« Napster (NAPS) on Napster-to-Go (quotes from the conf call) | Main | United Online 4Q04 results and guidance details »

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Did Ask Jeeves ask enough questions?

Only a day after Ask Jeeves announced its acquisition of Bloglines, CNET releases a preview of NewsBurst, its own web-based RSS reader. According to Steve Rubel, the launch of NewsBurst follows the launch of similar branded RSS readers by The Guardian and LA Times last week.

There's a simple reason content companies are trying to get into the RSS reader market:

Branded RSS readers come pre-loaded with RSS feeds from the content provider. That locks in customers and guarantees traffic. Hosting the RSS reader on the content provider's web site also makes that site the customer's destination of choice.

So we should expect a proliferation of branded RSS readers from other large content providers as well. Smaller content providers will partner with RSS reader providers, as Hollywood Media has done with Pluck.

Meanwhile, the desktop RSS reader market is also moving fast. Om Malik reports that You Software has released You Subscribe, which integrates RSS capabilities with Microsoft Outlook.

All of which leads to the obvious question: Did Ask Jeeves ask enough questions about the RSS reader market before deciding to acquire Bloglines?

This is Jason Calacanis' comment on Bloglines:

It’s a horrible business and it will never make  money.

Congratulations and respect to Mark for having the sense to dump the business now when it has some perceived value. However, I can tell you clearly there is no business model for web-based news readers, and in two years 95-99% of the RSS reader market will be consolidated into three of the following players: My Yahoo, Microsoft Outlook/Outlook Express, Google’s RSS reader (if and when it comes out… I have no inside information here), and maybe an Open Source version integrated into Firefox and/or Thunderbird.

(His entire post is important reading for anyone thinking about the monetization of RSS.)

Bottom line:
Competition in the RSS reader market is exploding. Many people argued that Bloglines' had unique value in its archive of blog posts, but I'm skeptical.

Did the Ask Jeeves management team do a simple search for "RSS reader" using their own search service? And if so, did they notice that Bloglines only comes up 17th in the list of results?

ASKJ chart below.

Posted by David Jackson on February 10, 2005 at 12:01 AM in Sub-sector: Content, Sub-sector: Search, ticker: ASKJ, ticker: CNET, ticker: HOLL | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Did Ask Jeeves ask enough questions?:

» Why Bloglines Doesn't Need Weblogsinc's 73 Blogs To Make Money with Advertising. from pc4media
Alan Meckler has a very nice post about Jason Calacanis on his weblog. It was good to catch up with Jason and see a living, breathing Internet [Read More]

Tracked on February 10, 2005 12:54 PM

» Ask Jeeves and Bloglines from Aqute Research
Jason Calacanis (of weblogsinc) posts his views about Ask Jeeves and Bloglines. I broadly agree (well, up to where he starts discussing the [Read More]

Tracked on February 13, 2005 12:34 AM


I can't comment on various profit making ventures, but I will remind readers that RSS is a (set of some differing) standards built with simple xml templates, though naturally as is to be expected with the computer industry some are poorly formed xml complicating readers.

The point however is that the "market" is totally focused on this one, very simple set of "meta data" not knowing that the purpose of xml is to support far richer structures and more complex "ontologies." For example on an application level there are efforts to standardize things like medical records and business forms.

In theory and to some extent in practice far richer maps of documents will become availible. Exactly what the nature of the markets will be is uncertain, but though the with it crowd will dismiss it as "so fifties" Licklider's ("human/machine symbiosis") observation that he spent the bulk of his time trying to get to the relevant information


remains relevant. Increasingly powerful maps of information are going top occur. When someone talks of RSS as though that was more than a preliminary. then they are a little too taken up with the current fashions.

My reading on bloglines was that the idea of customzable directories that could be accessed through a server and made public was a good first step. I thought they didn't realize the power of searches because while in theory one could search a set it wasn't possible if someone selected a public set. Also when pushed the technology was buggy.

However server based has lots of potential, the ability to create specialized sets for specific topics is powerful, the ability to import and export these is a beginning, though bloglines didn't provide much information on their standards, it was a product in formation, nor did they have the sense to hire a technical person for their customer support, it was people doing quick replies and form letters... still it remains a potentially innovative product.

I will stress that the capacity of individuals to customize and make public search areas is an important step.

It is possible that as some claim that the net must result in oligopoly, 2 or 3 providers for each function, it is familiar, many older industries developed that way, but it is also possible that a significant and potentially high paying set of people will want specialized, increasingly "intelligent" tools to get directly at what they want.

For example as soon as I discovered them I started using the "meta" search engines (lower right)


such as "dogpile" for topic search. Unlike google there are not repeats and the algorithms seem to arrive at more relevant sets. I am not concerned with most searches about possible loss of information, but time, my time.

I think it very possible that a "big 3" might appear to dominate rss, but at the same time richer xml maps will sprout in the backwaters, while net information flows still resemble those of mass media, the scales are significant, for example the equivalent of the rebalancing from network to cable takes a few years, not a decade, and I will not be surprised if the rate of change and information flows escalate.

This is why I would be hesitate to make a long term or medium term bet on any net company. Or against a number of them.

I don't know enough about Jeeves to judge their capacity to take advantage of opportunities, but if bloglines is developed correctly they are there. To provide server based organization and searches of increasingly complex data and to allow one to make this a group resource (with opportunitities to sell services and even better to also let others attach them) is to put one's toes in a growing niche.

- David Bennett

Posted by: David Bennett | February 10, 2005 01:34 PM

Post a comment