UserLand Software's Shrinking Role in Blogging

Dave Winer wrote this weekend that UserLand Software's still in business:

On this day in 1999, MacWEEK (now defunct) covered the introduction of Manila. Believe it or not, Manila is still a product, and UserLand is still operating. ...

Sometimes I think Radio, which was initially a success, was another example of breaking users. A year after its release I wished instead we had produced a Manila that runs on the desktop. Creating a whole new codebase and design for a blogging CMS wasn't such a great idea, in the end. Two architectures is one too many for a small company to support. And there were lots of features in Manila that never made it into Radio. It's totally technically possible to run Manila on the desktop behind a Fractional Horsepower HTTP Server.

I'm a former customer of UserLand and the author of Radio UserLand Kick Start. Though the book was enjoyable to write and is still useful today to people running OPML Editor and Frontier, as a commercial project it laid an egg.

While writing the book in 2003 I expected UserLand to be bought by a larger company that wanted a stake in blogging, but that never happened. As Six Apart, WordPress and other companies were aggressive with new releases and APIs, UserLand slipped into obscurity during the four years since Winer gave up majority control of the company.

UserLand, which reportedly has enough longtime academic customers to keep it going, issues occasional incremental releases with minor new features and bug fixes, most recently Manila 9.6 in October. The last marketable new feature was the addition of support for the SalesForce.Com API in April.

Today, the only sign of life at the company is Lawrence Lee supporting existing users on the Radio UserLand and Manila customer forums. Jake Savin, another developer, joined Microsoft in May.

To my knowledge, Winer's not in a position to resume management of UserLand, since he sold majority interest in the products and company name to a new corporation in 2004.

Company CFO Scott Shuda, who controls the UserLand Software name, domain name and the IP rights associated with Radio and Manila, told me in July that "everyone is moving on," but there hasn't been a public announcement regarding how it's being run today. Shuda killed his Radio and the Manila weblogs and the about UserLand page describing the company's management is gone.

UserLand still has a nice server product in Manila, but the company's management missed a lot of opportunities since taking over. They had the first successful web-based RSS aggregator in My.UserLand.Com, but when it was killed to work on Radio, the field was left wide open for Bloglines, NewsGator and other Web 2.0 ventures. UserLand has never supported Atom 1.0 in their aggregators, making it difficult to stick with its products when an increasing number of syndication feeds were published in that format. They also let Winer take Weblogs.Com with him, which he subsequently sold to VeriSign for $2.3 million.

If there's anyone left at UserLand who answers to the name of "boss," Radio UserLand ought to go open source so the only focus is Manila. There's no business in selling $39.95 desktop blog software, and Radio's hellacious to support. I have four years of information for Radio users in the archives of this weblog, and the only time I ever hear from people about the program is when they're desperate to move.


If you view the source code of the Frontier Kernel project, you'll find all of the pieces there to compile a Radio UserLand kernel. The Radio.root isn't covered under the project's code, but there's nothing stopping anyone from contributing to the project and getting RadioUserLand running as a Universal Binary on the Mac or running well under say Windows Vista.

The idea that they are doing anything other than maintenance is delusions of grandeur on the part of Winer.

I left UserLand over a year ago, finishing my initial agreement with them. I found the staff and management great to work with but they were hampered by one giant albatross around their neck. As of this weekend, it apparently still hasn't gone away. I stopped subscribing to Winer's weblog around the same time I left UserLand and have been better for it.

Thanks for pointing this out. I've always told myself that if I had more time, I'd work on the kernel project and rewrite Radio. It's like buying that old car, just like your first one when you turned 16, and fixing it up. It would be fun for the trip down memory lane, but no one would really understand it but you.

Steve Kirks

Radio had some good features, but when it got confused, yikes. I nearly lost it all twice.

My blog is now in WordPress. Conversion was fairly easy, write Radio to MT format using a Tool, then import that into WordPress.

FYI: Here's how I did it.

I bought a copy of your book about two years ago - I recall it being a very interesting read, with useful insight, particularly in routing around some critical flaws that could damage/delete your data. I remember being impressed with the early example of a data handler for reading in 'arbitrary' XML feeds, which sparked off a little interest to see if it were possible for it to parse Atom formats.

Its perhaps the only useful reference I could find about Radio. Your enthusiasm for the product shone through in the book.

Hey Winer .... I mean whiner. It doesn't say anywhere you sold your stock. And the premise of Rogers clumn - that the company isn't very active while other applicai tons are passing it by - goes unanswered by you. As one who claims to remain above the fray, you apparently read Rogers' blog on a regular basis. And for someone who brings up on a regular basis that he has plenty of money, seems like you could keep yourself busy with other, more positive things. Of course if you did that you wouldn't be dave whiner anymore.

I like that Radio is a desktop application. I chose RU two years ago after deciding that I wanted to be in control of my blogging environment and did not want to rely on someone's site being up and . The river of news aggregator had been the most used feature and remote access and working api's (so far everything works but flock) has been great. However, with my subscription due and no news or development I'm probably going to switch to a free hosted site like blogger or wordpress. I am hesitant to lose control over my site and yet I don't want to be the last person on the sinking ship. The concept is really great and I would readily buy into an updated version of the software.

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