Tom Fallon from FastScout writes "Further to reading your recent review of WebGrabit in Random Bytes, I thought I would take the opportunity to introduce myself and the company...Unfortunately, at the time of your review, we (FastScout Ltd) had yet to settle on appropriate payment gateway. Thankfully, we now have WorldPay in operation and has been running successfully for the past three weeks...I was interested to read you comments "I can't get under the hood, I can't repurpose it and I can't use it anywhere that they don't support." and wondered what you meant by this statement? Would you be kind enough to elaborate? I am extremely interested in gaining WebGrabit user feedback so we may improve the product according to our customer needs."

Great to hear that you got your payment gateway issues fixed up. There is nothing more frustrating for a potential customer than to go through the entire purchase decision process only to find out that they aren't able to pull the trigger! Worldpay has a great operation, I'm sure they will serve you and your clients well.

When I mentioned that I couldn't get under the hood, I was alluding to the proprietary nature of your application in contrast to what I get with RSS and a decent aggregator. WebGrabit shines at giving me snippets of data right on my desktop, but it doesn't give me a choice of delivery mechanisms - its either HTML on the desktop or nothing. With RSS, all I need to do is find (or write) a parser that displays the feed in a way that is useful to me. A lot of people use aggregators like Newzcrawler or RSS Bandit to parse and consume their personalized selection of feeds, but this isn't the only way that RSS can be used. There's nothing stopping someone from creating a parser with feed consumption functionality similar to WebGrabit that displays RSS snippets on the desktop.

WebGrabit is a black-box that screenscrapes data from websites of a users choosing (neat functionality) and displays it on the desktop in HTML "components" reminiscent of Microsoft's ActiveDesktop. As a user, all I get to specific (of consequence) is what content gets displayed - I have no real control over how I consume it.

Fastscout would be well-served to swim with the RSS stream instead of against it - there's more than a bit of hubris in your claim that "WebGrabit supersedes RSS web feeds with a technology that is much more versatile!" I'm not sure anyone that has used RSS and your product would actually buy that claim.

Instead, why don't you focus on where RSS falls short and build around the established standard to improve it. Here's the recipe: There is no real effective way for a user to consume snippets of websites via RSS. WebGrabit would be immensely more useful if it was functionally broken into two sub-applications - The Scraper/Generator and The Parser/Reader. I would love nothing more than to be able to select a portion of a webpage, have it sucked into Webgrabit and see RSS spit out the other side. This would give me a tremendous amount of flexibility and utility around how and where I consume the data created by the WebGrabit Scraper/Generator. You guys might not like this, but my preference would be to use the WebGrabit Scraper/Generator to create RSS feeds and then use Newzcrawler to consume them. Alternatively, I would love to take a couple of specific feeds custom generated by your app and embed them directly in a web page page sitting in the Tucows employee intranet - great way to distribute competitive intelligence. 

Now as far as the parser reader goes, I think the desktop component angle that you guys have taken would be a great way to read different RSS feeds - those generated by the WebGrabit Scraper/Generator and also those generated elsewhere. I would love nothing more than being able to take four or five feeds from various sources, smoosh them together and read them via a WebGrabit RSS Desktop component.

There is one last bit that would make WebGrabit a killer app for me - give it a "Publish to Blog" function that would allow me to take any bit of text from the WebGrabit RSS Desktop Component, format it, edit it, add to it and allow me to save it directly to Random Bytes as a weblog post.

By singling out and focusing on what you guys are really good at, I'm willing to bet that you could make a small fortune with WebGrabit by seizing the RSS meme by the throat and absorbing it as a primary enabler within the application. In fact, if you build an application suite that works as I've laid out, I will personally buy a licensed copy of your application for everyone in my Research & Innovation department.

Overall, I really hope that FastScout takes another look at RSS. If the product upside I've laid out here isn't compelling, think about the cost savings that you will realize by outsourcing your innovation to the community. RSS and other standards are pre-defined building blocks that your developers can pull off the shelf and work into your applications without too much thought. This frees you up to work on important things - like giving users like me a compelling Scraper/Generator - Parser/Reader application suite that really lets me deal with the web on my own terms. Interoperation can be a highly profitable strategy for non-dominant software vendors.

Lastly, thanks for your email - its nice to know that someone is reading this website from time to time :) Don't hesitate to drop me a note or leave a comment if you want to discuss this further.