UserLand on the Block?

With the recent sudden departure of COO John Robb and numerous veiled hints from Dave Winer that something is in the air over there, Don Park is speculating on what’s the future of UserLand Software. Don thinks (as do I) that the signals all point to them being acquired by some other company, and just waiting to get the details worked out before they formally announce. The evidence does seem compelling:

  • Google’s acquisition of Blogger made this space a new arena for the big players to contend in;
  • AOL is readying its own “Journals” service, further legitimizing the field;
  • If UserLand was going to be folded into a larger company, the one executive they wouldn’t need is a COO — the CEO is important for morale/leadership purposes, but operations would be all about learning to do it the buyer’s way;
  • Ever since Sam Ruby started the not-Echo project, Dave’s been pleading for standardization on the MetaWeblog API and RSS 2.0, on the basis that the blog market is about to get eaten by BigCos — which makes me wonder if he wasn’t prompted to think that by knowing something about UserLand that we don’t.

The big question is, if someone’s gonna acquire UserLand, who is that special someone? If I was a betting man, I’d bet on Yahoo! picking them up as a quick way to counter the announcements from Google and AOL. The other alternative would be a tools vendor like Macromedia, since UserLand’s client-centric approach via their Radio product would fit in well with that sort of product line. But my gut tells me it’s Yahoo; they’ve spent the last five years playing catch-up to Google and AOL in every other way, so why not this way too?

UPDATE: In the comments on Don’s site, Steve Kirks names another excellent candidate for a UserLand buyout: Apple. It makes a lot of sense; Radio could easily be rebadged as a .Mac service, and UserLand has bigger “street cred” in the Mac world than in the Windows or Unix worlds anyway. I could definitely see Apple snapping up UserLand to stay competitive with Microsoft (which is going blog-heavy in a big way: the next versions of SharePoint and FrontPage supposedly are very blog-friendly). And Apple has the cash on hand to snap up the comparatively smaller UserLand without a hiccup.

We await further developments…