RSS to Twitter: The Big Boys Have Arrived
I have posted before about how you can capitalize on your Twitter social community to increase traffic onto your blog. Regularly tweeting the new posts on your blog is the secret. I tweet a few thousand posts per month, accounting for over 100,000+ visits on my aggregator blogs.
What tools are on the market to automatically convert RSS feeds to Twitter, and which is the best? An overview.
My aggregator blogs collect the latest articles from over 1,000 different special interest sites, be it nonprofit blogs, aidworker blogs, social media sites or humanitarian news sites. These sites aggregate 20,000+ articles per month, so it would be a full-time job if I’d to tweet these posts manually. No, I use an RSS-to-Twitter tool to make my life easy. Up to recently, I used Twitterfeed which takes the RSS feed from my blogs and converts the feed items into tweets automatically. For each site, I tweet a maximum of 5 updates every half an hour.
Twitterfeed did its job pretty well, feeding not only to Twitter, but also to Identi.ca, Facebook,… It is highly configurable to include or exclude RSS posts based on keywords in the title. Twitterfeed can add words before or after the post title and uses different URL shorteners, including “the king of short”, bit.ly.
Mario, the guy behind Twitterfeed, did a pretty good job in providing support via both Twitter and GetSatisfaction. What started small, grew into a machine with 700,000 feeds publishing millions of posts a day. Back in May, Betaworks and TAG invested in Twitterfeed, and the service went from a side project to a company. They kicked off a major overhaul of the site both in terms of backend systems and look-and-feel.
Unfortunately, migrations are migraines, and Twitterfeed’s uptime started to become erratic. Feeds would no longer feed, or feed tweets ad hoc. To top it off, the website used to configure feeds became extremely slow. Users pulled out their hair, me included.
Update Jan 17 2011: It looks like RSS2Twitter is no longer active.
Looking for alternatives, I stumbled upon RSS2Twitter, which up to today still runs in beta. RSS2Twitter has a clean and simple user interface, allowing users to easily combine input feeds with different Twitter accounts. The drawback is the lack of different features which made Twitterfeed so succesful.
While you could prefix and suffix your tweets, and filter RSS items based on keywords, it could only feed into Twitter and no other microblogs or social media. It used its own URL shortener, url4.eu, so you could not take advantage of aggregated shortener’s statistics which bit.ly gave. I admit though: RSS2Twitter’s built-in statistics are better than bit.ly’s, and more geared to a “Twitter user”.
So I gave it a shot. When my feeds on Twitterfeed went down for a couple of days, I migrated my most prominent feeds onto RSS2Twitter. And it worked. It worked until… it stopped working.. Or should I say, until it worked too much: On one fine day, at each update interval – 30 minutes in my case -, all feed items would be tweeted, and not the 3 to 5 I wanted tweeted per update.
This happened, of course, during a few days where I was really busy at work, and not monitoring what Twitter activity I generated. Soon my Twitter-followers were complaining about the excessive posting. Sure enough, nobody wants to get 20 to 30 tweets every half hour, many of them repeats. RSS2Twitter support folks admitted this was a problem, but it took for ages to solve. Good enough for me to disengage.
Just around the time of the RSS2Twitter debacle, Twitterfeed came back up, so I reactivated my feeds on my good old trusted service. Until the hiccups from about a week ago, that is. Feeds randomly stopped, the user interface changed, making it impossible to properly configure different feeds. Worse of all it took over three minutes to load the login screen. Once I clocked 15 minutes just to log in.
Today Mario apologized for the hiccups, explaining they are once again migrating the database and backend systems, but unfortunately, users are not very patient.
And that includes me. I tweeted “Does anyone know an alternative to Twitterfeed?” and sure enough, out of the blue, a reply came “Try us. We are in private beta. dlvr.it”. So I registered to be included in the beta test for dlvr.it and have been using it for a week now (check at the bottom of this post if you are interested in participating in their beta too).
I like dlvr.it… It is reliable and highly configurable. It lets you easily combine different inputs and outputs, just like RSS2Twitter while it has just as many features as Twitterfeed.
An additional feature, particularly useful for sites which get many updates per hour like my aggregation sites: they let you send tweets every 15 minutes. Twitterfeed and RSS2Twitter are limited to one update per 30 minutes. Unfortunately, for the moment they only feed to Twitter, and use their own shortening service converting all links to “dlvr.it” shorturls.
They do provide interesting statistics, which will keep you busy analysing your tweets to your heart’s content.
Update Jan, 17 2011:
dlvr.it has significantly extended its services since the time I wrote this post. You can now use other link shorteners. You can also map your own domain to use their shortener. And you can use dlvr.it to feed into Google Buzz and Facebook. As an additional feature, they will send an automatic email if one of your feeds is having a problem. Excellent stuff!
One RSS-to-Twitter service I have not played with yet, is Hootsuite, and online Twitter management tool which just won Mashable’s Open Web Award for best Twitter application.
The definitive plus is the seemless integration of the RSS-to-Twitter functionality within its multi-account Twitter tool, so you “have it all” in one package. The RSS-to-Twitter features are rather meager: while for each RSS, you can define which of one or many Twitter accounts you want to feed into, you can only feed once per hour at max. You can prefix, but not suffix a tweet, and there are no filters available. Hootsuite only uses the ow.ly URLshortener.
Google and Feedburner, tackling the market once more?
And then, two days ago content hogger Google announced they were entering both the URLshorteners and the RSS-to-Twitter market. “Two birds with one stone”, they must have thought. Feedburner, bought by Google for 100 million two years ago, now lets you feed the RSS feeds “burned” by their service onto Twitter. And they made it simple: Just go to your Feedburner’s feed configuration menu, click on the “Publicize” tab, select “Socialize” and off you go.
Feedburner, being “king of feeds” since ages, knows its business, so no surprise they included features not to be found in the other RSS-to-Twitter engines. They allow the automatic generation of hashtags, based on the categories tags you use for your posts. The updates onto Twitter don’t work on a fix interval, but your post is tweeted the moment Feedburner sees it in your feed. By default, Feedburner updates your feed every 30 minutes, but if your blog or website is configured to ping Feedburner automatically, then once a new post is published Feedburner will immediate pull in your updated feed and tweet the post. Neat!
While they were at it, they also convert all links to their newly introduced URL shortening service, “goo.gl”. It does not seem they provide any statistics at the moment, but it is easy to imagine the integration with Google Analytics, the “king of webstats”, is just around the corner.
While bit.ly, which only recently conquered the #1 place in the URLshorteners business, is putting up a nice fight to counter goo.gl, it might very well be that with its vast data infrastructure and know-how, Google will work all other RSS-to-Twitter services out of the market.
Time will tell, but one thing is for sure: whoever shows the most features, the highest speed and uptime, as well as the best integration, will win. Let the battle for URLshorteners and RSS-to-Twitter services begin.
The dlvr.it service is currently in “private beta”. You need to register for an invitation. After this post was published, the kind folks at dlvr.it gave us 10 invitations for our readers.
If you are interested in an invite, leave a comment on this post, or email me. Will send you the invite code.
No strings attached, though feedback during the beta tests are highly appreciated by the dlvr.it crowd!