Xmarks browser sync starts pledge drive to stay alive

Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.

The Xmarks browser bookmark sync service is soliciting pledges from potential customers willing to pay at least $10 annually, saying that it will reconsider staying in business if it collects 100,000 promises.

The unusual move followed the company’s announcement last week that it would pull the plug on its synchronization service on Jan. 10, 2011.

Xmarks produces add-ons for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari that let users sync bookmarks between multiple machines and among different browsers.

“Many of you have cried from the rooftops that you would be willing to pay for Xmarks,” said CEO James Joaquin in a post to the company’s blog last Thursday.

To get an idea of how real those claims are, Xmarks has set up an online pledge drive where users can promise to pony up at least $10 a year for the service.

But Joaquin made no guarantee. “This is not a scientific experiment to predict what percent of our base will pay, but it’s a data point that will definitely help,” he said.

The drive was published on PledgeBank.com, a site that hosts pledge promises.

“I will commit to $10 - $20 per year for Xmarks Sync, but only if 100,000 other people will do the same,” Xmarks’ pledge read on the site.

As of mid-day Monday, nearly 21,000 people had signed the Xmarks pledge, leaving about 79,000 more names needed by the Oct. 15 cut-off date.

“If we can reach a critical mass of users, we’ll see if we can’t find the people and resources to honor your requests,” Xmarks stated in its pledge drive.

A hundred thousand paying customers would generate at least $1 million in annual revenues for the firm, less than half what the company now spends to keep running.

When Xmarks’ co-founder Todd Agulnick announced at the company was tossing in the towel, he noted that the firm had considered, but discarded, a pay model. “With the emergence of competent sync features built into Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, it’s hard to see users paying for a service that they can now get for free,” Agulnick argued last week.

That hasn’t changed, Joaquin said as he ticked off several reasons why Xmarks had not charged for its sync service in the past. Among the most compelling, he said, was the competition from Firefox and Chrome that Agulnick also cited.

“Mozilla and Google building in sync to Firefox and Chrome has had significant negative impact on Xmarks,” Joaquin admitted. “While we have lots of users signing up for Xmarks, we have also seen increased ‘churn,’ with users switching over to the native Firefox and Chrome sync solutions.”

Mozilla has offered a synchronization service since 2007 through a Firefox add-on, but has baked sync into Firefox 4, the major upgrade slated to ship later this year. Chrome and Opera Software’s Opera have had integrated sync since 2008.

Joaquin pointed to Firefox 4’s impending release as a major threat to Xmarks. “When Firefox 4 is released with free sync built in, it will become harder for a standalone add-on that must be purchased and installed separately to compete,” he said.

[Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg’s RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .]

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