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April 18, 2008

FeedBlitz, Gawker Media, and Amazon S3

FeedBlitz (in which I’m an investor and board member) recently announced that all Gawker Media sites are offering weekly updates of their top five stories via FeedBlitz-generated email. Gawker needed to be able to customize the look-and-feel of the newsletters which go out to match the appearance of the individual sites and needed to be able to let readers manage their own signup, email address changes, and unsignup; FeedBlitz is an answer to these needs.

Not coincidentally, FeedBlitz CEO Phil Hollows also blogged that FeedBlitz has begun using Amazon S3 for many of its storage needs. Huge potential traffic from Gawker properties and similar megasites makes it essential to be able to scale fast but impossible to predict how fast. S3 is an answer to these needs (I have no financial interest in S3 but am fascinated by its potential to enable rapid prototyping and scaling).

Phil describes Gawker this way: “Gawker sites… are well written but often irreverent, somewhat profane, sometimes politically incorrect and frequently deal with topics you might not want to discuss with your mother.” They include Valleywag, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, and Defamer among many others and are, to say the least, often visited. To see how closely Gawker was able to reproduce the graphic elements of the websites in the automatically generated email, look here for a Valleywag sample and here for Gizmodo.

FeedBlitz is sending out more than 3 million emails (double opt-in emails, not spam) per day. In the old days when a company grew, it brought operations inhouse in order to save money – it verticalized. That was then and this is now. The fastest way for FeedBlitz or any other modern company to grow is to outsource everything that’s not a core competence. So FeedBlitz moved all of its image and script-serving to Amazon S3 rather than just keep buying bigger and bigger servers. Total bill at this point: about $3/day for a significant amount of both storage and traffic. And Amazon’s multiple connections to the Internet backbone and replicated database can serve this stuff up much faster than any local hosting site or a (shudder) in-company data center. No matter how fast FeedBlitz grows, its growth will be easily absorbed within the Amazon cloud. FeedBlitz engineering is free to concentrate on adding new functionality for publishers of newsletters as it worries less about pure scaling of existing functionality – often an Achilles heel for fast-growing services.

Phil says: “If you're running a site or service that is going to get big, I'm now of the opinion that you're nuts not to outsource to S3 or a similar service to store and serve objects that aren't core to your value add. It's faster, better and cheaper and whole lot less hassle. Do it!”

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