Posts Tagged “products”

The Compromise of Free Services

Free services are the most popular way to attract users, but what are you compromising on for this to happen?

The word ‘free’ is still a popular way for many online services to gain the users they need in order to start becoming more than just another blip on the Internet radar. With that enticing offer of being free, most people sign up, use the service and then decide if they want to keep using it or not. The pull of being free can be a powerful thing and like so many things people like it when they get something for free.

In the beginning users of the service are happy. They can’t believe their luck that this service is free and they can use it on a daily basis. They love the new service and sing its praises to their friends who in turn sign up as well. It is free after all. The trend continues and if the service is a hit it can eventually scale to becoming the next big thing.

After a few years, the service owners wants to start making some money, but they don’t want to charge their loyal users for the privilage of using their service. That would be a terrible idea. Instead the service owners decide to change some things about the way the service works. Maybe they limit the API, change a well liked feature to what the service owners think is better (for them anyway) or even just start throwing some ads in. That last one always works right?

Alas the loyal users of the service start to feel like they have been cheated and throw their arms up in the air in objection to the new changes the service are implementing. Just because they have been loyal to the service since its early days, it’s wrongly assumed that the service owners are going to listen to their users. Sadly they don’t. And then an amazing thing happens. Despite the drawbacks to using the service with the new changes they don’t approve of, the users decide to keep using the service. It’s not about free anymore though, it’s about the people your connected to using this service. How will you ever connect to these people without this service?

Clearly I’m taking a few examples from social networks like Twitter and Facebook, but the rules apply to any service that starts out being free and refuses to entertain the idea of a paid account or subscription. The rule is that in order to gain the user base you need to become a smash hit, you need to make your service free for everyone. You need to make it instantly attractive for people to use and that starts with giving it away for free.

It’s a plan that has been played out with many services now and while there have been successful exceptions to this (well done Trello), many free services stick to being free and then try to generate revenue by using brand advertising and promotion or selling data as a product to others.

It’s at this point where the idea of a free account is nothing more than a compromise. In exchange for using the service in question, you must be prepared to accept the changes to the service and continue using it as best as you can. You might not like the changes that the service are implementing but the decision to continue using it or leave the service is down to you. You’re the user after all.

This is the cost of many free services now. If they don’t require something back from you in return now, chances are they will in the future. It’s just a matter of deciding how much you’re willing to compromise on to continue using the service.

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Five Dollar Value

Three pounds got me a tea and hot roll this morning from my local cafe. A pot of tea which should give me three decent cups of tea and a toasted flatbread with sausage. A little bit upmarket when you consider this is a cafe in the West of Scotland but also good value when you consider that it’s not your usual greasy spoon morning roll with a slice of cheap meat thrown in. Good value I think you would agree. I get enough fuel to see me through to lunchtime and enough tea to keep me working for at least two hours.

What about value on the Internet though? What determines value in the products and services that we buy but are nothing more than bytes that exist in the Internet?

Five dollars is a common price point for many products and services. Evernote offers extra bandwidth for synchronising data for this amount, Github offers a private repository for the same amount and you can follow more people on for, yes you guessed it, five dollars. It’s a common price for many services but the variety of value differs from product to product.

There is a trend on the Internet when it comes to services and value. The older the service, the more value you get. It’s not true in every case, but it’s certainly applicable to many.

Take Evernote for example. Back when I first took an Evernote subscription the added value I got from it was mainly their offline notebooks and extra bandwidth for synchronising my data contained in Evernote. Now though, Evernote offers collaboration, extra security, presentation and even other premium features from their other apps. Good value if you use these on a monthly basis.

Let’s look at now. Out of the box a free account gives you great value including the ability to use their Passport application and follow up to 40 people. On top of that you get 500MB of storage on their platform. For an extra five dollars a month you can follow as many people as you like and also get an extra 500MB of storage taking you to 1GB. Right okay, not the range of extra value that Evernote offers but it is value. is young though and in time they may offer more to its paying customers to encourage free customers to upgrade.

The trouble with comparing these services and more is that there’s usually only a handful of great services in each market. Comparing services from different markets isn’t going to work. It’s not fair to say that Evernote offers more value than but in terms of a basic feature count, yes it offers more, but it depends on person to person what features they use.

For many of us that use the Internet on a daily basis though, we live in a time where five dollars is nothing. It’s a fancy coffee or even breakfast. I don’t think five dollars to me is a lot of money to pay for a serivce online for a month. Even the most basic service is worth paying for.

If it provides value to you as a consumer then why not?

What’s the minimum you would pay for extra features and value from a service?

Also does that price change depending on the important of the service you are using. Would a service critical to your business warrant a larger minimum price so that it continues to support your business?

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We need more simple products

The fixed gear bike. Two wheels. One gear. Brakes, optional. Simple really. And that’s the reason why the fixed gear bike is loved by many cyclists. It’s a simple bike. Amongst it’s carbon fibre, multi-geared brethren, it looks out of place, but it has a special place in the hearts of many cyclists. It’s a bike with a single function, it just lets you ride.

Now take a look at Pop, the text editor for iOS from Minimal Tools. A single page text editor that offers no settings, no file management facilities, no synchronising with Dropbox. In fact there aren’t any features about it. All you can do is write something with it and then copy what you have written to the clipboard. Why the hell would you want to buy this app then when all editors for iOS do this?

Well Pop does one thing that no other editor I have does. It doesn’t distract me. It doesn’t have anything to distract me with. It just lets me write.

We need more products like Pop and fixed gear bikes. Simple things that do one thing really well. Simple products let you do what you really want to do without any distractions.

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