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Ask.com Sends Dying Bloglines To Its Friends At MerchantCircle

Die-hard Bloglines users are surely happy to learn today that the IAC-owned RSS reader isn’t being shutdown, after all. Bloglines accounts are still active with all subscription-related data intact.

Less than two months ago, Ask.com — currently in charge of Bloglines — said the service would be shuttered in a matter of weeks. Today, Ask says Bloglines will be taken over by MerchantCircle, the online small business network that counts Ask’s parent company, IAC, as a major investor.

But while the headline says “Bloglines Lives!,” the stats show otherwise; Bloglines usage — and RSS usage in general — is reported to be in serious decline. Shortly after the initial Bloglines announcement in September, paidContent reported new statistics from both Hitwise and comScore about Bloglines and Google Reader usage:

Hitwise, for instance, tells us that visits to Google Reader are down 27 percent year-over-year, while visits to Bloglines are down 71 percent year-over-year. comScore figures show that traffic to Bloglines has largely stagnated.

In fact, even Ask’s announcement two months ago basically threw RSS under the proverbial bus:

Today RSS is the enabling technology – the infrastructure, the delivery system. RSS is a means to an end, not a consumer experience in and of itself. As a result, RSS aggregator usage has slowed significantly, and Bloglines isn’t the only service to feel the impact. The writing is on the wall.

Either MerchantCircle isn’t seeing the same writing or, more likely, they have plans to change Bloglines’ primary focus from a typical RSS reader into something else. While Ask’s announcement says MerchantCircle is committed to existing Bloglines users, it doesn’t take a great leap to imagine the company evolving Bloglines into some kind of content alert system within the company’s network of small business owners.

Postscript: In its press release, MerchantCircle hints about how it plans to change Bloglines to fit its small/local business audience:

MerchantCircle will promote the service to its more than 1.4 million local business members through their account dashboards by integrating pre-created RSS feeds that deliver targeted content on their local areas and industries. Existing Bloglines users will also have an opportunity be exposed to blog content tailored to their locale. Providing local content will be a key element to the future of Bloglines. This will include new deals and specials from local business owners in a particular city.

MerchantCircle says it will take over Bloglines on December 1st.

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