Feedlounge is one of a new breed of web-based feed readers that provides a rich online experience for managing your feed subscriptions. Only live for a few months now, it’s garnered a loyal following of…get this…paying customers. I recently had a chance to have an email conversation with Feedlounge’s Alex King.
How many people were involved in the building of Feedlounge?
It was primarily me and my partner Scott. Brian, an intern at Scott’s consulting business, did a bit of work on it too, especially as we were getting started last year. We recently added another team member to focus on performance and scalability and allow Scott and I to return our focus to building a great application.
How long did you work on it before it went live?
We went live with our private alpha release about 5 months after we began development. Our public release on Jan 16th, 2006 was almost exactly 1 year after we began development.
How did you “fund” the development effort? Your own time and/or money? Outside help?
FeedLounge has been 100% bootstrapped by Scott and me. We’ve absorbed both the soft costs (development time, opportunity cost, etc.) and the hard costs (servers, bandwidth, etc.). We’d had some interest from outside groups in helping us with funding, but for a variety of reasons none of them have gone through.
It’s also a little hard to know how best to spend the money if we took it. It we accepted enough capital to bring on additional staff and grow for 6 months, we’d also be risking having to shut down the service after 6 months. By growing organically, we hope to build up both a happy user base and a sustainable service.
If I’m not mistaken, Feedlounge was never a free service after going live. Why didn’t you make it freely available, at least at first?
This somewhat goes back to the fact that FeedLounge is funded by Alex and Scott, not a big corporation or VCs with deep pockets. When we first started work on FeedLounge, I had no idea the cost that would be involved in offering a feed reading service. Scott had a much better idea, and I quickly became educated. :)
As we’ve talked about in some depth in the FeedLounge blog, we ran through both a shared server and a dedicated server during our private alpha before purchasing appropriate hardware. Even on the better hardware, we had to make a number of back-end changes to improve performance about a month after our initial public release.
If we’d thrown open the doors in our public release and allowed anyone to use FeedLounge for free (without the gating affect of being a paid service), we would have overwhelmed our hardware and wouldn’t have generated income to allow us to expand our infrastructure.
We do still plan to release a free version of FeedLounge that will be both ad supported and feature limited. However, we will only do so in a manner that is sustainable and supportable. In my opinion, to do otherwise is irresponsible. While we have not announced a timeframe for the availability of the free version, it is something we are working on.
What do you think differentiates Feedlounge from other web-based readers like Rojo and Bloglines?
I think the primary difference is the powerful and efficient reading interface FeedLounge delivers. Traditionally, people have had to choose between a the speed of a native application and the flexibility of being ability to access their feeds from any computer with a web-based feed reader. FeedLounge uses AJAX and DHTML extensively to enable FeedLounge users to read the same way they can in a native application. In FeedLounge, the arrow keys work, the space bar works, page up/down works, there are shortcut keys for marking items read/unread, for flagging and tagging items, for opening and closing feed tags and for changing views. On top of all these features, performance is fantastic and you can still access it from any computer (using IE, Firefox, Safari or Opera) without needing to install anything.
While our interface and user experience are the main reasons our users choose FeedLounge today, we’ve also begun to expand beyond being a better reading experience. Last week we released TagThru, the ability to pass tags from FeedLounge on to other tagging services (our first implementation allows users to also tag in del.icio.us).
We have a variety of other API style features and additions planned as well.
How did people react when they saw that, unlike 95% of Web 2.0 services out there, this wasn’t free?
As we expected, the reaction was very mixed. I’d say there were basically two groups:
– If I see value in it, I’ll pay for it
– I’ll never pay for anything online, everything online should be free
Did you do any sort of marketing beyond the usual community buzz?
We’ve been talking about the way in which we want to approach this.
We think it’s something we need to do.
So now that FeedLounge is out there, how is it doing? Is it your (and your partner’s) full time job?
FeedLounge is doing quite well. People are signing up, posting about it in their blogs and perhaps most importantly giving us honest feedback. From day one we’ve had open forums where anyone can post (even if they’re not a FeedLounge user) and we’ve gotten invaluable feedback from the users in the forums. More recently, we added a feature voting page where anyone with a forum account can add to the feature list and vote for the features they’d most like to see added to FeedLounge. We’re trying to be very responsive to the priorities of our users, as indicated by this list.
FeedLounge is definitely a full time gig for both Scott and I in that we put in 40+ hours/week on it. We do have some other projects going at the same time. For example, I have no intentions of abandoning my Tasks Pro software and have been continuing to develop new features and push out new releases over the last year. Our business plan calls for organic growth of FeedLounge, and we’re seeing what we expected.
Do you see it growing in terms of paying users?
Yes, we’ve seen steady growth since our public release.
Alex, thanks for your time on this and best of luck with Feedlounge.
Thanks, Rich – it’s been my pleasure.