Bloglines shutdown avoided, as MerchantCircle swoops in

Ask.com is transferring the operation of the RSS service, but retaining its ownership

Pioneer RSS feed manager Bloglines will continue operating thanks to a last-minute agreement for MerchantCircle to take over operation of the service from Ask.com.

Ask.com, which announced it would shut down Bloglines by Oct. 1 and then postponed the closure several times, said late Thursday that MerchantCircle, an online network for local business owners, will manage Bloglines starting in December.

The companies didn't provide financial details about the deal, but Ask.com spokeswoman Valerie Combs said via e-mail that MerchantCircle will operate Bloglines, not buy it. "This is not an acquisition," Combs said.

Before striking the deal with MerchantCircle, Ask.com planned to close Bloglines on Nov. 15.

MerchantCircle will use Bloglines as a vehicle to surface preconfigured RSS feeds to its 1.4 million members via their account dashboards, delivering what it describes as local and industry-specific "targeted content."

Meanwhile, the existing Bloglines account holders will receive deals from local businesses and other local information. "Providing local content will be a key element to the future of Bloglines," MerchantCircle said in a statement.

Bloglines has continued operating uninterruptedly since Ask.com announced its impending demise in September, and that will not change as MerchantCircle assumes control of the service, the companies said.

However, it seems that the transfer from Ask.com to MerchantCircle will not be entirely transparent to end users. In an e-mail sent to Bloglines account holders on Friday, Ask.com said that during December users "will be able to easily port your feeds over to the MerchantCircle-powered service." Users will receive specific instructions on how to do this later.

And while users will be able to keep their same passwords, the Clippings tab is going away and it will not be possible to transfer saved articles. "We're very sorry for any inconvenience this will cause; the infrastructure requirements and costs are simply too great to justify maintaining this type of archiving feature," reads the Ask.com e-mail.

MerchantCircle spokesman Sean Pate confirmed that the Bloglines user interface will change. "Beginning in December Bloglines will have an updated UI with added localization features but still bring the same inherent value that users have come to expect," he said via e-mail.

Back in September, Ask.com, which is owned by IAC, justified its decision to close Bloglines by saying that it wants to focus on its question-and-answer search engine. Ask.com provided tools for Bloglines users to export their feeds to other RSS services.

IAC is an investor in MerchantCircle, which is an independent, privately held company.

Unique visitors to Bloglines rose from 427,000 in August of last year to 468,000 in August of this year, fluctuating considerably during that timeframe and hitting a peak of 697,000 in February, according to comScore.

In its statement, MerchantCircle said Bloglines has 2.7 million users.

Ask.com, which bought Bloglines in 2005, has paid little attention to it in recent years, as other RSS managers like Google Reader have become more sophisticated and popular.

Bloglines, like RSS managers in general, also faces tough competition from Twitter, which has become a preferred alternative for Web publishers to broadcast links to their content and for end users to receive those notifications.

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