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The racism that fuels the 'war on terror' | Glenn Greenwald

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A new Gallup poll finds a majority of Americans oppose the drone-executions of US citizens on foreign soil. Then why do they support the Awlaki killing?

(updated below)

A new Gallup poll released Monday morning has a surprising finding: a majority of Americans - while supporting air strikes in foreign countries against foreign nationals suspected of Terrorism - oppose such air strikes when used to target US citizens who are suspected Terrorists, whether at home or on foreign soil:

The reason this is surprising is that when the US actually killed a US citizen on foreign soil on the grounds that he was a suspected Terrorist - Anwar al-Awlaki - large majorities approved. One poll at the time reported that "a large proportion of Americans believe the US Government made the correct decision in killing a US born Islamist militant in a drone strike last month" - specifically, that "69 per cent of respondents think the action taken by the US Government to kill Anwar al-Awlaki was justified" (that included 77% Republicans and 73% Democrats approving). Another poll at the time reported that Obama's approval ratings on national security increased eight points in the wake of the Awlaki killing. Meanwhile, Obama aides ran to Politico to boast that Awlaki's corpse would be a significant asset in Obama's re-election bid, leading to this Politico headline:

What can explain this obvious discrepancy? How can it be that a policy which a majority of Americans oppose (killing Americans on foreign soil on the grounds of suspected Terrorism) was so popular and politically beneficial for Obama when it was actually done to Awlaki? I'm not speaking here about those who support the US Government's right to kill US citizens on foreign soil without a trial: people who believe that and support the Awlaki execution are at least being consistent. I'm focusing here on how it can be that a majority of Americans say they oppose having Americans so targeted on foreign soil yet still support the Awlaki killing.

There are several possible factors explaining this discrepancy. It is probably easier to oppose such killings when considered in the abstract than it is when asked specifically about a person like Awlaki who had been subjected to such an intense government and media demonization campaign. It's also possible that intervening events between these polls - particularly the Rand Paul filibuster - created unprecedented media debate about the dangers of Obama's claimed assassination powers and caused people to re-think their wisdom (that was the ground cited by the ACLU's Laura Murphy when she praised Paul's protest: "As a result of Sen. Paul's historic filibuster, civil liberties got two wins: . . . Americans learned about the breathtakingly broad claims of executive authority undergirding the Obama administration's vast killing program").

But it seems clear there is a much more odious factor driving some of this. Many Americans can (a) say that they oppose the targeted killings of Americans on foreign soil while simultaneously (b) supporting the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen because, for them, the term "Americans" doesn't include people like Anwar al-Awlaki. "Americans" means their aunts and uncles, their nice neighbors down the street, and anyone else who looks like them, who looks and seems "American". They don't think those people - Americans - should be killed without charges by the US government if they travel on vacation to Paris or go to study for a semester in London. But the concept of "Americans" most definitely does not include people with foreign and Muslim-ish names like "Anwar al-Awlaki" who wear the white robes of a Muslim imam and spend time in a place like Yemen.

Legally - which is the only way that matters for this question - the New-Mexico-born Awlaki was every bit as much of an American citizen as the nice couple down the street. His citizenship was never legally revoked. He never formally renounced it. He was never charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime that could lead to the revocation of citizenship. No court ever considered revoking his citizenship, let alone did so. From a legal and constitutional perspective, there was not a single person "more American" than he. That's because those gradations of citizenship do not exist. One is either an American citizen or one is not. There is no such thing as "more American" or "less American", nor can one's citizenship be revoked by presidential decree. This does not exist.

But the effort to depict Muslims as something other than "real Americans" has long been a centerpiece of the US political climate in the era of the War on Terror. When it was first revealed in 2005 that the Bush administration was spying on the communications of Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law, a Bush White House spokesman sought to assure everyone that this wasn't targeting Real Americans, but only those Bad Ones that should be surveilled (meaning Muslims the Bush administration decided, without due process, were guilty):

"This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings and churches."

Identically, when the Israelis attacked the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010 and killed 9 people including the US-born teenager Furkan Dogan, some conservatives insisted that he was not a Real American because his parents were Turkish and he grew up in Turkey ("it is silly to call him an 'American of Turkish descent'. He, like the other members of his family, was a Turk"). The stark contrast in reactions between the sustained fury of the Turkish government over the killing of their citizens by the Israelis versus the support for those killings given by the US government was accounted for in part by the blind US support for whatever Israel does (including killing Americans), but also by the belief that Dogan wasn't really an American, not the Real Kind you get upset about when a foreign army kills them. about.

This decade-long Othering of Muslims - a process necessary to sustain public support for their continuous killing, imprisonment, and various forms of rights abridgments - has taken its toll. I'm most certainly not suggesting that anyone who supports Awlaki's killing is driven by racism or anti-Muslim bigotry. I am suggesting that the belief that Muslims are somehow less American, or even less human, is widespread, and is a substantial factor in explaining the discrepancy I began by identifying.

Does anyone doubt that if Obama's bombs were killing nice white British teeangers or smiling blond Swiss infants - rather than unnamed Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans and Somalis - that the reaction to this sustained killing would be drastically different? Does anyone doubt that if his overhead buzzing drones were terrorizing Western European nations rather than predominantly Muslim ones, the horror of them would be much easier to grasp?

Does it really take any debate to know that if the 16-year-old American suspiciously killed by the US government two weeks after killing his father had been Jimmy Martin in Sweden rather than Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in Yemen, the media interest and public outcry would be far more substantial, and Robert Gibbs would have been widely scorned if he had offered this vile blame-the-victim justification for killing Jimmy rather than Abdulrahman? It is indisputably true that - just as conservatives argued that Furkan Dogan was not a Real American - large numbers of Americans believe the same about the Denver-born teenager named Abdulrahman. This ugly mindset is not the only factor that leads the US public to support more than a decade of US killing and rights abridgments aimed primarily at Muslims, including their fellow citizens, but it is certainly a significant one.

Amazingly, someDemocratic partisans, in order to belittle these injustices, like to claim that only those who enjoy the luxury of racial and socioeconomic privilege would care so much about these issues. That claim is supremely ironic. It reverses reality. That type of privilege is not what leads one to care about and work against these injustices. To the contrary, it's exactly that privilege that causes one to dismiss concerns over these injustices and mock and scorn those who work against them. The people who insist that these abuses are insignificant and get too much attention are not the ones affected by them, because they're not Muslim, and thus do not care.

The perception that the state violence, rights abridgments and expansions of government power ushered in by the War on Terror affect only Muslims long ago stopped being true. But ensuring that people continue to believe that is the key reason why it has been permitted to continue for so long.

Domestic surveillance aimed at Muslims

The New Jersey Star Ledger this morning has an excellent interview with CUNY Professor Diala Shamas, who just co-authored a new report on the devastating impact of the NYPD's shockingly invasive and indsicriminate surveillance program aimed at Muslim communities in New York and New Jersey. She documents in particular how this type of surveillance, aimed at innocent Muslims, creates an intense climate of fear and chills political speech. Would anyone tolerate having such sweeping surveillance programs infiltrating Jewish or Christian communities in the US? I once asked this question of leading New York Mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, who supports the NYPD program, and she refused to answer). But the answer is obvious: of course not. That is the point.

UPDATE

The ACLU's Jameel Jaffer perfectly summarizes the point I am making from those polls:


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datavortex
2808 days ago
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Greenwald continues being right about thing.
Stockbridge, GA
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Naming the anonymous victims of US drone attacks

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Less than 20% of drone victims have been named. UK-based NGO The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has a new project: Name the Dead. There's a fundraiser here. (HT: @ggreenwald)
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datavortex
2808 days ago
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Stockbridge, GA
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Citizens who helped find killer cop denied reward

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Ken Layne, writes that the authorities have denied the rewards promised to those who helped them find cop-killer Christopher Dorner. [The Awl]

Three brave heroes who survived their encounters with Dorner have since claimed the reward, but the stingy governments and groups who offered the money now refuse to pay because Dorner somehow didn't survive an army of cops roasting and demolishing the mountain cabin he holed up inside for his last stand.

After the LAPD's gung-ho public rampage in search of Dorner, a final insult to the people they ostensibly serve seems entirely appropriate.

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datavortex
2808 days ago
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Predictable. The cops murdering him also did so for money.
Stockbridge, GA
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Three Months to Scale NewsBlur

49 Comments and 86 Shares

At 4:16pm last Wednesday I got a short and to-the-point email from Nilay Patel at The Verge with only a link that started with the host “googlereader.blogspot.com”. The sudden spike in NewsBlur’s visitors immediately confirmed — Google was shutting down Reader.

Late night at the office

I had been preparing for a black swan event like this for the last four years since I began NewsBlur. With the deprecation of their social features a year ago I knew it was only a matter of time before Google stopped supporting Reader entirely. I did not expect it to come this soon.

As the Storify history of the Reader-o-calypse, NewsBlur suffered a number of hurdles with the onslaught of new subscribers.

A few of my challenges and solutions

I was able to handle the 1,500 users who were using the service everyday, but when 50,000 users hit an uncachable and resource intensive backend, unless you’ve done your homework and load tested the living crap out of your entire stack, there’s going to be trouble brewing. Here’s just a few of the immediate challenges I faced over the past four days:

  • My hosting provider, Reliable Hosting Services, was neither reliable, able to host my increasing demands, or a service I could count rely on. I switched to Digital Ocean and immediately got to writing new Fabric scripts so I could deploy a new app/task server by issuing a single command and having it serve requests automatically within 10 minutes of bootstrapping.
  • It didn’t take long to max out my Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) account’s quota of 10,000 emails a day. So a few hours into the melee I switched to Mailgun, which unfortunately resulted in emailing myself 250,000 error reports. If you tried to email me and couldn’t get through, it’s because 50,000 emails about lost database connections made their way ahead of you in line.
  • Eventually, I was just plain blacklisted on SES for sending too many emails.
  • Fortunately, when the PayPal fraud department called because of an unprecedented spike in payments, I was prepared.
  • HAProxy would Having HAProxy serve errors (site is down, maintenance, timeouts, etc) with a 200 OK status code instead of the proper 500 Exception status code because of a ridiculous undocumented requirement to include HTTP Headers at the top of the error template. When your webapp uses status codes to determine errors, you get extremely strange behavior when it loads utter crap into your DOM.
  • The inevitable file descriptor limits on Linux means that for every database connection you make, you use up one of the 1,024 file descriptors that are allocated to your process by default. Changing these limits is not only non-trivial, but they don’t tend to stick. This is responsible for bringing down Mongo, PostgreSQL, and the real-time Node servers, all at different times of the night.
  • The support queue is enormous and I’ve had to spend big chunks of my 16 hour days reassuring paying customers that eventually Stripe will forgive me and my unresponsive servers and will send the payment notification that is responsible for automatically upgrading their accounts to premium.

The sad extent of my St. Patrick’s Day

As a one-man-shop it has been humbling to receive the benefit of the doubt from many who have withheld their judgment despite the admittedly slow loadtimes and downtime NewsBlur experienced. Having the support of the amazing NewsBlur community is more than a guy could ask for. The tweets of encouragement, voting NewsBlur up on replacereader.com (If you haven’t yet, please tweet a vote for “#newsblur to #replacereader”), and the many positive comments and blog posts from people who have tried NewsBlur is great.

It has also been a dream come true to receive accolades from the many who are trying NewsBlur for the first time and loving it. Since the announcement, NewsBlur has welcomed 5,000 new premium subscribers and 60,000 new users (from 50,000 users originally).

NewsBlur users are intelligent, kind, and good looking!

The next three months

Over the next three months I’ll be working on:

For those of you who are still trying to decide where to go now that you’re a Reader refugee let me tell you a few of the unique things NewsBlur has to offer:

  1. Radical transparency. NewsBlur is totally open source and will remain that way.
  2. It still feels like RSS, just with a few more bells and whistles. NewsBlur provides actual list of posts, as opposed to the more curated magazine format of some of the other popular replacements. This clean interface makes it easy to see the stories you want. One innovation however is the four different view options you have. NewsBlur can show you the original site, feed, text or story view.
  3. It has training. NewsBlur hides stories you don’t want to read based on tags, keywords, authors, etc. It also highlights stories you want to read, based on the same criteria. This allows you to find the stories you care about, not just the stories that the hive Hive cares about. And best of all, NewsBlur will show you why stories are either highlighted or hidden by showing the criteria in green or red.
  4. NewsBlur has rebuilt the social community that Google had stripped out of Reader. Users can share stories through their Blurblog and discover new content by following friends’ Blurblogs. The People Have Spoken is the blurblog of popular stories.
  5. Because NewsBlur is entirely open-source, if you don’t want to pay you can host your own server. Instructions are on GitHub, where you can also find the source code for the NewsBlur iPhone + iPad app and Android app.
  6. Most importantly, NewsBlur is not entirely a free app. The immediate benefits of revenue have been very clear over the past few days. Not only are NewsBlur’s interests are aligned with its users, but as more users join NewsBlur, it makes more revenue that can be used to directly support the new users. Not convinced that paid is better than free? Read Pinboard’s Maciej Ceglowski’s essay Don’t Be a Free User.

Shiloh during better times. Your premium subscription goes to both server costs and feeding her

With NewsBlur’s native iOS app and Android app, you can read your news and share it with your friends anywhere. And with the coming improvements over the next three months, you bet NewsBlur will be the #1 choice for Google Reader refugees. survivors.

Join NewsBlur for $24/year and discover what RSS should have been.

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ksw
2806 days ago
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Excellent write-up. I'm growing more confident about my decision to use NewsBlur in place of Reader.
Manhattan
shanel
2806 days ago
This is what brought me here.
datavortex
2808 days ago
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Great tale from the DevOps battlefield
Stockbridge, GA
blueminder
2818 days ago
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"Paypal’s fraud department just called, asked me what’s going on. Asked the rep from Omaha if she’s heard of Reader, and then a big Ohhh."
San Francisco, CA
pyrona
2814 days ago
Heeeey, when you share something you should always comment something so we can reply to you! Newsblur has a, uh, "feature" that makes it so others can't comment on your shares unless you do first. (I'm only telling you this here, because it's the most recent thing you shared that you commented on ^_^)
blueminder
2814 days ago
Ah, I didn't know that's how it works on this end of the RSS world. http://sighroll.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/themoreyouknow.jpg
SuzeVich
2814 days ago
BTW: You TOTALLY got me with Shiloh ... I would have paid even if you hadn't stopped the free subscriptions. ;D
popular
2818 days ago
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42 public comments
parisferra
2812 days ago
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Excellent stuff. I go straight for premium membership. Good products deserve support.
heliostatic
2813 days ago
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Best news reader around, and the best team building it. Plus, you always know what features are coming next if you check the various branches on github.
Williamstown, MA
sigvei
2814 days ago
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_Slik_ snakker du med kundene dine. Enmannsforetaket NewsBlur tjuedoblet brukermassen over natta.
Oslo
maistrack
2816 days ago
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Simply awesome!!
keri
2817 days ago
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might not be for everyone, but it's for me
chapel thrill, nc
htakeshi
2817 days ago
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Google Rederがサービス停止を突然、発表。試行錯誤しながら、私も環境移行をしています。
その後の展開は、ビジネスモデルのケーススタディとしても、考えさせられることが多いです。
andycwb
2817 days ago
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Excellent opportunity. Just signed up for the super-premium extra dog food option.
gienahghurab
2817 days ago
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Actually just testing my blurblog... *'.'*
BLueSS
2817 days ago
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I love NewsBlur, and this was a nice read.
KevinMMeredith
2817 days ago
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Nice summary of what happened
Victorville, CA 92392 USA
smadin
2817 days ago
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Some interesting detail on @NewsBlur's Readerpocalypse.
Boston
pastorwalters
2817 days ago
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Interesting story of NewsBlur's rapid growth after Google's Reader shut down announcement.
Two Rivers, WI
tfield
2817 days ago
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Post Mortem on Readerpocalypse glitches from Newsblur which I switched to from Google Reader a while back. Great service.
Alexandria, VA
robferrer
2818 days ago
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Really interesting story of a sudden spike in demand for @newsblur
Leamington Spa, UK
to7
2818 days ago
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Newsblur news:
indra
2818 days ago
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fun times :)
Canberra
lpmpessoal2
2818 days ago
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Como a vida está a mudar ao NewsBlur com o fim do Google Reader. História interessante. Na primeira pessoa.
TheRomit
2818 days ago
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I hope that doesn't mean those API end points requested by the W8 developer are going to take a back seat :-(
santa clara, CA
superiphi
2818 days ago
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love the transparency at #newsblur :)
Idle, Bradford, United Kingdom
CliffS
2818 days ago
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Thanks for the update Samuel! This is why I prefer to support smaller operations--my input actually counts for something.
Wahiawa, Hawaii
trepidity
2818 days ago
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Excellent story
adamgurri
2818 days ago
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Notes from the front
New York, NY
agonist
2818 days ago
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Trial by fire is always an exciting challenge. I paid up and like what I see so far. Good luck to you.
the dark side of the sun.
mithrandir
2818 days ago
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I'm super excited to see NewsBlur take off like this. Congrats!
sredfern
2818 days ago
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Congrats Sam! (awesome name btw)
Sydney Australia
danatnr
2818 days ago
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Fascinating story of NewsBlur programmer whose demand increased tenfold when Google Reader announced closing.
Ohio
nickoneill
2818 days ago
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5 days and @samuelclay already has time to write blog posts, amazing.
san francisco
smilerz
2818 days ago
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Kinda wished I had found NewsBlur before becoming a Reader refugee. Great work and hang in there - all of the hard work will pay off!
Chicago or thereabouts
fredw
2818 days ago
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Great read on scaling exploding web apps. Been there, done that.
Portland, OR
pberry
2818 days ago
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Love the run down and appreciate the time it took to update us.
Chico, CA
samuel
2818 days ago
Ok, I'm going to admit it right now. My girlfriend wrote a good chunk of the post as a template, which I then rewrote with specifics. Seriously, she's the absolute best.
jbloom
2818 days ago
Hire your girlfriend to do PR. She is awesome! :D
jbloom
2818 days ago
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Love this detailed account of NewsBlur after the Google Reader closing announcement. NewsBlur rocks!
Columbus, Ohio
jbloom
2818 days ago
Going to get my dad a premium account.
DracoLlasa
2818 days ago
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been very impressed with the service and the ramp up. only took a few days and things are running pretty smooth. Glad i made the move here
mgeraci
2818 days ago
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Congrats, Sam, and keep up the amazing work!
New York, NY
tedder
2818 days ago
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all hail Samuel Clay! Great work. I reached out in case I could help in devops, but I didn't know the extent of your personal inbox disaster.
Uranus
samuel
2818 days ago
Don't know if you noticed, but I accidentally sent myself 250,000 error emails, so yeah, my inbox is currently jammed.
tedder
2818 days ago
yes- that's why I said "personal inbox disaster" :) spam cannons are always fun.
jzsimon
2818 days ago
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Great story!
iross
2818 days ago
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Holy crap. Am I reading that right? NewBlur went from 1,500 users to 60,000+?

Any chance those shirts make a comeback? I'd buy some NB swag.
Madison, Wi
CliffS
2818 days ago
I think it's 50k to 110k.
kyleniemeyer
2818 days ago
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Hey, I'm in this post! Perhaps not my most flattering picture...
Corvallis, OR
kyleniemeyer
2818 days ago
Also, I think that NewsBlur has pretty much recovered from the Great Reader Exodus.
samuel
2818 days ago
Nope, not even close to recovered. While the servers are stable, the load times are now 9X where they should be. I have charted some remedies, but they're going to take time. And I still have yet to go 24 hours without a server meltdown.
kyleniemeyer
2818 days ago
Yeah, I did notice the outage this morning. At least, things seemed better today than they had all last week.
jbloom
2818 days ago
Samuel, at least I am able to use my iPad now. And I am glad to see from all of this that you know your stuff with databases and such. You know WAY more than I do! :D
satadru
2818 days ago
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Excellent work.
New York, NY
BiG_E_DuB
2818 days ago
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This guy is awesome. Premium is basically confirmed for me...might do it Monday
Charlotte, NC, USA
samuel
2818 days ago
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Here it is, my last five days in blog form. Biggest lesson learned: take more photos!
Cambridge, Massachusetts
gazuga
2818 days ago
Epic post from a prescient fellow. It's plain you've been mulling over the question of free users, with good cause. For my counterpoint to Maciej Ceglowski, see "Transitioning back to freemium" in the ideas section of the support forums.
gazuga
2818 days ago
Loving my t-shirt, by the way!
ChrisHamby
2818 days ago
Thanks for all your hard work! I didn't send in a photo of my tshirt because it's a few sizes too big... but that's the last thing I'd want you to worry about now!
sashae
2818 days ago
thanks for working so hard to keep all of us poor news junkies happy... you've built a really great thing!
InKunKa
2818 days ago
I'm thrilled with Newsblur, and happy to be a new paying member. I wish I had known about it before :)
mocker
2818 days ago
Keep up with the transparency of what's going on with any site issues. As someone who already went premium, I appreciate it.
sredfern
2818 days ago
Your dog may gain some weight with all those premium subscribers...
trekkie
2818 days ago
Wore my shirt all day but forgot to take a picture.
2818 days ago
You won me over, I completely ditched google reader and deleted all of the data over there. I need some confirmation on if the price will go back to $12 and when exactly it will do this, I understand why you did it but I was there when it changed and that obviously made me do a double take. I NEED the features of the premium account so please let me know if I should wait or if the price will never go back down.
mfitzhugh
2818 days ago
You're doing a great job, Samuel. When I checked out Newsblur last week, your dedication to building a great service was evident from the get-go. It made signing up for premium an easy choice. Keep up the good work, and don't worry about breaking a few things along the way.
PunkRockWarlord
2818 days ago
I joined a few days ago and have been very impressed. I'd been wanting an RSS client that would sync between my laptop and iOS devices (and wasn't tied to Google), and NewsBlur delivers on all fronts. Thanks for putting in all the work, Samuel!
pdp68
2818 days ago
Speaking as a Reader refugee, I have been very impressed with NewsBlur so far - so much so that I am starting to wish that Google had shut down Reader sooner. In many ways, NewsBlur strikes me as being everything that Reader could have been.
kworr
2818 days ago
Maybe you need some help? I have some skills on nginx/freebsd/pgsql and making sites go stable on the high load (not just extremely high, like 2kk request per day).
raorn
2818 days ago
You did a great job, Samuel! dev.newsblur.com is something I always wanted. Already fell in love with "intelligent training" feature.
sylvaingaffie
2817 days ago
Man, you are AWESOME !! I still wonder how I would react in your case. I probably would have sank into madess :o).
stavrosg
2817 days ago
I live in Europe, so I woke up one morning with NewsBlur already in meltdown mode, and found about Reader a while later, so I just decided to sit out the mayhem and return to my feeds a couple of days later. You handled the situation as best as you could, congratulations and be assured that my premium subscription will be renewed once it ends. I am also glad that I quit Reader away ahead of the announcement of its shutdown and found this service.
nebkor
2817 days ago
As someone said on HackerNews, your first hire should be a good sysadmin; making changes to ulimits is easy and easy to make stick :)
cmn
2816 days ago
Here's 24$, love it!
Alpha_Cluster
2818 days ago
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Interesting post about the the aftermath of the Google Reader announcement on the awesome NewsBlur service!
DaftDoki
2818 days ago
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What one person has built is impressive. Success disasters are always better to deal with than normal disasters.
Seattle
ocrammarco
2817 days ago
Agreed, as a developer I have nothing but admiration and sympathy.
katiegirl
2817 days ago
This is exactly why I have given this guy my $24. He seems pretty up and up.