Feedburner has released an interesting new report on web-based RSS Readers, prompted by the recent introduction of Google Reader into its stats (incidentally, for some reason R/WW only increased by around 20% after Google Reader was added to Feedburner; whereas most other tech sites increased by 40+%).
RSS Analytics plagued by unreliable stats
Feedburner is putting a lot of effort into enhancing the way it measures RSS feeds. I was talking to someone the other day about how RSS analytics is still very much a nascent industry - i.e. it's even more difficult to get reliable feed reader stats than it is to get reliable webpage stats (and I've written before about how easy it is to manipulate both). Feedburner itself points out one of my particular bugbears at the moment - how being a default feed in an RSS Reader like Netvibes or Pageflakes artificially increases your RSS subscriber number (in some cases by a large amount). R/WW has benefited from this behavior too, as we are a default feed in the bundles that Rojo provides. But alas, we're not a default feed on the other popular RSS Readers and startpages :-( Anyway, all of these things mean that a blog's RSS subscriber number should be taken with more than a few grains of salt.
Feedburner focuses on Audience Engagement
Despite all these issues with RSS analytics, Feedburner is leading the way in feed management for consumers and in this new report they discuss some new measurements - focused on how people are reading feeds and interacting (i.e. clicking or 'viewing') with them. They call this "Audience engagement" and it seems to be a priority now for Feedburner, in order to counter the issues with straight subscriber counts (e.g. the default feed issue discussed above). For the record, I think this new focus on audience engagement makes perfect sense for Feedburner - as it will help move RSS analytics forward and remove some of the stigma attached to it, due to the current unreliability over RSS subscriber counts.
Feedburner has an aggregate db of 604,533 feeds and from that, they've come up with the following chart of audience engagement by 'views', for web-based RSS Readers:
It shows that Google Reader is now the number 1 web-based RSS Reader with 59%, well ahead of former king Bloglines (which has been cruising along with no major re-designs, living off its reputation, for too long now). Netvibes has shown amazing growth over the past year and is now in an enviable position amongst the start pages. Newsgator is probably more of a niche enterprise and high end consumer play these days, which may suit it just fine. In reality, it's a battle between Google and Bloglines (owned by Ask.com) for web-based RSS Readership.
Note that MyYahoo, one of the top 3 RSS Readers overall in Feedburner, does not figure in 'views', as it only displays content summaries - so users need to click through to the site to view the full content. This is reflected in Feedburner's graph of audience engagement by clicks:
A similar thing could be said about Netvibes and the other start pages, where users generally click through to view content. Interestingly, both of these charts suggest that Netvibes is 3 times larger than live.com, Microsoft's start page. Although I'm sure even Microsoft would admit that at this stage, Netvibes is a much more sophisticated product. Microsoft (and Google) both probably figure they have plenty of time to catch up, as start pages are still a niche early adopter thing. In fact, there's a very good chance Netvibes or Pageflakes will be acquired by one of the big 3 (Google, MS, Yahoo) by end of this year. My money's on Yahoo acquiring Netvibes.
Pheedo has also come out with some stats for web-based RSS Readers. Their chart for market share indicates that Newsgator Online leads in subscriber numbers (in Pheedo):
Note however that Pheedo's stats for Spring 2006 (PDF) showed that Bloglines was leading with 30% share then, against just 10% for Newsgator:
So what has changed since Spring 2006, to make Newsgator Online the leader amongst Pheedo publishers? I think that needs more explanation, if anyone from Pheedo is reading this.
It's clear that Google, Yahoo, Ask.com (Bloglines) are leading the way with web-based RSS Readers. Google and Yahoo have different approaches for now and Microsoft isn't bothered with a general web-based Reader - they will focus on email (Outlook), the browser (IE) and start page (live.com). Netvibes is showing impressive numbers and so must now be a prime acquisition target for one of the big 3 - and my guess is that Yahoo needs a strong 'start page' type technology moreso than the other two, who are doing it themselves (live.com and Google Personalized Homepage).
Disclaimer: I am an advisor to Nooked, which is an RSS marketing company.