On the matter of value

One of the biggest failures of the open-source community, and the GPL-istas particularly, is not clarifying the concept of libre versus gratis when talking about free. It’s for this same reason that I’ve learned to use FLOSS—Free/Libre Open Source Software—to refer to projects such as WordPress. This distinction hurts developers when they release plugins to the public, because not only is the general impression that access and acquisition should be gratis, but so should subsequent support.

That’s a load of bullshit. First, on the matter of support, the GPL states:

15. Disclaimer of Warranty.

THERE IS NO WARRANTY FOR THE PROGRAM, TO THE EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW. EXCEPT WHEN OTHERWISE STATED IN WRITING THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND/OR OTHER PARTIES PROVIDE THE PROGRAM “AS IS” WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESSED OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. THE ENTIRE RISK AS TO THE QUALITY AND PERFORMANCE OF THE PROGRAM IS WITH YOU. SHOULD THE PROGRAM PROVE DEFECTIVE, YOU ASSUME THE COST OF ALL NECESSARY SERVICING, REPAIR OR CORRECTION.

You know what that means? That means that if you use this software and it’s not designed to cause damage but doesn’t work the way you want to, then you don’t have anyone to sue in court. It’s for this same reason that wars over GPL product are fought in the public sphere. In this field, the only currency is reputation.

It appears that as a FLOSS project grows, more people hate the developer, and to a greater degree.

As word of mouth increases the exposure and value of a GPL project, expectations grow to unwieldly proportions. The heart of any project is its community, and a project’s success hinges on the contributions of its members. More people with less knowledge about the full functionality and operational methods of the project are enjoined to use and benefit from the project, but these are the people with the largest expectations.

When they complain, they’re the same ones who speak the most hurtful words. They come only second to the competitors of the product in question. (On a side-note, I was guilty of this in earlier years when I had Movable Type in my crosshairs, and so are Habari advocates today.) Developers can be sensitive types. Hello? We’re people too. We produce projects that we believe solve a problem, and we take pride in the hours of voluntary service that we offer.

However, we, too, can be spread thin.

As expectations grow, so do the number of support tickets, and the many esoteric issues that appear in exotic situations that we are unable to predict. It’s even worse when we are unable to duplicate the problems. This is why, in front-end development, I have chosen to charge extra for IE6 consistency. For too long I’ve avoided PNG transparency to the detriment of my designs, just to make them “look the same in IE6.” No more. This is why, when setting up a site from the ground up, I charge extra for extended support and ensure that any issues with the hosting company are addressed to the right people.

When we’re spread thin, we start running out of time for those activities that make money for us. Designers and developers have a strong tendency for focus, and for that very same reason that most of us are dudes. Complaints are distracting, and being the exacting perfectionists that we can be (to a fault), sometimes we end up ignoring the projects that make us money. Then we get a little hungry, and start hating all of you.

A paywall is one of the best ways of diverting the flood.

Michael Torbert released All-In-One SEO Pack, and it’s become the most heavily downloaded plugin in the WordPress repository. It’s also one of the most misunderstood plugins in the world. No, it won’t make your site the number one result in Google for the word of your choice. It helps one manage keywords and titles and meta content in a way that WordPress by itself does not provide. For example, if I wanted to add a few keyphrases to the title attribute of this post without having a kilometric title in the post, AIOSEOP lets me do that. The expectations behind the plugin are some of the most unrealistic I have ever seen, and the complaints regarding the results and functionality have gone beyond the absurd. Too many questions asked at the forum are moronic, and many questions have been asked and answered.

The release of AIOSEOP Pro and the impending sunset for free support from Michael or myself have thrown a number of folks in a tizzy. The Pro version removes any advertising associated with the plugin, which can be seen in the plugin management screen. It also provides access to a support forum that will replace the free one. I have not advised Michael on any course of action. However, I understand completely why he’s doing this. The form fields for AIO are self-evident, and the installation is standard. The documentation exists. The paywall creates an agreement between him and the client, who sees value in the support that will be provided.

Value is perceived by the buyer

The grumbling is due to the fact that there is no extended or additional “functionality” associated with the pro version. The free version is supported by ads, but also works the same way as the pro version does. This is the same for the XML sitemap plugin (developed by someone else). This is the same case for a number of gratis iPhone applications and games. There is value in removing advertisement for a client project. There are people who will find this important. These are the people who will be willing to pay, and won’t spend the day complaining and calling the Pro version a “ripoff.”

Since I see no advantageous value in buying a car from Chrysler for the purposes of moving from point A to point B, I didn’t buy my first car from Chrysler. But I didn’t go complaining about how Chrysler is a rip because I see no benefit in having one. The most vocal of critics are doing this for two things: they want their freebies and/or they stand to gain from lambasting someone else.

These graceless little cockroaches are armed with the largest fucking bullhorns on the planet and get audiences that are disproportionate to their value as human beings. However, sunlight is a great disinfectant and the best way to deal with them is to shine a light on their stupidity. Hence, this post.

17 thoughts on “On the matter of value”

  1. Jay,
    I’ve been one of the most vocal critics of AIOSEOP Pro so I’ll chime in with a retort to your post.

    I understand that a free plugin offers no guarantees & you have no right to demand anything of the developers. But to release a PRO version of the plugin that you still offer for free without any added features is just ludicrous.

    Even if you think the lack of ads is worth the $39 (you can remove the ads yourself fairly easily) there is NO reason a anyone should pay $39/mo for ongoing support (AIOSEOP is a set it & forget it plugin) and updates (updates used to be one click & free, with the PRO version they’re manual & cost?).

    If you want to charge for support, fine! Charge for support. Don’t call it a PRO version that dupes people into thinking you’re adding functionality.

    The problem I have with this whole thing is the approach. Michael’s pimping his PRO version but hides the fact that it does the SAME THING as the free version.

    The fact that he won’t address any of the issues raised as well just illustrates that the criticism is hitting too close to the mark.

    1. Ben, the whole point of this long, 1000-word post is that value is relative to the buyer. Everyone is “entitled to an opinion,” but your criticisms of the plugin, your personal attacks on Michael, calling it a “ripoff,” these are, at best, mistaken. At worst, these are lies.

      Someone out there will see value in this pricing. Beyond sharing his thoughts with the Plugin Store owners, Michael can’t change the way the monthly access fees are charged.

      Should I expect you to write a similar post attacking the Google XML Sitemap Plugin that charges $49/month (was $129 per month until a few days ago) for ad-removal + support without additional “functionality?” For some people, ad-removal IS functionality. $39 may not be worth it for you, but other people might. Can you give them a chance to think it over without you screaming across the internet?

  2. This is the second time I’ve heard someone defending AIOSEOP Pro by saying Michael cant change the way the monthy access fees are charged.

    Excuse me?

    If he doesn’t like the fee structure don’t use that plugin store!

  3. Woops, hit submit too soon. Sorry about the double post.

    In any case, I’m not sure what you consider a ripoff but to me, if something isn’t worth the price being charged that’s a ripoff. When people could easily be duped into wasting their money, I want to make sure they realize what they’re getting.

    And before you label me as someone who just doesn’t want to pay for anything, I happily paid for Gravity Forms as well as premium themes. Why? Because they provide value. They don’t try to pass off their free plugin as some expanded premium item.

    If he wants to charge for support, go for it. You can do that without creating a PRO version.

  4. I have to say, as a long time fan of AIOSEOP I figured the Pro version would be kinda nice to have. It didn’t bother me that there was no added extras, the removal of the ‘donate’ nags was enough for me.

    What I do find annoying is the fact that given the plug-in has pretty regular updates, you only have access to download the plug-in for 7 days unless you take out, what I consider, an expensive monthly subscription.

    I would much rather have paid a slightly higher purchase fee that included a regular amount of updates e.g. 12 months and then ‘support’ charged extra if it can’t be resolved in the forums.

    Learning from my experience of the Pro AIOSEOP I don’t think I’d consider purchasing a ‘pro’ version of a plug-in that has regular updates unless it comes with better access, more-so when it doesn’t have any extra features than the readily available ‘free’ version.

    Just my 2 cents or pence as we like to call them this side of the pond ;-)

  5. Mr Omneo: as we all know, the WP Plugin store is still relatively new, and as with any business, early adopters do tend to shoulder a slightly higher cost during the early days when things are still being fine-tuned. Imagine the guy who buys an iPod nano a month before the iPod touch gets released. He’s beyond the return policy, but still might want to buy the new one. I’m sure when worded as pleasantly as you did, opinions like yours would be well-received by the Plugin store.

  6. Mr. Omneo, that’s exactly my point. Even if you think the removal of the ads is worth the $39, you’re forced to continue to pay $39/mo if you want to keep it updated. Of course, you can still update the plugin for free, but then you’ve just wasted the price of your initial purchase.

    I know Jay isn’t fond of the term, but that to me is a ripoff.

    And Jay, just chalking it up to “oh well you’re an early adopter so expect to get ripped off” is ridiculous.

    You seem & other of Michael’s defenders keep blaming WPplugins but refuse to admit Michael is responsible for choosing to place his plugin on WPplugins.

    WPplugins of course passes the buck back to the plugin developers so in the end, no one is standing behind the product and customers (like Mr. Omneo) are stuck having wasted their money.

  7. Ben: your issue with MT is that “if he knows WP Plugins do this, how could he bring himself to go with them?” Well, I can’t speak for him, so, if that’s your stance, that’s about it. You say, “And Jay, just chalking it up to ‘oh well you’re an early adopter so expect to get ripped off’ is ridiculous.” That’s a very flippant characterization but I’m used to this in my six years of blogging about politics. I’ve had to deal with worse. When I bought my desktop in Jan09 it had Vista on it. When I heard of 7 coming out soon, I felt like I could have held out, but I was out a computer and therefore out a source of income. I didn’t complain about it.

    The WP Plugins model is used by no less than Red Hat Enterprise Linux, for thousands of dollars. As soon as you quit paying, you quit getting support and updates… it doesn’t matter if a major security fix or bugfix comes out the next day. ADDED: Linux CentOS is exactly the same version as RHEL, only with no free support. You get updates, which you won’t get if you stopped paying for Red Hat.

    Perhaps what bothers me about your approach on this matter is that you seem to have made this into a moral issue. It’s a business issue, one you have with WP Plugins and MT. Also, I suggest that in a free market like ours, if you have a better idea and people willing to be the wind in your sails, I invite you to set up a competitive solution. The best of luck to you.

  8. Hi everyone
    Firstly can I congratulate Jay on a very well written post and Ben Cook for repeatedly reminding everyone that he’s annoyed in every way and on every website that he can find.

    wpplugins.com is very new (about 6 weeks old) and there are a lot of changes and modifications that are in-progress or planned. To say that a lot has been learnt over those 6 weeks is an understatement. Some of these changes include an increased flexibility in the pricing models that plugin authors can use (such as a one off purchase, one off purchase with upgrade, one off purchase with support and plugin purchase with lower monthly support subscription) as well as easier and more direct contact with the plugins authors.

    As regards whether we should be policing the businesses of plugin authors: as I wrote in my email to Ben earlier in the week, we provide a platform for plugin authors to sell their plugins and an infrastructure to deliver the plugins, updates and support. As long as the plugins are GPL, functional and the descriptions do not mislead people we leave it to the plugin authors to run their own businesses. If a plugin is priced too highly or a consumer feels like they are being ripped off then they are unlikely to buy so why not leave it at that?

    As regards to misleading people, the plugin most often mentioned is accurately described on the plugins page, as well as the differences in the pro version from the normal version. There is also a direct link to the authors website (via the author page) where the user can download the free version if required / wanted. I honestly don’t see how things could be any clearer.

    Rgds
    Barry

  9. Hello All,

    I’d just like to follow up and say that whilst I said I was annoyed re: lack of access to updates for the pro version. I don’t feel I was ripped off. If I have any real cause to be annoyed it’s with myself for not checking more closely that updates weren’t included.

    As it stands I’m happy with my purchase; OK so I may miss out on some updates but I’m not overly sure that I’ll miss much as I, possibly naively, don’t think that between versions of WP there will be much that changes. Obviously when WP 3.0 comes along I’d expect updates to the plugin and at that time I’ll consider either updating or reverting back to the free version.

    As Jay mentions, it’s a new process and both the WP Plugins site and the plugin developers are probably finding their feet in getting a model that suits everyone. It’s nice to hear from Barry that alternatives are going to be offered but as a wiser man than me once said, “You can please some people sometime but you can’t please all the people all the time”

  10. *** Disclaimer. I’m not 100% this is how it works ***
    @Jay Yes Red Hat etc uses the support model but I think the pricing model most use on WPPlugins is not very good. Red Hat gives you 1 year support and updates for $80 if you go with basic desktop package. Thats support for an Operating System.

    I have no problem with the WPPlugins model but most of the prices are totally absurd really. Sure if people pay for it good for the plugin author. But really, if you buy subscription you’ll never get your moneys worth. 1 year of updates and support for the AIOSEOP Pro pack is if I understand everything correctly $828 with regular price. All I can respond to that is, huh? None of the plugins pricing are reasonable if one go with subscription. Not that I’ve understood how you even do that =).

    Plz correct me if I’ve misunderstood anything because it all seems so absurd really.

  11. @Andreas your math is off a bit. The annual price is $468, not $828 but that’s still outrageous when you consider it’s a set it & forget it plugin so even if you need support you shouldn’t need it for more than a month MAX.

    I’ve just been alerted to a forked version of the AIOSEOP plugin without the ads.

    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/light-seo/

    I haven’t checked it out yet but assuming you don’t need support this would seem to provide the same functionality of AIOSEOP Pro.

    1. @Andreas: Barry from the thread above is one of the people who work at WP Plugins. Like he said, they’re looking at the many different suggestions out there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>