SubToMe and the Open Web

I am convinced that the web is currently crippled in many ways compared to the closed silos which are Android, iOS, but also the giant platforms like Google+, Facebook or Twitter. The web has an incredible set of advantages compared to this plaform: the distributed-ness, the ubiquity, the lack of gatekeeper… etc

Yet, in 2014, the open web is much harder to use on many many levels than these plaforms and that’s what we should address first.


Following someone on a silo is often as easy as hitting a basic “Follow” button. Twitter does that extremely well, but Facebook, G+ and everybody else do it. The problem is obvious: there is a strong coupling between the reading platform and the publishing platform: you need a Twitter account to follow me there. Yikes.

The web itself is an amazing publishing and reading platform, why then, couldn’t we have web scale buttons to follow sites we like using the tools we pick? This is what SubToMe does.


I hope you’re questioning SubToMe’s openness.

The first, easy (yet skewed) answer would be to send you to the source code: it’s all in there, accessible to anyone for read and write: you can (and should) submit pull requests to make it better as some others have done in the past.

However, its openess is also guaranteed by the fact that it’s server-less. Most silos are probably built by good people. Yet, the economics of these silos are such that they need to lock your data in order to scale. Twitter needs to keep track of what you read if they want to show you relevant ads, Google needs to keep track of what you’re looking for to show you other ads… and paying services also have an incentive to lock you down if they want to guarantee their revenue stream (I’m looking at you, LinkedIn!).

SubToMe is not like that: it does not run on a server, but in your browser, fully. The consequence is that it’s completey free to run (except for the domain name hosting), and scales extremely well. Even when hundreds of milions of people use the button, the cost of making it available is the cost of bandwidth spent to download its couple KiloBytes once. This means, that there will never be a need for SubToMe to charge or put ads in front of its users.

So, not only not being open would be technically challenging, but it would also be economically difficult to sustain.

Then why do you care?

When somebody claims they’re doing the right thing, it’s mandatory to ask them what it their motive. After all, these silos are profitable businesses and they pay their employees significantly as well. Why not do the same?

Because I’m not into growing a slice, but into growing a pie. I am convinced that these silos are growing at the expense of the rest of the web. As time passes, we visit less and less different websites. And these few websites are probably receiving an increasing share of the total web’s revenues. My bet is that the web, like nature is stronger when there is more diversity, and I’d argue that the webdiversity is currently going down, exactly like its natural counterpart.

My business is also based on the amount of webdiversity. In a distributed world, it’s hard to collect data from thousands or milions of different sites and the need for services like Superfeedr exists. I believe our insterests in terms of open-ness is perfectly aligned with our business interest, which is why we picked open protocols for our API, and why we’re doing SubToMe.

Written By
Julien Genestoux —

Call to action

It’s no secret that there is a violent attention race in today’s web. Keeping the user focused is extremely hard and every possible context switching will be used by the users to open a new tab to check their emails, Twitter or Google News.

Of course, you write great content for the web and your readers avidly read all your stories. Yet, when they reach the end of blog post, they’re left to themselves: not sure about what they should do next. And that’s exactly at that time that they’ll switch tabs, apps or click away.

Yet, it’s also once they’ve started learning about you, once they’ve decided they’re interested in your content that you should make sure you let them decide if they want more: offer them easily actionable buttons to follow your content!

This is exactly the reason why we put SubToMe buttons at the end of our blog posts, and why our Wordpress plugin now has an option to include a button at the end of each post!

Written By
Julien Genestoux —

Data Attributes

Last week, I met Chris and we had a great discussion on how to improve SubToMe by supporting data-* attributes on the buttons. This is an HTML5 spec which enables developers to embed data along with its related DOM element. This is exactly how SubtoMe should be designed as per Chris comments.

Using different feeds for multiple buttons has been a pretty common feature request. No later than last week, LLoyd asked for it. Even though it is possible without the data attributes, it involves a lot more Javascript and is significantly less elegant.

Now, each SubToMe button can be configured to specify what are the resources being susbcribed to, as well as the feeds. The button can also be used to include a recommended tool for the subscription.

Check the publisher documentation if you want to see how this can be setup for your buttons very easily!

Written By
Julien Genestoux —

Improved SubToMe Widget

Our friend Matthias just pushed an update to the SubToMe wordpress plugin. This update brings a lot of great features for anyone with a blog: install it now.

First, it brings more customization to the button itself: you can easily change its look, as well as configure the text around it. You can now pick between a regular HTML button, or the SubToMe logo.

But most importantly, you can now also include the button in more than just the side bar. Sidebar widgets are great, but they’re also out of the flow. This version introduces the ability to put the button at the bottom of each post.

The benefit if that if the user has appreciated the post they just read, it’s now simple to just hit the button and subscribe using their favorite tool!

You can also add the button on pages, or even on lists of posts like search results, archive or the home page. Finally, and that’s for the most advanced users, the plugins introduces a shortcode to be integrated in completely custom layouts or inside posts themselves!

Install the SubToMe Plugin for Wordpress now

Written By
Julien Genestoux —

Counting Subscribers

Right or wrong, the amount of “followers” is often used as a proxy for popularity and importance. We believe this is the reasons why Feedburner quickly got so popular: it gave publishers and bloggers an interesting metric that they could compare. Years later, the number of followers on Twitter is also prominent on their follow buttons.

Now, since SubToMe is fully decentralized (publishing applications and subscribing applications are unaware of each other), it’s really hard to provide accurate analytics (not that Feedburner’s stats were accurate either… but that’s another story). However, there is one thing that SubToMe can tell the publisher: that a susbcription happened.

Basically, everytime someone clicks on the SubToMe button you’ve put on your site, SubToMe will trigger a Javascript event that you should listen to. The event incldues the following information:

  • feeds: the list of feeds to which the user may have subscribed
  • resource: the HTTP resource related to the subscription
  • The app used to subscribe: its name and its url.

Here is some sample code: window.addEventListener("message", function(event) { if (event.origin !== "") return; // do something with });

By default, the load.js file, which is the default way to load the SubToMe button, will also trigger a Google Analytics (if your site uses it) event to tell you that somebody subscribed to your feed!

Written By
Julien Genestoux —

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