By now, pretty much everyone who cares already knows that Newsgator has decided to start giving away all of its client products. Much of the early discussion (including in the comments to our own coverage) has been about whether the software is compelling enough, even at a “free” price point, to take market share away from web-based readers. Newsgator points out in response that much of their business these days is in the enterprise, where firewalls make web-based readers an impossible option.
But there’s another issue here, and one that we ought not sweep under the rug. To their credit, Newsgator is very explicit about the forces driving this move. On the one hand, they get sales of their enterprise products (they make a behind-the-firewall enterprise RSS server) from people who first try the client applications. But on the other, and probably more important, hand, they’re giving away clients because Newsgator itself benefits from collecting massive amounts of data on the reading habits of the users of those clients – “attention data”, in the jargon of the RSS industry.
As the Newsgator press release puts it,
[W]e are rapidly growing our Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business by partnering with brands, agencies, and information service companies that can use attention and relevance metadata, provided by the NewsGator platform, to offer much richer and more relevant content solutions to their audiences. Look for more announcements about these efforts in the coming weeks.
We collect information on viewing and interacting with content to produce relevance ranking on articles. Personally identifiable information is not displayed or shared outside of NewsGator’s systems without your explicit permission (for example if you choose to make a clipping folder public).
In the end, there’s a trade here. Newsgator is being more explicit about this trade than many web sites: they’ll give you useful functionality for free, and in return, they collect data on your habits which they combine with similar data and then market. If you use an online aggregator, you may well be making a similar trade without knowing it. The question is whether you care about this – and whether the enhanced functionality you get from sharing attention data is worth whatever erosion of your privacy it might cause.