Tuesday
Mar132012

My thoughts on Posterous' acquisition

Yesterday the news broke that Posterous has been acquired by Twitter. Since I doubt Twitter has much interest getting into the blogging space, this is very likely a talent acquisition. Unfortunately, the phrase “talent acquisition” has come to mean shutting down the service within a few months.

In their public statement, Posterous said:

Posterous Spaces will remain up and running without disruption. We’ll give users ample notice if we make any changes to the service. For users who would like to back up their content or move to another service, we’ll share clear instructions for doing so in the coming weeks.

In reading this, it could not be more clear that they intend to shut down the service. The sentence “Posterous Spaces will remain up and running without disruption” is clearly intended only to be true in the immediate term, as the following sentences make reference to giving ample notice and providing a way for users to move their content to another service. This is unfortunate, but to someone that has been paying the least amount of attention to Posterous over the past year, it’s been clear that the company has not been doing well.

First, in January of last year, Garry Tan, one of the two co-founders1left Posterous to join the investment firm that initially invested in Posterous, Y Combinator. While this doesn’t immediately spell disaster, it is worrying when a co-founder quits the company. Second, in the fall of last year, Posterous decided to try to pivot from being a public blog platform to “Posterous Spaces”, which was some sort of private blog/social network hybrid. Presumably this was intended to compete with Tumblr, who had been Posterous’ primary competitor for years and who had developed a rich set of following/liking/reblogging features that Posterous lacked. However, it wasn’t a complete pivot, as users could still create traditional public blogs on the platform.

I never really got Spaces, and I don’t think many other people did. And there was still the problem of how the company would make money - to many people, including myself, Posterous seemed too good to be true, providing a free blog without ads or heavy branding, giving away all the powerful features with no way to directly pay the company. Last fall I was reexamining my decision to choose SquareSpace to host my blog, as well as looking for a place to host multiple blogs for the podcasts I run, and so I was comparing as many services I could find using a variety of criteria. I ended up writing the following summary of my findings of Posterous:

Posterous is in the “seems too good to be true” camp. They get moderate to high marks for everything except the everything-is-a-post category, (also known as the “Tumblr” category). It’s certainly a very compelling site for someone that doesn’t want to pay anything and still get everything. The GA/Feedburner integration is also surprisingly good, and modifying the templates I can add any other JS-based stats app (a la Mint).

With regard to the “too good to be true” thing, my earlier comment2 about “one wonders how they make money” comes into play. Simply put, there are a number of things that could potentially happen:

  • It shuts down due to lack of money
  • It starts to “monetize” in unpleasant ways, either by demanding money or with ads or something
  • Significant changes in how the service operates may be made. They made one such change with the switch to Spaces earlier this year
  • It’s sold to a company that does one or more of the above

So while the Posterous software seems to be pretty close to what I’d need, I’m less bullish on whether the company’s interests are the same as mine.

Sadly, it appears as though I was right, and much sooner than I ever would have thought. It’s unfortunate, too - I have a soft spot for Posterous, as I had used Posterous for my personal blog before SquareSpace, and I was very happy with the software and the service. In fact, some of my content from my Posterous days has made it here. It saddens me to see a service whose failing is not the technology itself, but in failing to find ways to make money with it.

This is why I like SquareSpace. Instead of the company playing around with ways to make money or shutting down and/or selling out when they can’t, SquareSpace just charges their customers to host their sites. That’s it. And although the amount of money I pay per month isn’t large, it’s more than your typical shared hosting account, which means that I know they’re making a healthy profit off each and every customer, thus ensuring that the business will have the means to continue to operate for a long time.

1 There was apparently a third “co-founder”, Brett Gibson, that joined Posterous as a result of an aquisition by the company, but I can’t find much information about him. He’s listed in Crunchbase under the “Former” section, indicating that he, too, is no longer with the company.

2 My “earlier comment” was not included for brevity, but one of the bullet points from above my summary was:
sites are completely free. there appears to be no way to give them any money at all - no premium themes or charging for features. one wonders how they make money

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