“If you don’t like it, leave” is not a good answer

I’m obviously not fishing this morning, and I’m still blaming a Friday afternoon meeting…

RSS’s daddy, Dave Winer, voiced some concerns with Google’s FeedBurner acquisition. Fred Wilson responded by noting how easy FeedBurner makes it to leave. What Wilson is talking about is FeedBurner’s redirect service – you can delete a feed and FeedBurner will redirect requests back to the original RSS source. In a perfect world, your subscribers continue to get the crappy content you create, and by the time the FeedBurner feed dies they’ve hopefully changed their subscribed URL back to the base feed. We don’t live in a perfect world, and the “if you don’t like it, leave” argument has some holes…

  • If Google were willing to toy with feeds as Winer suggests, what’s to prevent them from making it more difficult to get out? If you can imagine someone tinkering with feeds to favor a certain reader, why can’t you imagine them “accidentally” redirecting your feed into a black hole (except for Google Reader users, of course)?
  • Switching costs are generally inversely proportional to the number competitors offering a product or service. And when it comes to distribution channels, logistics make those costs inherently high. FeedBurner is a distribution channel – a heavily used distribution channel which some content producers rely heavily upon. And I don’t see a bunch of strong competitors to FeedBurner waiting in the wings.
  • I agree – services that make it easy to leave are often an attraction, but that’s not the main reason I use the service; FeedBurner sold me on their great attitude. Google bought the company, and they can do as they please with it.

    I just hope that pigeon-holing folks into a single point of consumption isn’t one of them.

    A side note: There are probably some neat things that could be done with FeedBurner and Google Reader…things that might entice me to OPML-up my subscriptions and move there. In particular, I rarely bother looking at stats, tinkering with FeedFlares, etc., but if I could do this all within Google Reader I might pay more attention. Claim my feeds within and do the manipulation from there – I’d be combining my feed management and feed consumption – one less stop. Allowing me to compile a list of FeedFlares that would be available for all Google Reader users to play with, without me having to embed them in the feeds themselves, would also be nice. And last but not least…I have no intention of putting any ads in my feeds because I believe feed ads are aggravating and discourage both consumption and re-distribution. But I’d consider putting ads (linked to a proprietary Adsense or FeedBurner account) in feeds if they were only available to Google Reader users (since Google users in generally are so used to seeing ads on just about everything Google anyway).

    UPDATE: Day 2 – “The most common rebuttal was the user’s ability to opt out. If you don’t like it you don’t have to use Feedburner. But that’s not any kind of a rebuttal.”

    UPDATE 2: “One of the things I’ve heard over and over from non-technical users who have the same concerns now that Feedburner is owned by Google, is where do we go if we want to switch? Ahh. There is no place to go.” Where have I heard that before?

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