Xmarks Shuts Down After Failing To Sell Its Search Engine

xmarks-logoXmarks, the popular browser bookmark synchronization service, is going to shut down on January 10, 2011. Xmarks is a free service that saves your bookmarks across different browsers and different computers, and currently boasts about two million users. I’m a longtime user and fan of the service, going back to when it was called Foxmarks; but personal attachments aside, the story behind why Xmarks is shutting down makes for an interesting read.

In his blog post announcing the decision, co-founder Todd Agulnick explains how, inspired by the crowd-sourced success of Wikipedia, Xmarks was inspired in 2006 to aggregate its users’ vast database of bookmarked web pages into something useful — “maybe even a spam-free search engine based entirely on what users had bookmarked.”

Later, as the service neared 100 million bookmarks, the company did exactly that.

The first thing we built was a search engine. It turned out amazing results, but only for certain types of queries. It was terrible at finding facts. But if you were looking for the websites in a particular category, the results were shockingly complete and entirely spam-free. Looking for the list of all auto manufacturers? Or presidential libraries? Or art supply sites? A casual comparison of our results with those of the major search engines would convince you that we were on to something. We recruited a group of non-technical subjects to do a usability test, and it flopped. Sit people in front of a search box and ask them to test it, and their first query is their own name. #FAIL. It turns out that with the exception of people doing market research, consumers using search are not typically looking for an authoritative list of sites within a category; they’re looking for an answer to a specific question.

If you’ve been in SEO long enough, you can probably identify with the final sentence there. The best-known directories, like DMOZ.org or the Yahoo Directory, have always been valued more for the (assumed) benefit of their links than for any actual traffic they generate.

Xmarks is, to a large degree, more like a Yahoo Directory or a DMOZ than like a true search engine; it’s a huge database of web sites and web pages bookmarked by its users. And the current “bookmark search” tool it offers is quite good. These results for U2 are astonishingly accurate in terms of showing the most well-known, authoritative sites — official and independent — about the rock band.


In his blog post today, Agulnick says Xmarks has been shopped around since the spring, but after getting “remarkably close” to a deal, the buyer backed out. GigaOM says Xmarks was close to selling to Google, though that’s not been confirmed anywhere as far as I know. Google’s Chrome browser already offers a similar sync feature for bookmarks.

If you’re an Xmarks user, see this page for more information about the service’s shut down, including alternatives. (Sadly, none of them are cross-browser.)

There’s more discussion on Techmeme.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Google: Browsers | Search Engines: Other Search Engines | Top News


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.

Comments are closed.

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide