from my stream for new blog posts.
The benefit of dealing with these kind of issues is customizability and control over content. Whether or not it’s worth it to you to have those benefits, and deal with troubleshooting issues when they crop up, is a key question to answer when deciding if you want to self-host a WordPress blog. For more resources and links related to blog platforms, see the “Text” page of the TalkWithMedia.com site as well as my “Share Your Ideas: Platforms for Publishing” wiki page.
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