Google & Feedburner – The Good & Bad

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Rumours have been surfacing for the last few days that Google might be buying FeedBurner for around $100M.

Google FeedburnerListed below you will find 7 reasons Google and Feedburner are a perfect match, and 7 equally compelling reasons we should be concerned.

Match Made In Heaven?

There are some very positive reasons that this is an ideal match and I am going to concentrate on those first:-

  1. Existing Subscriber Statistics – Google mentioned that subscriber statistics are part of their calculations for relevance for Google Blog Search in recently released patent details. Whilst I have determined it is not currently a major ranking factor for blog search, Google are moving down a path of providing personal search results and are continually looking to improve Blog Search
  2. Integrate FeedBurner With Blogger – Google look to provide useful services for their existing portfolio of products, and Blogger provides them with lots of advertising space. Many of Google’s competitors offer some kind of feed statistics (WordPress.com), and Google need to do the same.
  3. Integrate FeedBurner with Google Analytics – I have seen this discussed slightly, but no one hit the nail on the head. Currently it is impossible to track conversions into an RSS subscriber in the same way you can with email subscriptions. This is a major stumbling block for the future of RSS within marketing.
  4. Intellectual Property – lots of the things that Feedburner do such as their advertising system, feedflares, redirects for RSS feeds, and maybe even aspects of their tracking technology could well have a patent pending, though whatever applications they may have made they are keeping the lid on.
  5. 422,717 publishers – It is not a huge number, and is very easy to increase with an integration with Blogger. It is certainly many more than any current direct competitor. People are waving around that $100M is a good price based upon 10x earnings, and 6x the VC investment of around 17M in Feedburner. The most important statistic is that probably 99% of feed publishers currently don’t automatically qualify for Feedburner’s advertiser program. Certainly with 1000 subscribers the "monetize" tab is still closed for me.
  6. Economy of Scale (Publishers) – it is hard to provide tracking for advertisers over 1000s of blogs, and also to handle the payment infrastructure for smaller publishers. That is probably one of the primary reasons FeedBurner up until now has only had monetization options for popular blogs, or "network feeds".
  7. Economy of Scale (Advertisers) – Google has a massive amount of advertising inventory, it is just a question of adding the ability to advertise on the blog content network, especially with their CPA offers which would be ideal for feeds

Match Made In Hell?

In many ways I am a Google fan, I use their search primarily, I use Adwords, Adsense, have their toolbar installed, couldn’t live without Gmail, and I am trying my best to not get sucked into 200 feeds in Google Reader.
I am also a FeedBurner Fan, I have a paid subscription to their "Total Stats", and have developed a few simple Feedflares.

Unfortunately I am not overly enthusiastic about Google buying FeedBurner for a number of very serious reasons.

  1. Slow Development – I don’t expect faster development of features above integration with Google’s existing services. For me that is worrying especially as someone who publishes commercial content.
  2. Legal Compliance – I have been waiting for 5 months for email subscriptions that fully comply with CAN-SPAM and SI 3429 of 2006.
    This is something that is possible with Feedblitz and Zookoda, but based on my current research, FeedBurner has the edge on delivery rates. What is needed is an interface to customize emails. Would we really see new features faster once aquired?
  3. Ability to add Copyright information – the only option currently is a custom feed flare, but that is a graphic easily stripped by people abusing your content. Then again most of the Blogospere seemed to think a few months ago that no one has a right to copyright their feeds, and that once you publish content by RSS, you have no claim over it.
  4. Bugs in the API – these haven’t been fixed for months, such as the ability to have a "clean" link within a feedflare unit.
  5. Squashing Competition – FeedBurner haven’t got a huge amount of direct competiton, but certainly Feedvertising is competition for the monetization of feeds, so is Blogkits, and Zookoda owned by Pay Per Post will likely offer advertising for email subscribers.

    Whilst both Feedburner and Feedvertising seem to think that Techcrunch is displaying Ads from their network, it seems to me Techcrunch are using Feedvertising to primarily display links to their own sites. See here that Techcrunch is listed under blogs on Feedburner.

  6. Poor Support – Google’s support unfortunately isn’t the greatest, especially when they suggest responding in "Google Groups" from their blog.

    Here are 2 very specific examples

    • Disclosure with Referral Units – Google made a clarification to their policy on referral units on the Adsense blog. At the bottom of the post, they invite you to "discuss".
      Chris Hunt raised a very important question

      But what if I want to recommend the product, but feel it’s unethical
      to do so without telling my readers that I’m getting paid for it:

      "Click this button, it’s a really cool product (full disclosure: I
      receive a commission of $2 if you follow this link)"

      For me this is a case of deja vu, because I was raising the same questions about the referral units and disclosure back in January.

    • I have raised issues and technical problems a number of times in the Google Toolbar Buttons Group, and no help is forthcoming.

    Whilst Feedburner support is currently better than Google’s, I can’t see their support improving if they are acquired.

  7. Fractured Lines of Communication – Feedburner are currently proactive in monitoring the blogosphere, and reacting by giving feedback – whilst I am sure Google monitor blogs heavily, unless you are a high traffic blog it is very rare to get any feedback

What I write today probably won’t make the slightest bit of difference to whether a purchase is made, or the eventual outcome. I am not a gadget blog with 600K+ subscribers – this won’t be an Applegate.

FeedBurner have a massive market share, very little competition, but very low penetration compared to the total number of active real blogs worldwide.
Before being acquired I would really prefer them to have some very healthy competition. Competition stimulates growth, awareness and features.

So do you really want Google to buy FeedBurner?

*Originally published at AndyBeard.eu


Google & Feedburner – The Good & Bad
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