XMarks, formerly Foxmarks, announced shutting down of their service today. XMarks is the first plugin that brought browser bookmarks synchronization to Firefox browser in 2006. Later, they brought in password synchronization, tab synchronization, etc. to Firefox and, also, expanded to support other browsers. They tried many different options to monetize and scale but they failed to find a suitable business model.
They announced the shutdown of their service in a blog post today and the service will stay on for the next 90+ days.
With the emergence of competent sync features built in to Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, it’s hard to see users paying for a service that they can now get for free. For four years we have offered the synchronization service for no charge, predicated on the hypothesis that a business model would emerge to support the free service. With that investment thesis thwarted, there is no way to pay expenses, primarily salary and hosting costs. Without the resources to keep the service going, we must shut it down. Our plan is to keep the service running for another 90+ days, after which the plug will be pulled.
It is sad to see this service go down. I have been using XMarks ever since their beginnings till a year back when I completely shifted to Chrome. I do see their point that it is tough to get users to pay for something which is built into the browser and available for free. This raises an important question regarding companies trying to build a business in the ecosystem of browsers.
Is it possible to build a service starting as a browser extension and then scale to build a reliable business model? I am trying to make a really subtle point here. I do agree that one can build a service with a scalable business model while also offering access to the service through browser extensions. There are way too many examples to show that it is possible. My question here is whether it is possible for a business to start out as a browser extension, then build a service behind the extension, scale big enough and, eventually, find a business model that works.
I am just writing this post immediately after reading the news about XMark’s shutdown. I didn’t have time to think deeply about it or do research to see if there are any successful browser extensions that could convert their popularity into a sustainable business. I just wanted to throw my thoughts out in the wild and listen to people who know the business side of things better than me. What do you think? Is it sustainable? I want to hear from you because I am using a Chrome extension for the past few days which is very handy for me. It is called CloudMagic and I really want to see if these guys could convert their nifty browser extension into a scalable business. BTW, if you are a Google Apps user with more than one Gmail account, this is the extension for you to break down the silos. Feel free to jump in and offer your thoughts and enlighten me.
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