Feedburner Under Google Could Spell Trouble

The consolidation of dominant feed hosting and analytics service FeedBurner under a company with great expectations for its own RSS reader poses a threat to the integrity of all feeds, says Dave Winer.

Winer points out that FeedBurner, which in his opinion held too much power over customer feeds BEFORE Google bought it, could easily abuse its virtual monopoly on feed management. He says it could create problems for rival feed readers like NewsGator and Bloglines by optimizing its process for Google Reader. He says it could force advertising on its customers (unlikely in my opinion).

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).

To Winer’s list I’d add the same thing that has many DoubleClick publisher clients, and especially AOL, quaking in their boots: By consolidating their feed and ad management with a company that already handles their search traffic and monetization, these companies are handing Google the keys to the kingdom — access to audience data, traffic trends and competitive pricing information. That’s all data Google, or any of its sales reps acting alone, could use for the benefit of AdSense in general or any AdSense advertiser in particular.

Google ssys it would never use that data and in any case doesn’t have the RIGHT to do so, which may be the case, but how will it prevent the data from being used? Someone at Google will have access to it, and someone else at Google will want access to it. How much energy and money is Google prepared to expend to prevent the flow of databases, personnel — hell, even phone calls — from one department to another.

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