XMarks deathwatch cancelled — but will Freemium be enough?

Posted by & filed under Catherine Uses..., Web 2.0.

So this happened. My personal bookmark syncing tool of choice, Xmarks, won’t be disappearing after all. Xmarks CEO James Joaquin writes:

The Xmarks service will evolve to have both a free component and a premium component – we’ll share all the details once the deal is done.

Cool.

But this raises a good point: Xmarks got to this point not by any lack of popularity, but by never managing to come up with a way to become profitable. Consequently, they’re now forced to either close up shop, or sell Xmarks to a new owner – one who is not guaranteed to be able to turn a profit either.

Web users have come to expect free services to remain free and many such services can’t always make the move to a “premium” subscription model. When there is an opportunity for a formerly-free service to move to a paid model–any paid model–they should expect to lose a significant number of users.

MailChimp and Second Life are both good examples of freemium services where the necessary infrastructure simply falls outside the ability of the average user or organization to effectively duplicate, but Xmarks’ functionality falls dangerously close to the same problem that ultimately killed Netscape:

Four hours later, the Wall Street Journal was delivered, and it already contained an article describing what we had just done. “Clients aren’t where the money is anyway,” ran the quote from Marc.

jwz, 12 October 1994

By the end of the 90s, the idea that you’d pay money for a web browser was alien to all but the most devoted members of the Church of Opera. And today, many web professionals have never heard of Netscape’s early server software at all; it’s since been all but replaced by Free Software-licensed Linux and Apache.

So what’s the moral here? If something comes along and replaces Xmarks, and it manages to do so for free, isn’t that better? Maybe. I suspect most Xmarks users wouldn’t have been terribly inconvenienced by having to use the native Chrome or Mozilla syncing tools. Still, that’s not where Xmarks’ value is for me: I need to sync bookmarks between different browsers. There would have still been options available, but Xmarks shutting down would have been extremely inconvenient for me, to say the least.

Maybe the moral is that if there’s software or a service we use–particularly ones we can’t do without–we should buy the paid version when the opportunity and means present themselves. At the very least, it sends a message to the creators–and any potential investors–that the service is valuable enough to someone that they’ll shell out money for it.

4 Responses to “XMarks deathwatch cancelled — but will Freemium be enough?”

  1. curtismchale

    I’ve never understood why people that need to sync bookmarks between different browsers and even cross platform aren’t using Delicious. I’ve found it to be way better when I need to find an old bookmark the the native bookmarking of any browser.

    If it’s the password sync that you want in Xmarks you can use 1Password (with dropbox), KeePass (cross platform with Dropbox) or LastPass in the browser. That’s why I stopped using Xmarks long ago. It was way shorter in features that all of it’s competitors.

    • Catherine Winters

      Like I said, there’s definitely options. Delicious and LastPass would’ve been Plan B, but there still–so far as I know–isn’t a good “fire-and-forget” option to get bookmarks from the browsers I use regularly to Safari on the Mac and from there, to my iPhone. (This sounded a lot less nitpicky in my head, honest.)

      But Delicious? Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s always rubbed me the wrong way, somehow–and I realize that sounds completely insane. Maybe I’ll give it another try.

  2. Joe Siegrist

    Full Disclosure I’m from LastPass — we bought Xmarks.

    Xmarks is looking like it’s going to be profitable, but even if it’s not LastPass is profitable enough already to cover it for the long haul. Part of the reason LastPass immediately acted to save Xmarks is because we didn’t want to see a popular cloud based service die — if cloud based services die everyone loses. The public trust is eroded and people become jaded against doing business, expecting the worst.

    • Catherine Winters

      I definitely agree with you there, Joe One only has to look at yesterday’s reaction on Twitter to Delicious getting the axe.

      Thanks for picking Xmarks up!