Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Bloglines CEO Perspective

Mark Fletcher, in addition to being CEO of Bloglines, writes a blog. This post at wingedpig.com (wonderful domain name!) is a sort of personal FAQ from Mark about the Ask Jeeves deal.

I (Andrew) did, in my previous post, promise incisive commentary. But, for now at least, you'll have to make do with the following. I'll comment on each of the three points from the numbered list in Mark's post, and also on a fourth point that he makes.
  1. Mark is staying with Bloglines/ASKJ. Good news! But good luck to him if he changes his mind. His current bio makes him sound like a founder/entrepreneur type. He did leave his previous firm, ONElist, when it was acquired by Yahoo.
  2. Bloglines will remain at bloglines.com, doing "business as usual." Good news, and I believe it, at least for the short term. I don't think that ASKJ bought Bloglines in order to mess with success.
  3. What will change is that Bloglines will have access to more resources. Mark mentions in particular ASKJ's Teoma search technology. I haven't made a particular study of web search, and so I don't know how good ASKJ's technology is compared with, say, Google.
  4. Mark describes the fit between the two firms. In particular, he emphasizes "the start-up/fast moving mentality" of Ask Jeeves, while noting that this is his subjective impression. I suspect that the extent to which it remains his impression will determine whether he stays, or whether he leaves to start another new venture.
In some ways, this deal seems good for each side. ASKJ gets the leading aggregator, at a time when blogging is huge and still growing. Bloglines may well be at a point in its impressive growth at which it could really use more resources, in technological, financial, and other terms.

On the other hand, I have my doubts about the the new, larger, firm--mainly in terms of finance and in terms of ASKJ's position in its main market: search. Competition in search is harsh, with Google as the gorilla, and Microsoft and Yahoo each representing, to say the least, a strong competitor. Will ASKJ remain healthy enough to provide Bloglines with the resources it needs? Will it, over the longer term, be able to retain Mark Fletcher and other factors that made Bloglines what it is today?

My last doubt is rooted in one of the main themes of this blog. How can one make money from free stuff? Each of Ask Jeeves and Bloglines is a free service, with competition including other free services. Will the combined firm be able to turn technology and customer eyeballs into profits?

In closing, I'll be explicit about the perspective from which I am writing this. I am a user of Bloglines. I have previously posted about its success in becoming the leader in the aggregator market. I wish Bloglines, and Mark, well. My impression of Mark, from his blog and from other online sources, is very positive. I don't know him personally.