7+7 Reasons Why Google Buying FeedBurner is a Match Made in Heaven & Hell

Google FeedburnerRumours have been surfacing for the last few days that Google might be buying FeedBurner for around $100M.
Listed 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 10x the VC investment of around $10M 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?

Update: Techcrunch has managed to confirm that this deal is likely to go through and it looks like it is topping Techmeme.

Tris Hussey discusses FOG (Fear of Google), targeted ads, and analytics integration.
Watch Mojo wonders whether this will scare aware major media brands currently using Feedburner and Heather Green at Business Week has similar concerns.
Marshall Kirkpatrick focuses on the synergies.
The Alarm Clock has a list of 10 positive reasons.

Sam Sethi who first found out about the acquisition concentrates on the monetisation angle. That is a huge factor, as Feedburner have noted in my comments they are “gradually rolling out” the FAN advertising network I think mainly due to inventory problems.

Lots of people are mentioning integration with Analytics for convenience, but none are really touching on what I highlighted, the ability to finally track an RSS subscription because you would be able to place your Analytics code on a Feedburner page, and possibly have Google allow you to track someone actually completing the signup process in Google Reader.
With Google behind it however, I am not sure other players would follow suit (Ask/Bloglines, Yahoo or MSN).

Tony Hung also picked up on something I have been thinking about for a while. When will Microsoft or Yahoo start looking to buy paid review services such as Pay Per Post or ReviewMe.

Microsoft and Yahoo have never been overly critical of either service. Microsoft through Edelman were giving out laptops not too long ago to top bloggers to review Vista. I have suggested in the past, mainly in comments in various places, is that the best way for Microsoft to market Vista would be to give 10,000 bloggers a copy of Vista, they could even pay them $10 as a bonus for their time.
That would be much better than the Google method of paying bloggers $75 per hour to test out Blogger in usability studies.

Geek News Central is worried about Google tracking everything – lets face it, 90% of what you do on the net, you are probably being tracked by 5 or more different companies. Every shopping site knows what you buy, and so do the credit card companies. Your ISP knows everything. Every ad network is tracking you.

One of these days you will be able to use your browsing habits in court – “Hey judge, I was browsing the net, just ask Google”

Update 2 (Important)

I am not the only blogger expressing concerns, even blog networks are showing some real concern about the acquisition.

As an example, Aaron Brazell who is the man who makes 200 B5 Media blogs tick, and who has a really close relationship with Feedburner has now written an Open Letter to Google About Feedburner. Read it and give it a Digg as well.

I would like to stress again I am a supporter of both Google and Feedburner, and love many of their services, but some things do fill me with concern, and many of those concerns are shared.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider giving it a Digg.

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Comments

  1. says

    Very well said Andy! I like Google’s acquisitions when it points at rapid development from Google’s end as an after-effect. But, in this case with no other major competitors around.. I’d prefer Google to leave Feedburner alone for now..

    Between, the ‘Subscribe without commenting’ box is appearing both inside and outside the comment form.. not sure if you intended it to be!

    • says

      The 2 subscribe without commenting boxes are intentional – when comment threads get a little long, often much longer than the post, then there is one top and bottom.

  2. says

    I’m with you Andy – I’m a Google fan of sorts, but I’m also getting sick of them buying everything! Seems like every time something cool comes along – between Yahoo and Google – one of them is snatching it up. I came across a list a few months back (can’t remember now who published it) about all the start-ups which were purchased in 06… it was surprising. While it’s nice to have some of these popular new services integrated into fewer accounts to manage, it is cause for concern where growth and development are concerned.

  3. says

    Google wants to aquire feedburner for more real estate to display ads… PERIOD.

    Now, the good news is that when Google acquires real estate, the end user usually ends up winning. So from a user’s point of view, I’m sure this will enhance my web experience.

    We can only hope it will enhance the content provider’s (a.k.a. the blogger) experience as well.

    • says

      Do you really think people end up winning when Google buy services?

      Blogger had quite a commanding lead when Google purchased them, and it then took a number of years before there was any significant upgrade, and even then they are still lagging behind.

      One of the Blogger founders since leaving Google has already produced Odeo and Twitter.

      There are some benefits, normally anything Google buy becomes free to use, such as Analytics, but it also then took 18 months for Analytics to get a facelift.

      • says

        Google is so big that when they gobble up entities, those entities aren’t as “nimble” as when they were smaller craft sailing the same seas. (Thus allowing us “little folk” to build the product, get the bugs worked out for the most part and then allow Google to swoop in and pay for the time the developer spent as they were navigating the coast line.)

        What I was trying to say is that Google buying Feedburner won’t be like News Corp buying Myspace. Myspace SUCKS since they were “assimilated”. At least when Google picked up Blogger it didn’t deteriorate to the point of being almost unusable. The same with Analytics…. they may not “improve” but at least they don’t dissolve once assimlated.

        Would I rather Feedburner remain swift and nimble? Sure. But at least we’re assured it’s continued existence once it’s secure in the Google stable.

  4. says

    Andy, I don’t know why you can’t get into FAN – I got the invite with only about 600 readers.

    Having said that, I’ve just turned off FAN this week. After two months I’d barely made $7 out of about – ack, now that I’ve turned off FAN I can’t check the stats – 10,000 or more impressions. Most of the ads were pretty naff and had geo-targetting, so I don’t actually know what my actual “Live” circulation is. They also have an end-of-the-month recalculation of your revenue which seemed to knock about 20% or more off my meagre take.

    • says

      How long ago was it when you received the invite? At the start of the year I had less than 100 subscribers, and they might not have a “new intake” very frequently.
      I am not really worried about that monetization for this blog, I just find it strange that there hasn’t been an invite.
      How much you can earn I suppose is partially due to market sector.

      • says

        Andy, I didn’t get an invite per-se, I just popped into the Monetize tab and there was the offer to join. I joined as soon as I got the offer, two months ago or so. I checked the tab maybe once per month before that. I’ve been with FB for over a year, so perhaps that also counts for something?

        Looking around the web there seems to be people making a decent amount through FAN, but even though I had a number of $6 CPM ads I never really got enough views. Perhaps if I was making three or more posts per day I could have tripled my income to a slightly less pitiful amount. These FAN earnings I quoted are about 2% of my total, so it won’t be missed by me.

  5. says

    Andy,

    I am not sure if I understand you correctly.

    Regarding the copyright in your RSS, you could actually put it as part of the post at the end of it.

    Whichever way the RSS is extracted, thru WordPress or Feedburner, the copyright is still there and unless the readers (human + software) stripped it off.

    I have been using this since 2 months ago. The copyright notice is only inserted if the post is extracted through RSS and not normal post to the browser.

    I have a custom made plugin for this purpose. It is available on my site here:
    http://blog.sapphireknight.com/projects/wordpress-plugin-rss-feed-backlink/

    Maybe that is the reason why my RSS subscription never increase.

    :)

    my 2 cents.

    • says

      With WordPress there are a lot of options for adding a copyright message. My disclosure policy plugin can do the same, and a lot more, though it wasn’t designed for first release to only apply it to feeds.

      WordPress however is only a small part of the market, and for email you don’t really want a copyright message at the bottom of every post, you want it at the end of the email. The same is true of address information, company registration details etc.

      I am only partially in compliance, I just have a link to my contact page.

      If you are on a few email marketing mailing lists, you will see that email marketers include in general a lot more information, and you certainly wouldn’t want that at the bottom of every post, though currently even with WordPress, that is forced upon you if you are using Feedburner.

      Most blogs don’t use anything, including some of the most popular blogs, who also offer email subscriptions probably if they were examined in violation of CAN-SPAM (I am not a lawyer)

    • says

      I actually had a chat with Eric from MBL a couple of days ago and there will be some visible changes happening soon. I can understand a few months to handle a big move.

      There are services that Google have acquired that haven’t come out of closed beta more than a year after they purchased the company.

  6. says

    Excellent points both ways Andy, and I’m very much of the opinion that monopoly only benefits the company that owns everything.

    I wish people would get over the idea that Google are some cuddly company with everyone’s best interests at heart. They may have been once, but their core activity now is covering the web in adverts, and the search engine is only a means to that end.

    Do No Evil? How about ‘Well, at least we’re not Microsoft’…

  7. says

    I really like Google. I’m happy with whatever they choose to take over. Google+Blogger has been great for me, so I don’t know why I would mind if they combined feedburner into the process too. I like everything to be seamless, so I think it would be a great fit.

  8. says

    I hope Google buys Feedburner. I think it’ll be good for us Blogspot/Bloggers somehow.

    And Andy, check your Monetize tab on Feedburner.

    The other day mine gave me the ability to join FAN — and I’ve got around 221 feedburner subscribers. I wonder what stats they use?

    Peace,
    Paula

  9. says

    Hey There Andy,

    Wanted to pop in here and clarify a few things from our end.

    First, when it comes to the FeedBurner Ad Network, results are going to vary publisher to publisher depending on various factors. Those include the number of subscribers, the location of subscribers, the kind of content the publisher is producing, the frequency of producing the content, and the combination of running ads on your site in addition to your feed to mention just a few. We’re growing the FeedBurner Ad Network at a very measured pace to ensure that publisher inventory doesn’t outpace advertiser interest and vice versa. Further, that measured growth ensures that the network of publishers participating in the FeedBurner Ad Network is top notch and we can work to optimize results for all parties involved.

    You mention compliance regarding our Email Subscriptions service. FeedBurner is in compliance with US CAN-SPAM, but we can incorporate an optional, additional text field that permits display of additional text you require in any language, of a reasonable length, in the footer of all delivered emails. We should have this new capability available shortly.

    As we’ve said in the past, we love feedback, so don’t ever hesitate to give us a shout and we’ll do our best to clarify any issues.

    Thanks!

    Jake Parrillo
    Publisher Services Team
    FeedBurner

    • says

      Jake I am not 100% sure about the compliance, but I think it is significant that I get access to the email addresses in the same way as I would using another service such as Aweber or Getresponse, thus it is ultimately me, and not Feedburner sending the emails. In that situation, I need to be able to include my address, and a statement that it may contain commercial information.
      It is good that this problem will finally be addressed, it is just a shame it is taking 6 months to address it.

  10. says

    Well, it looks like heaven and hell have joined together lol. Just read that Google indeed bought FeedBurner.

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