Xmarks shutting down bookmark sync service

The service was popular in a technical niche, but the company couldn't find a way to make money from either the sync service or other possibilities.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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Two million users with 5 million computers storing 1.2 billion bookmarks doth not a business make.

That's what Xmarks, a company that for a time ruled the technical specialty of synchronizing bookmarks among different computers and browsers, concluded. After four years' effort, it's closing up shop in about 90 days after finding no good way to convert its popularity into profit.

The company got its start as Foxmarks, a Firefox extension, but eventually spread to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Apple's Safari, and Google's Chrome. It let people synchronize not only their bookmarks but also passwords and open tabs, but those features are now arriving in both Firefox and Chrome.

"For four years we have offered the synchronization service for no charge, predicated on the hypothesis that a business model would emerge to support the free service. With that investment thesis thwarted, there is no way to pay expenses, primarily salary and hosting costs," said Xmarks co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Todd Agulnick in a blog post Monday. "Without the resources to keep the service going, we must shut it down."

The company tried various ways to make a profit out of its business, including a "smarter search" idea based on data gleaned from its anonymized collection of hundreds of millions of bookmarks. "If you were looking for the Web sites in a particular category, the results were shockingly complete and entirely spam-free," Agulnick said. At present, Xmarks has 1.2 billion bookmarks, up from about 100 million in 2007, said Penny Campbell, the company's vice president of engineering.

Interest in the search service fizzled, though, and efforts in the spring of 2010 to sell the company failed. The idea of a hybrid free-premium model seemed doomed by the fact that bookmark sync is a feature being built into browsers. Thus, the company will switch its servers off after January 10.

The company also launched a 99-cent iPhone app to extend sync to Apple's devices and had begun work on an equivalent for phones using Google's Android OS. The former will continue to work with bookmarks cached on the phone, but the latter won't be released.

"Although we made great progress on our Android app, we were regrettably unable to complete it in time," according to an Xmarks shutdown FAQ.

Those who've used Xmarks should check Xmarks' guide to alternatives for advice on the best way to preserve data and plan their next steps.

Updated at 2:16 a.m. PDT September 30 with the current number of Xmarks bookmarks stored, 1.2 billion.