NewsGator, which offers the most complete end-to-end suite of RSS reader tools on the market and possibly the most widely used offline readers (NetNewsWire and FeedDemon), today announced that its most popular products would be set free. As in beer. According to NewsGator founder and CTO Greg Reinacker, the reason for going free is simple: "What were working to do is to saturate the market with our clients [...] we want our clients to become ubiquitous."
But perhaps the most interesting reason NewsGator made the decision to go free, according to Reinacker, is the company's desire to collect attention data. "Basically, by using your data, in combination with aggregate data from other users, we can deliver a better experience for everyone," said Reinacker.
As we reported in October, NewsGator joined the APML Workgroup. APML, the Attention Profiling Markup Language, is an attention data spec that "allows users to share their own personal Attention Profile in much the same way that OPML allows the exchange of reading lists between News Readers." Attention data is not the most easy concept to grasp, but to quote Marshall Kirkpatrick from an earlier article on ReadWriteWeb, the simple explanation is that, "Attention Data consists of all the information online about what you read, write, share and consume." (For more on why you'd want to collect that data, see Alex Iskold's overviews of attention data.)
NewsGator is clearly serious about collecting attention data and using it to enhance the news reading experience. Reinacker said today that rather than just integrate APML into their feed readers, NewsGator plans to "implement an endpoint in our online platform where you (and only you!) can always access your personal APML data." The data will be aggregated from your usage across the entire NewsGator product universe.
The company hopes that by going free, they will attract more users to their reader (I am a recent convert, myself), which in turn will give them a greater pool from which to gather attention data and build stronger tools that rely on that data. But a poll we ran about a year ago revealed that 55% of ReadWriteWeb readers use web-based RSS readers (71% if you included personal start pages and portals). Just 18% still used dedicated offline RSS readers.
With today's news, we've decided to run that poll again. How much of an uphill climb does NewsGator have now to gain marketshare for their desktop readers? Will free desktop readers perhaps help win back some old users who have defected to online readers? Please share your thoughts in the comments below and participate in the poll.