The Sad Decline of PubSub

It’s a shame to hear from Bob
Wyman
that PubSub is in trouble and in big danger
of shutting its doors. Bob says that “internal political issues” are behind PubSub’s
demise and implies that this has deflected resources from actually improving the product.
It’s not my place to comment on the politics, but I do think PubSub has dropped the ball
on the product front.

PubSub once held so much promise… It was the first real ‘future
search’ product to gain traction and it was an innovator in the area of custom RSS feeds. The
somewhat clumsy term I’ve used for that is Topic/Tag/Remix Feeds and here’s what I said
about it back in January 2005:

“Tools will evolve to let people easily set-up personalized searches for
information relevant to them and subscribe to the results – using, you guessed it,
RSS! Google will probably be the front-runner (see this video for a hint to the future – thanks twdanny for the reminder), PubSub will be another, current
players like Bloglines and Technorati will be in amongst it, and who knows who else.”

As well, I thought PubSub was one of the
leading companies in filtering feeds – the
next layer up from aggregation. But unfortunately for all their promise, PubSub never
quite lived up to it and services like Google News and Technorati have taken the
limelight instead. Technorati has had its technical issues (which remain to this day),
but one thing they’ve always done very well is the UI. Which is where I feel
PubSub has let itself down, because their UI has always been a bit awkward and geeky.
Technorati has also proven itself to be outstanding at PR and drumming up publicity about
itself. PubSub never really got that knack, despite Bob and others best efforts to talk
up its technology. If anything PubSub has been too tech-centric, whereas Technorati
reaches out to ‘the people’ (with its tags PR blitz and the ‘A-List Person’s Favorite
Blogs’ feature, for example). 

However it’s precisely because PubSub has always been very forward-thinking
about web technology that made me like it and thus makes me sad about its demise. PubSub
was into topic
mapping
circa 2004, when few other mainstream RSS companies were. PubSub was also one
of the instigators of
the Structured Blogging open source project.
Indeed I worked with them – via Broadband Mechanics – on the recent website re-design (SB
is a separate entity now, so isn’t in danger of sinking with PubSub).

Their technology nous has always impressed me and at the end of 2004 they came
very close to being named my Most Promising Web 2.0
Company
of 2004. I gave that honor to Feedburner in the end, but here’s what I said
about PubSub (Dec 30, 2004):

“…PubSub has been building a technically very
sound service mostly quietly in the background (but that’s about to change in ’05, by the looks of
it
)…”

That ‘by the looks of it’ pointed indirectly to PubSub’s 2005 resolutions, which
currently is a File Not Found page. That about sums up the situation, I’m afraid.
Whereas Feedburner and other promising startups I mentioned at the end of 2004 (e.g.
Bloglines, SixApart) have gone on to greater things, PubSub lost its way and the end
looks imminent. I really hope they can somehow turn things around and get rid of the
‘political’ monkey on its back, because I know they have the smarts and the people to
achieve success.

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