Xmarks considers comeback as a paid service

The Xmark password and tab sync service says an outpouring of support has given it hope it might live on as a paid service.

Fans of the bookmark, password and tab sync service Xmarks have spoken, and the response was so encouraging that Xmarks is no longer dead-set on shutting down.

Xmarks announced on Monday that it can no longer sustain itself. Without interest from buyers, and no business model to support its 2 million non-paying customers, Xmarks set a shut down date of January 10, 2011.

Closing Xmarks would leave those users without a cross-browser, cross-platform solution for syncing bookmarks and saving tabs. Their best bet would be browser-specific alternatives for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari.

But the anguished cries from Xmarks' devoted users raised possibilities of a bailout. In a blog post, Xmarks Chief Executive James Joaquin said he's received "a lot of credible interest from companies interested in acquiring the Xmarks assets and taking over the service." In other words, someone could scrape the Xmarks technology, possibly using it in a different product or under another brand name.

The other side of the equation, Joaquin said, is paid support from users, but only if enough people pledge their money. To that end, Xmarks created a Pledgebank page, where users can commit to paying $10 or $20 per year for the service, but only if 100,000 people pledge to do the same. So far, Xmarks has gathered just over 500 pledges to pay for the service.

Here's where things get cryptic: Joaquin spends a lot of his blog post explaining why a freemium service -- where basic features are free, and additional perks are behind a pay wall -- wasn't practical in the past. Running Xmarks costs $2 million per year, he said, and past efforts to solicit money have gone nowhere. Then he says that for "a new company taking a fresh start with Xmarks, a freemium model could be really compelling."

Perhaps the companies interested in Xmarks already have existing business models and revenue sources, and would want Xmarks as a feature, not a primary focus. Google, for instance, could build Xmarks features into Chrome and its Android browser, and offer plug-ins for compatibility with other browsers. Tab sync is one of Xmarks' great features, but it would be even better as part of an actual browser. A freemium model could apply to enterprise users.

The possibility of Xmarks shutting down is still very likely, but for now the service still has a faint pulse.

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Jared Newman

PC World (US online)
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