The last of the independents Jason 21 Mar 2005

82 comments Latest by Peter Cooper

With the totally unexpected sale of Flickr, Ask’s purchase of Bloglines, Technorati drinking from the VC cup, and Feedster joining the Omidyar Network, it looks like the indies are dropping like flies. Based on the apps that I use and watch, it seems like the following popular web apps are the last of the self-funded independents: Basecamp, Del.icio.us, Campaign Monitor and WordPress. Who’s next to drop? Know of any other popular web apps that are completely on their own?

82 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Jamie 21 Mar 05

Feedburner?

Fred, the real Fred 21 Mar 05

There’s a lot more then just four…

A quick Google shows that there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands self funded web services out there. It takes an exceptional web service in a specific niche to attract the big buyers.

Steve, via Den, Fla and now RDU 21 Mar 05

A Flickr sale had been rumored for sometime…

Fred, the real Fred 21 Mar 05

….and they’re not just buying a web service, they’re buying a user base as well.

Tom Werner 21 Mar 05

Gravatars are completely self funded and have become quite popular.

Fred is correct in saying there are still many private web “apps”. It’s always a gamble to sell your company to a big conglomerate, but not all web apps have a steady income model like Basecamp, so selling becomes more and more attractive as user load and the resulting operations costs become a drain on the provider. I think for some, it eventually becomes a choice of ending the service because of financial strain, or selling and keeping it operational.

Not all purchases are bad. They’re only bad if the purchase causes the service or project to decline in usefulness.

Anthony Baker 21 Mar 05


One thing I’m not clear on is whether Yahoo is buying Ludicorp itself, or just Flickr. And, from Caterina’s post, it sounds like elements of Flickr’s technology will be incorporated into Yahoo proper, but that the Flickr site will stay as it is (though don’t know if advertising will be added yet).

Hopefully if they do advertising on the site, paid users will get to have it nixed. Don’t mind it for non-paying customers. (Though I am a non-paying customer at this point.)

/Ant

Quinton 21 Mar 05

Better keep an eye on Custom Reader, think you will see more of it in the future.

www.customreader.com

Provides full statistics from a customised RSS Aggregator and can be changed in “real time” through an online control panel.

Caleb 21 Mar 05

Butterfield (the CEO etc of Ludicorp) was supposed to come by my school (SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology) a couple weeks ago for a talk/presentation but he couldn’t make it because he was “Selling his company for millions of dollars.”

Cool for Butterfield and his gang… But now it seems much less likely that social networking will assist me in getting a job there (anytime).

Chris 21 Mar 05

I would assume Flickr is being integrated into the i360 social software/photo sharing / community thingie that Yahoo is rolling out in the near future.

Brian B 21 Mar 05

well once mine launches in May/June (beta testing to begin in mid-april), it will be completely financed by me (everything, seriously, and i’m only 22!). Anyway, I’m sur there are hundreds of smallish web services out there that are run by small groups. Its just a matter of finding them.

pb 21 Mar 05

I thought that was pretty clear: “Yahoo has made a definitive agreement to acquire Flickr and us, Ludicorp.”

Which company is more interesting: Flickr or Ask (minus Bloglines)?

Randy 21 Mar 05

Feedburner

They have investors.

David Smith 21 Mar 05

Site Meter is completely independent.

Chris 21 Mar 05

What about audioscrobbler and their sister site last.fm?

jim winstead 21 Mar 05

blo.gs is in the process of selling out. it’s certainly not at the scale of these other deals, however.

Fred, the real Fred 21 Mar 05

blo.gs is in the process of selling out. itís certainly not at the scale of these other deals, however.

Begging is more like it. The most he’s going to get a maybe a job offer and an rm -rf of his www directory.

There’s a fine line between a viable web service and something that I can hacked together with PHP/MySQL in a weekend.

Chris Vincent 21 Mar 05

Don’t forget Six Apart’s acquisition of LiveJournal. Then again, one may argue that Six Apart is independent itself.

Joe Grossberg 21 Mar 05

I thought Del.icio.us was just one guy, and not an actual company.

JF 21 Mar 05

Then again, one may argue that Six Apart is independent itself.

Six Apart has taken lots of money

I thought Del.icio.us was just one guy, and not an actual company.

What makes one guy not a company (as long as he’s incorporated)?

Ryo 21 Mar 05

yup. www.side4.net

Ed Knittel 21 Mar 05

Web services are abound - what we’re reading about more have to do with services that have this shared/community feel to them. Yahoo! Ask Jeeves and the other portals depend on these types of services and applications to draw in members. Independants, like myself, have been creating web based applications for niche markets for a long time. We’re completely self-funded but because our product is built and catered for a specific industry (the pet care industry in our case) we’re not likely to be acquired by web portal any time soon.

But, specific applications built with and for specific markets are arguably being built with the web as its platform - hands down. Regardless of the language (PHP, RoR, ASP.Net, Java) we’re all moving away from the development model of PC only/Mac only. For services it’s all going to be web based in one way or another. The platform independence will show itself through things like Apple’s dashboard but the core will still be web based.

And because you asked - KennelSource is our company and Pawtracker is our application (built on .Net) We’re an ASP for dog boarding, daycare, grooming, etc. kennels.

And to toot the SvN horn - I am constantly using examples of how Basecamp was developed in a small business and how we too can one day reach such fame and fortune. You should make posters to hang in our rooms next to our rock star and Ferrari posters.

Steve, via Den, Fla and now RDU 21 Mar 05

Regardless of the language (PHP, RoR, ASP.Net, Java) weíre all moving away from the development model of PC only/Mac only. For services itís all going to be web based in one way or another.

Exactly.

While Flickr and OddPost get all the attention, they’re 2 out of 1,000s like Fred said. Most web apps and developers are working on niche products and doing very, very well doing it.

Jonathan Holst 21 Mar 05

If you count WordPress as a ‘webservice’ I think it would be fair to mention other blogsystems like TextPattern, Serendipity and many more. (My point is, that I don’t find WordPress to be a webservice.)

Mark G 21 Mar 05

So Jason — When are you guys walking down sell-out aisle?

blackant 21 Mar 05

Every day I am amazed and impressed by what small teams of passionate people are able to accomplish - the Ludicorps, Robot Co-ops, 37ses, Cuban Councils, etc. I would love to work with some of these types of people and/or start something along these lines. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only in central Ohio that has even heard of these companies, let alone share their vision. Maybe it’s time to move.

So hey, if you’re in the Columbus area, get in touch!

Adam Simon 21 Mar 05

Don’t forget 43 Things, which took investment money from Amazon. At the moment, they seem fairly independent, and hopefully the small influx of cash from Amazon will allow them to resist completely selling out in the near future.

Also, and quite significantly, the new Ourmedia, which looks to remain steadfastly indpendent. They’ve created a great site just by the Alpha release, so I’m confident that (at least in the near future), they’ll be able to keep innovating without selling out.

bruno 21 Mar 05

Feedmarker is independent, though perhaps not that popular (yet?).

Steve, via Den, Fla and now RDU 21 Mar 05

Donít forget 43 Things

I heard that this was a very secret pet project of Amazon’s; as in 2 or 3 people new about it’s roots.

Anil Dash 21 Mar 05

“Then again, one may argue that Six Apart is independent itself.
Six Apart has taken lots of money”

This is kinda interesting… I work here at 6A and I think of us as independent, despite having raised funding, because other blogging providers are companies like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, all of whom are publicly held and, well, weren’t founded by bloggers.

If independent is defined as not having taken money, what kind of money-taking counts? An SBA loan? Credit card debt? Funding a service with consulting or contracting work?

Jamie 21 Mar 05

From Wikipedia:

In business, an independent business is a term of distinction and is generally used to refer to businesses which are privately owned as opposed to those publicly owned through a distribution of shares on the market. A sole-proprietorship is the most common form of independent business. Other terms of distinction used in addition to independent businesses are small business and startup business, which have varying subtleties of distinction.

Greg 21 Mar 05

If independent is defined as not having taken money, what kind of money-taking counts? An SBA loan? Credit card debt? Funding a service with consulting or contracting work?

I assume we’re talking about fundraising through the sale of equity, not fundraising through debt. The former gives up a chunk of control over the company in a way the latter does not - provided you can make the payments on your loans!

JF 21 Mar 05

FYI, the spirit of this post wasn’t to say that taking investments or selling your company is a bad thing. I was just making an observation based on the current state of the market.

Secondly, I like Greg’s definition: When you sell equity you are no longer independent. You have to answer to shareholders, investors, or other folks who have influence that you can’t ignore. Now, many of these investors are pretty sharp so answering to them and getting their input isn’t a bad thing, but you are no longer in complete control of your product or your decisions.

David Smith 21 Mar 05

If independent is defined as not having taken money, what kind of money-taking counts? An SBA loan? Credit card debt? Funding a service with consulting or contracting work?

I think independent would mean there are no (or minimal) strings attached to the money. If the founders/owners are using their own money or using their own credit to fund it, I’d say they are still independent. Money from VCs would probably include a loss of control and independence.

Ianus Keller 21 Mar 05

I don’t know if it is that independent, but things like Meetup and Dropcash aren’t they also independent? And there’s that Craigslist thing. But personally I am not that worried about where the money comes from as long as it works and supported by passionate people (both providers and users)

Randy 21 Mar 05

Meetup and Craigslist both have investors. Dropcash is still indie, I believe.

Peter 21 Mar 05

Webjay.org is independent, and Lucas is doing some amazing innovative work there, all by himself. Upcoming is Vimeo, by Jakob, who is self financing it. And (plug!), mefeedia.com is totally alpha (ok, beta) but independent.

I don’t agree there are 1000s of viable webservices out there. There is a big difference between the 1000s of “good enough” services, and the very few “brilliant” ones.

You are right though, the current batch is being bought. Time for the new kids on the block to prove themselves. Let’s see what they come up with.

patrick h. lauke 21 Mar 05

although not widely used - probably in part because it died and was only resuscitated by another developer recently - i’d count GeoURL.

One of several Steves 21 Mar 05

I don’t know about the idea that equity means you’re no longer independent. Is anyone going to argue that Yahoo and Google aren’t independent? I certainly wouldn’t.

I would argue it as the prensence of parent ownership (like is happening with Yahoo buying Flickr) or a significant minority investment stake (like eBay’s stake in cragislist). It ultimately comes down to whether you have to answer to anyone other than yourselves or the market.

Rex Hammock 21 Mar 05

I’m with Anil on this one. Independence is in the eye of the beholder. However, technically, independence (as defined, say, by the National Federation of Independent Business — NFIB) means, simply, “not publicly traded” and under 500 employees. Also, if you think there are only 4-5 web apps out there, then, well, even though you’ve created one of my favorites, you need to get out more. Also, if you take into consideration the independent applications that are being developed that aren’t, necessarily, webbased, but are marketed and distributed independently, then the long-tail of independent apps is endless. Current favorite independent app (that not’s web-based) that I’m addicted to: Quicksilver.

Greg Gershman 21 Mar 05

Since everyone else is chiming in, Blogdigger is self-funded.

JF 21 Mar 05

Also, if you think there are only 4-5 web apps out there, then, well, even though youíve created one of my favorites, you need to get out more.

Maybe you need to read more… My post says: “Based on the apps that I use and watch, it seems like the following popular web apps are the last of the self-funded independents”

Of course there are others. That’s why I asked people which ones they knew about that I didn’t include.

NotRex 21 Mar 05

Rex, no one implied (including JF) that there were only four or five web apps “out there”… he simply stated that out of the web apps that HE (JF) used, AND those that were popular, only four to five remained independent.

He then asked if anyone else knew of any POPULAR INDY web apps—this does not presume that none exist, but instead that there may be some that he has not heard of (but are still nonetheless popular) because they serve a need he may not have.

Funny how the tone around here always starts to degrade as you move down the comments… enjoy the water

Now back to the topic…

BrowserCam, not sure what the financial status is, but there are enough failures in the service ;-P to presume it’s still indy. It is a killer idea though, and works pretty well, if they could reduce the REORDER process to ONE-CLICK it would be about seven times better (the number of steps (approx) it currently takes to reorder.)

NotRex 21 Mar 05

JF beat me to it. Sorry for the gang-bang Rex.

Damn hunt and peck typing…

Peter Cooper 21 Mar 05

Okay, I know 9000 users probably doesn’t mean “popular web app” but we at RSS Digest are still independent! That said, if anyone offered me the right sum for it (had people interested in sponsoring, but don’t think it’d work out) then it wouldn’t be independent for long :-) Sorry, I’m a wanna-be sell-out. I’m actually pulling out the “full works” XHTML redesign and adding a ton of features in the next couple of months specifically to make it look better in this regard. Oh well ;-)

ChrisR 21 Mar 05

Please. Anyone who takes investment money (and 6A has taken oodles so far) is beholden to their investors. And when you are beholden to your investors you are no longer indie. You may be smaller than MS or Google or whomever, but you aren’t indie. Indie isn’t a measure of size, it’s a measure of who makes the decisions and who has the influence.

peter royal 21 Mar 05

upcoming.org is awesome and still indie i believe.

pb 21 Mar 05

Disagree with ChrisR. A company with 51% ownership by it’s day-to-day operators is independent in my book. You certainly aren’t beholden to your investors if you own 51%.

ChrisR 21 Mar 05

pb, do you think Ben and Mena still own 51% of 6A?

Mark Payne 22 Mar 05

I don’t think anyone could actually “buy” WordPress. Or, at least it certainly wouldn’t make sense to, given that it is released under the GNU GPL.

Alex 22 Mar 05

Textpattern?

Sunny 22 Mar 05

The assertion that SixApart is indie is laughable.

We cannot really write a definition that would suffice or be appropriate to all groups out there. We just have to look at the specific web app and make a decision based on that.

Traditional size or ownership based classification will not fit the entire spectrum of teams and web apps out there.

But you can tell when you see one.

Sunny 22 Mar 05

More importantly this thread has been very valuable as a shortlist of some of the cool web apps out there.

RSS digest looks very interesting.

Adrian Lee 22 Mar 05

Not only has Ask bought Bloglines, but Ask has itself just been bought out as well.

http://www.threadwatch.org/node/1967

Ask is generally seen as a bit different to the other big engines as well, so interesting to see how it gets affected, and how bloglines fits in there.

Steve, via Den, Fla and now RDU 22 Mar 05

Peter Cooper

Very cool. Very, very cool.

Don Schenck 22 Mar 05

Isn’t it obvious? This thread is Jason’s way to hinting that Basecamp is going to be purchased.

Sheesh … read between the lines, folks.

I guarantee it.

Espen Antonsen 22 Mar 05

24SevenOffice is a web-based ERP-solution and has like these others web-application’s been build up without external funding.

Fred, the real Fred 22 Mar 05

Isnít it obvious? This thread is Jasonís way to hinting that Basecamp is going to be purchased.

We can dream, can’t we?

Tommy 22 Mar 05

I have a question Jason. Do you feel your firm can handle, manage, and expand better without help (seems to be the point of our SXSW presentation)?

Personally, I don’t have the experience to know. I’d love a post on this topic. For example, lets say Yahoo! bought you, and said, you have total control, here is some money for development, now go! Would you have done anything different with Basecamp? Your upcoming projects?

Just curious …

Jamie 22 Mar 05

I don’t know all the details, but Odeo seems like it will be a very cool webapp/service … and independent? Certainly the founders have enough capital to self-finance.

JF 22 Mar 05

Do you feel your firm can handle, manage, and expand better without help (seems to be the point of our SXSW presentation)?

We expand when we need to expand. We’ve added one person since we launched Basecamp in Feb 2004. If we need to add more people we will, but not until we absolutely need to. We hire Just In Time.

JF 22 Mar 05

It’s impossible to say if we’d do anything different if we had this or if we had that, but we do have the resources to hire more if we needed more but we don’t hire more because we don’t need more.

Like I said in my presentation, the goal is to build something manageable and to embrace constraints. Putting your energy into lifting constraints if not always energy well spent. We’d rather work within our constraints since it will almost always lead to more creative solutions.

Don Schenck 22 Mar 05

Jason hedges, ignores my post.

Jason will soon be driving that new DB7!

:-)

kev 22 Mar 05

I believe Matt of WordPress is actually working under CNet now.

J Lane 22 Mar 05

Jason, you’re in SF. You should be out enjoying the rain, not blogging!

Really enjoyed the talk yesterday. Thanks.

Jon

JF 22 Mar 05

Don, the DB7? Seesh. The DB9.

Don Schenck 22 Mar 05

AHA! … so I’m RIGHT!

Of course I meant the DB9 … finger slip.

Just remember those of us whom you passed on the way up.

pb 22 Mar 05

The assertion that SixApart is indie is laughable.

That’s a bit extreme, dontcha think? It’s possibly debateable but certainly not laughable. I believe they qualify as indie under most definitions.

do you think Ben and Mena still own 51% of 6A?

Last I checked, 6A had more than 2 employees.

Folks, “indie” > anti-money.

Steve, via Den, Fla and now RDU 22 Mar 05

DB9? With that much cash it’s time to leave the ground.

King Air

Joe Murphy 22 Mar 05

King Air? Meet Flight Club.

J.Y. 22 Mar 05

OpenAir (http://www.openair.com) is still private and they have a nice Professional Services Automation (PSA) offering that I’ve been using for quite a while now.

Anonymous 22 Mar 05

Joe, looks cool, however I want my own Kin Air 90 to go with my soon-to-have pilot’s lic.

Tony 22 Mar 05

Gathering that you don’t mean just commercial independents, but also GPL, I’d nominate the CMS Mambo [http://www.mamboserver.com].

Tommy 22 Mar 05

I hear you Jason and I agree. My firm has doubled in size in the last 12 months. The two owners have us moving in every direction, trying to be everything to everyone IMHO. Can’t leave a buck on the table.

Our head of technology, marketing (that is me), and customer support all want something different. We don’t want a new “solution” to every problem our client base may have, we just want our core product to be the best (and it isn’t) in the world. I wish I could get the management of my company to listen to you …

Pete Prodoehl 22 Mar 05

I think Upcoming.org could have some potential…

As for Odeo, sheesh, don’t believe the hype! It’s been demoed at a conference or two, has anyone even seen it or used it? It’s still vaporware in my eyes…

Fred Sanford 22 Mar 05

I wouldn’t really count WordPress because it’s open source. If you count WordPress then you’ve also got to count FireFox and Thunderbird.

pb 23 Mar 05

WordPress and Firefox are quite different IMO. Mozilla is pretty clear that it does not have commercial aspirations. WordPress could easily go commercial.

Mark Payne 23 Mar 05

Sure, Wordpress could easily go commercial, but that couldn’t stop someone from forking and releasing it themselves.

Mike Slone 23 Mar 05

Inknoise is as independent as you can get.

Patrick Dodd 24 Mar 05

Groove was recently bought by Microsoft. If you think it was heavy before, just wait until MS has their way with it.

Allan White 24 Mar 05

I’m a big fan of Expression Engine from pMachine as my blog backend/low-to-mid range CMS. I chose it over MT for my projects for a long list of reasons.

It’s independently owned - it’s the brainchild of Rick Ellis, who moved up to Portland from LA a few years ago when pMachine, the progenitor of EE, started to grow.

Ed 30 Mar 05

http://lists.del.icio.us/pipermail/discuss/2005-March/002554.html

Del.icio.us is out.

Peter Cooper 30 Mar 05

I’ve seen a number of people claiming that del.icio.us now has investment, but I haven’t read anything that says Josh definitely has received a concrete offer on this. He just says that he now sees a need to accept outside investment rather than that he has any lined up. Of course, even if he hasn’t.. that won’t last for long ;-)

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