Murphy's Law: X Marks the Empty Spot in My Wallet


The story of Xmarks is like a David and Goliath kind of a tale—only, instead of slinging rocks, users of the (seemingly) popular service all pledged to donate untold amounts of money to keep the cross-browser bookmark synchronization tool alive.

Well, I hope you didn’t throw yourself off a duomo at the sad September news that Xmarks was considering shutting its services, because it’s not. In a bit of news from the we-expected-this-would-happen-but-were-still-slightly-concerned department, the pledge slash publicity drive worked and Xmarks is back in business. Huzzah.

I love the service myself and, more importantly, find it amazing that one of “The Big Three” browser manufacturers haven’t managed to come up with a simple solution to the problem of, “I want all of my bookmarks to stay the same no matter what browser I use.”

Yes, that would require someone like Google to clandestinely admit that there are people on this wide, green Earth who indeed use a browser that isn’t the company’s own. But it’s not like Google is making fistfuls of cash off of all the advertising it doesn’t pack into its web-surfing software.

An act of goodwill—including the charitable donation of a bit of Google’s massive server space to fund such a cross-synchronization solution—would go a long way toward spreading the Chrome name at the very least. And, who knows, it might even encourage a wee bit more user adoption now that Firefox users (or dare I say it, those Internet Explorer folk) knew they could quickly and easily port their bookmarks back and forth regardless of whichever browser they were using at any given time.

But that’s the pipe dream of this column. In reality, Xmark’s brief financial woes (and, really, did anyone really think that a service teeming with such a rabid fan base was ever close to the edge?) did but one important thing: It reminded me of just how cheap I am. And you’re cheap, too. And you join a ton of people online who are similarly cheap.

I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense. I truly don’t. It’s just fascinating how a few bucks here and there can be a relatively inconsequential sum of money in the real world—a pack of gum as an afterthought to a hundred-dollar food purchase at the grocery store—but can seem like so damn much cash when it comes to buying a service online.

Now, it’s clear to see that more than 30,000 people are each willing to pony up a sum of money between $10 and $20 to save Xmarks. But that’s one thing to say in hindsight, especially in the wake of a service’s promised demise. And it’s another thing entirely to be so generous in an unbinding pledge for a service, kind of like how I keep on telling Nathan Edwards that I’ll pay him back the $10 I owe him at some indeterminable point in the future. I swear it’s in the mail, buddy.

But just how many of us would have simply donated a buck or to Xmarks in support of their fine development without being asked? How many of us would have fired up our Paypal accounts and coughed over a $20-spot (is that the cool way to say it?) to unlock the cross-browser bookmark synchronization akin to how one purchases a digital download of a game?

That’s where the fat hits the fire, if you ask me. I’m not cheap per se , but I always get a little suspicious whenever I see a dollar sign next to a service or application that I enjoy (or might otherwise enjoy.) Perhaps I’m tainted due to my primary job here at Maximum PC, but I always find myself asking the fateful question: Is there a free way to do this? Am I spending money because I’m too lazy to search for it, or because no other related software or service exists?

I’m happy that Xmarks lives on, but there’s just something about the raw concept of purchasing a service online that always makes it feel like more than it really is—even for an worthy Web app like Xmarks. I’ll be curious to see just how many of its 30,000-strong pledge drive sticks around for the company’s promised “Premium” service. Which, of course, will drop to a big fat Zero once “Gmarks” launches…

Former Maximum PC editor and all-around nice guy David Murphy greatly enjoys synchronizing every bit of his life in some giant, interwoven mesh of confusion and site bookmarks.

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