Why Feedburner is trouble
Saturday, July 21, 2007 by Dave Winer.
When Feedburner first came online I warned that there was danger in giving so much power to one company. They argued that they were just a little company, struggling to make a go of it, and no one should fear them. Some of them even took the predictable political tactic of trashing the personality of the person raising the question. I held my ground. I've been around this business a long time, and I was sure their strategy was to sell to a bigger company, and I don't trust big companies.
People at big companies often are underpaid, with stock options going nowhere, and feel unappreciated by their colleagues, and when they look outside their company they see lots of people who look happy and successful, making more money than they are, without the political troubles and strategy taxes, and they feel like they're doing all the work. (Of course we look at them and see much the same thing, the grass is always greener over there.)
So now someone at Google "owns" Feedburner and all their feeds. And they could, if they wanted to, change the feeds to another format, overnight, without asking anyone. Reader software might have trouble working with it. They would say "Oh but the new feeds work better with Google Reader, and that's the one most people use." And by the way, more and more that's true these days. But what about other feed suppliers? Do they have to change to work with Google Reader? They will say no, but there may turn out to be practical reasons why they must.
People at Microsoft used to say that Windows isn't ready to ship until Lotus doesn't run. That's not a typo. You'd think it would be the other way around, that a popular operating system would never hold the users of a popular spreadsheet hostage. But it could happen when they have their own spreadsheet and want you to switch. Or if they want everyone to put ads in their feeds. Who would miss a few blogs here and there, don't we all use Blogger anyway (that's one area where they haven't taken over, btw, thankfully).
I would have been concerned no matter who bought Feedburner, had it been Microsoft or Yahoo, or Fox or even Cisco, or if they hadn't sold out at all. Little companies can sometimes do desperate things when new management comes in.
These technologies work best when there's lots of competition and lots of choice, and when users are alert and don't trust companies that don't deserve their trust. But I can't say I've ever seen that happen for any sustained period, but I still have hope it could happen someday.