The world's best browser add-on, Xmarks, pulls the plug

Today is a sad day for browser lovers. The best browser add-on of all time, Xmarks bookmarks synchronization software, will go dark in a few months. Its developer has announced that it's pulling the plug on its bookmarks synchronization service because it can't make any money on it.

I've used and reviewed countless browser add-ons, but Xmarks has been the most useful by far. It started life as the Foxmarks Firefox add-in, and synchronized bookmarks among Firefox running on different computers. So if you had several PCs, or a PC, Mac, and Linux PC, you could use Firefox on all of them, with the same bookmarks on all.


That was just the beginning. It added other browsers as well, including Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari. So no matter what browser you are using on what computer, your bookmarks  are always up to date. Browse on one of those browsers on one machine, add a few bookmarks and delete a few, and when you use a browser on another machine, everything is in synch.

For someone like me, who constantly switches browser, and who has multiple desktops, laptops, and notebooks, it has been one of the most useful pieces of software I've ever used, and certainly the best browser add-in. In fact, I was hoping that a version for Android would be coming soon, so I could use it with my Droid X.

The issue for Xmarks has never been popularity. As I write this, its listing on the Firefox Add-ons site shows that it has been downloaded more than 22 million times, and that it is being downloaded at the rate of 45,000 times a week.

Instead, the issue is money. Todd Agulnick, co-founder of Xmarks with Lotus founder Mitch Kapor, explained it this way in his blog post, according to Computerworld:

"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."

The company tried several ways to make money, such as creating a kind of search engine using the sites that users bookmarked, but none of them panned out.

It also ruled out the "freemium" model in which some services would be free, but others would be paid for. But Agulnick wrote about the freemium model:

"The prospects there are grim too: With the emergence of competent sync features built into Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, it's hard to see users paying for a service that they can now get for free."

So as of January 10, 2011, the service will be shut down, and all the data purged from Xmarks servers. The company says that no data will be sold.

I hope that Xmarks reconsiders its decision, or that someone else will buy out the company and give it a go. I'm not convinced that the freemium model won't work. It's true that Chrome and Firefox are building sync features into their software. But it's also true that those sync features don't work with other browsers. So Firefox Sync will synchronize your Firefox bookmarks, but won't synchronize them with Chrome or other browsers. The same holds true for Chrome's sync.

By the way, if you want to read the blog post announcing Xmarks' shutdown, you may have to wait. As of this morning whenever I try to go there, I get 404 page not found errors.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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