Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When a subsidiary business is an afterthought - Bloglines in 2004, 2008, 2010...and 2010

I ran across a mention of Bloglines and was trying to recall whether I ever used that service.

It turns out that I did. Back in 2004.

In 2005, the founder of Bloglines, Mark Fletcher, sold it to Ask.com. By 2008, TechCrunch was reporting that Bloglines was not updating feeds, and that everyone, even including Mark Fletcher himself, was jumping to Google Reader. I happened to read that TechCrunch article a few months ago, when Google Reader announced its own demise.

Former blogger Tom figured that Bloglines got lost in the Ask.com world.

Bloglines is run by IAC/InterActiveCorp which owns about 75 web properties including the Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster, ASK.com, Evite, Match.com, and others.

Now, before I begin, let me say I have no inside information about IAC. But the wide range of completely unrelated properties gives me a good idea of what kind of company IAC is. I have consulted in the past for organizations like this and I have a good idea of how they work.

How do they work? Well, they don't work. Tom guessed that the last person assigned full-time to Bloglines was reassigned to something else, and that the alert about the unstaffed status of Bloglines went up the corporate chain.

7. This e-mail gets forwarded up the management chain until it reaches the "skimmer." This is a guy who gets CC'd on tons of things so he's taken to only skimming the titles of e-mails and reads only about 30% of the ones he gets.

8. The Skimmer sees the title "Bloglines Problem" and assumes its some issue that someone CC'd him on. He doesn't care about Bloglines so he ignores it. This effectively stops the e-mail in it's tracks with no one having responded to the problem.

Tom was probably right.

Now some may compare this to the current situation of FriendFeed, where even the aggregation feeds themselves aren't working any more. But I see a difference here; when Facebook bought FriendFeed, no one promised that FriendFeed would continue to function, or how long it would function. The fact that FriendFeed is still at least somewhat functional nearly four years later has to be some sort of victory. With Bloglines, the service was at least theoretically a going concern from Ask.com, and the 2008 problems apparently weren't addressed at the time.

Well, they were finally addressed in 2010, when this press release was issued.

Mountain View, CA, November 4, 2010 — MerchantCircle, largest online network of local business owners in the nation, today announced that it has reached an agreement with Ask.com, an operating business of IAC to assume the management of the Bloglines personal news aggregation platform. This agreement will allow the popular service to continue uninterrupted for its 2.7 million users. Beginning on December 1st, MerchantCircle will offer a richer, more local Bloglines experience for existing and future users.

So now with MerchantCircle, Bloglines was going to be revitalized and becoming an incredibly rich service.

Except...when you go to the Bloglines web site, you can't help but notice the dates on the copyright notice.

Copyright © 2006-2010 MerchantCircle. All rights reserved.

When a company doesn't even bother to update copyright notices, it's clear that the website isn't a premier property.

And that's why I didn't return to Bloglines after my absence of nearly a decade.
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