Today Feed Wrangler celebrates its one year anniversary.
I remember quite clearly the evening when I first heard that Google Reader was shutting its doors. I was sitting at home when I happened to see something in my Twitter timeline about Reader. Once I read the article I had a rather big decision to make.
My, till then, secret side project that I’d started on a flight back from San Francisco the year before was a perfect lifeboat for people leaving Reader. At this point it was a working sync platform that I’d been using for my own feeds for a few months. But it wasn’t yet a product, it was a hobby. The decision I had to make (in a few minutes) was whether I wanted to dedicate the next six months to transforming it into a viable business. Opportunities like this don’t come around too often. In retrospect I’m glad I decided to take the leap.
The last year has by no means been an easy one. The process of scaling up Feed Wrangler to its current size has stretched me in more ways than I can count. The interesting thing about problems like this is that on their surface they present a straightforward solution, but the farther you go the more nuanced and tricky they become. I have learned more in the last 12 months about web services than I ever did in my preceding 10 years of web development.
Accomplishments this year
The year has seen a number of accomplishments that I’m rather proud of.
Firstly, the backend itself has matured and stabilized. Many of the initial decisions I had made about how to model and manage the firehose of feed data have been proved out by experience. The core logic and data model that powers the system has gone largely unchanged since launch and has shown itself capable of handling an ever increasing volume of feed items (currently at around 200 million articles, 800GB).
On the apps front, beyond the Feed Wrangler iOS app I was able to leverage all the backend infrastructure that I built out to launch Pod Wrangler last Fall. Having the backend already in place it was great to be able to focus on the podcast listening experience. I continue to look for opportunities like that where I can provide additional value for my members by reusing all the systems I need in order to provide the core Feed Wrangler experience.
Feed Wrangler has seen wide adoption by third-party apps. Its API is in use by at least 10 full featured RSS clients, with more being added on a consistent basis. I have also seen a fair bit of interest in the recently published Pod Wrangler API.
Bumps along the way
The physical hosting of the service has undergone constant upgrades since the system was launched. Feed Wrangler was initially hosted on a handful of Linode virtual servers. This quickly became overrun and was expanded out until it covered 20 machines of various kinds. Even with the fastest, largest machines Linode had to offer I was constantly hitting physical limits. This lead to a system reliability I wasn’t satisfied with. So this past Fall I migrated onto a bare metal setup of high performance servers with Soft Layer. This migration has added considerable headroom to the system, which in turn has dramatically improved reliability.
Keeping up with the customer support load of Feed Wrangler has not always been easy. Feed Wrangler was my first foray into the recurring subscription model and the increased customer support complexity that requires. While I think this has gotten much better of late, I am delighted to announce that I will be hiring someone in the next few weeks to provide focused help with this. The result should be a substantial improvement in support turnaround.
I have decided to keep the pricing for Feed Wrangler unchanged in its next year. It will continue to be just $18.99/year. While I could likely increase this a bit and not receive too much push back (most other comparable services are at least 25-50% more) that wouldn’t fit with my vision for Feed Wrangler. I want to provide a backend service that allows for a rich ecosystem of third party apps and clients. I want to leave space in your RSS budget to continue to support and grow the various developers who have worked hard in making Feed Wrangler part of their apps. The service is still sustainable and profitable at this price point.
Yet to Come
The second year of Feed Wrangler is shaping up to be one with several substantial improvements. The first year necessitated a significant investment and focus in the backend and infrastructure components of the service. The second year should allow me to focus more heavily on the more user visible parts. I have a number of projects I’m actively working on to improve the overall experience of using the service. Here are just a few that are on the more immediate horizon.
Website Redesign — The aesthetics and structure of the current feedwrangler.net website is decidedly dated. It is functional but not really enjoyable to use. I’m working on a major overhaul of this that I hope to launch in the coming months.
Pod Wrangler for Mac — I’m in late private alpha testing of a new Mac client for listening to your podcasts. My initial vision for this app is focused around the core listening experience. For a while now I’ve wanted to be able to finish an episode I’m listening to on my iPhone when I sit down at my Mac. The website player is sufficient for that but doesn’t give you access to things like the keyboard play/pause button. I’m expecting to do a public beta of this before WWDC in June.
Pod Wrangler for iPad — While I don’t personally use my iPad for listening to podcasts I’ve heard from enough people who do that I’ll be working on making the current Pod Wrangler iOS app universal. I expect this update to be ready this Summer.
I have many more little projects on the go but these three are likely the marquee improvements coming soon. If you have thoughts or suggestions about where the system should be heading, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would like to extend my genuine gratitude towards the members and supporters of Feed Wrangler. Jumping in and using a service as young as Feed Wrangler was certainly a risk on your part. I really appreciate the confidence you have shown in my abilities to deliver a great experience and your patience when I haven’t been able to quite live up to that.
It wouldn’t be a worthwhile endeavor without you. Thank you.