Acquia’s Strategy: Drupal as the Standard Platform

Acquia is a for-profit company, based on the free/open source content management system Drupal. When Acquia was founded, a little over three years ago, I remarked on its similarity to Automattic (which is based on WordPress).

Today, Acquia and Drupal founder Dries Buytaert posted about “the vision that we’ve been working towards for the last 3 years, and… how Acquia can help simplify your web strategy.” That’s based on the premise that “you” are (or are a member of) an organization with multiple websites. Since the sites differ in many ways (scale, rate of change, etc.), you find yourself with a variety of platforms.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a platform on which it was feasible to standardize? Acquia’s strategy is to provide that platform, in the form of Drupal and services to go with it.

That’s the big picture: Drupal as the Enterprise 2.0 platform (not a quote from Dries, but my summary of his post). One of the interesting parts of the picture is Drupal Gardens, which provides Drupal as a service. Dries contrasts Gardens with typical software as a service.

Almost all Software as a Service (SaaS) providers employ a proprietary model – they might allow you to export your data, but they usually don’t allow you to export the underlying code. Users of Drupal Gardens are able to export their Drupal Gardens site – the code, the theme and data…

We call this “Open SaaS” or Software as a Service done right based on Open Source principles.

I’ve been interested in the “open software as a service as a trap” issue for a while. So it’s good to see this issue addressed head on in an account of a vendor’s strategy.

Please feel free to leave comments on Acquia, its strategy, and related issues here. You don’t have to read Dries’ post first, but I recommend you do.

Offers, Offers, Everywhere: Google, Groupon – and Living Social

Three weeks into 2011, the most interesting series of stories about the business to consumer web is local offers. They are all over the place, in the (new and old) media as well as on the map.

Since an excellent summary and opinion piece by Ben Parr at Mashable is just a few hours old, I’ll build off that. Google attempted to acquire Groupon. Groupon decided it could command even more billions by IPO than by being acquired. Google decided to launch its own service, Google Offers.

Ben op-eds that “Google will be an instant player in this market,” but that it “has yet to prove that it can build a successful social product.” For its part, “Groupon is prepared for (and not scared of) Google’s entry in its market.”

The first point I’d like to add is that Google faces at least one more well-prepared local offers service, besides Groupon. LivingSocial was also prepared for this announcement, and made sure it was also in the news this week with its offer of a $20 Amazon certificate for $10. That deal, which turned out to be wildly popular, put LivingSocial in the news during “Google Offers in the offing” week.

That’s good for Amazon as an investor in LivingSocial. It’s probably not bad for Amazon as a retailer, since orders will tend to be for more than the $20 on the certificate.

The second point is that the prominence of the local offers services seems to undermine, yet again, arguments that the web leads to “the death of distance” and makes meatspace irrelevant. On the other hand, the three services I’ve mentioned are (or will be) national or international in scope, and the offer that got LivingSocial in the news this week features an international retailer/partner/investor.

Finally, this seems good for consumers, with Google providing an additional source of local offers. For local business, however, it may further increase the pressure to offer deals that are too good for consumers to miss, and too cheap for the business to come close to covering its costs.

Whither Webinar Ware?

I’m currently in a webinar. What that actually means is that another browser tab is showing a big blank where there should be slides, along with the names of people who may or may not actually be seeing the slides I’m not seeing. What should be happening is that we should all be seeing and hearing the same thing, as if we were in, if not a seminar, then at least a lecture.

Maybe I’m not doing it right. I did opt for the browser-based mode of webinar attendance, despite the availability of a download client. But surely, with all the multimedia marvels I can access using a browser, slides plus accompanying voice should be feasible. AT&T, whose technology is powering the webinar, isn’t making it happen for me.

I’ve been in quite a few webinars over the last few years. They rarely work. They have the synchronous restriction that we all have to be in the same virtual room at the same time. But the back-and-forth I’m used to from seminars, conference sessions, etc., of being in the same room at the same time just isn’t there. And sometimes, as right now, there isn’t even the one-way of the slides coming up in order.

Comments are open, especially to people whose experience of webinars is more positive than mine.

The Freemium Purchase Decision

If you are reading this, you probably use one or more freemium web services. One example of a freemium service is Flickr. It’s been my web photo service for years, and for the last few years, I’ve paid for a Pro account.

This blog is hosted at another freemium service: WordPress.com. I pay for some premium services, including domain mapping (which is the reason you’re seeing this site as changingway.org rather than as changingway.wordpress.com).

How much are you willing to pay for the premium version of a freemium service? Two prices seem particularly salient. One price reflects the value of the premium version, including the features in the free version and the features added by the premium option. A second price reflects the value of the premium features, ignoring the value of the free features.

There are other answers to the question, besides the two prices described. In particular, some people will refuse to pay anything at all.

That said, I think that a lot of people will answer the question with one or other of the two prices. So, at the risk of over-explaining, I’ll be more explicit about the two prices. The first price is value (free features + premium features). The second is value (premium features only). For example, in deciding whether $25 is a reasonable price for a year of Flickr Pro, are you thinking about what a Pro user gets, or only about what a Pro user gets and a user of the free Flickr service doesn’t?

Maybe I should use a polling service to gather response to my question. A freemium polling service, perhaps? It just so happens that I recently signed up for such a service: GoPollGo, “a social polling application” that I found via TechCrunch.

You can respond to the question about freemium pricing over at GoPollGo. Or you can leave your response to the question, or any other comment you want to make on the freemium pricing issue, right here.

Metacuratorship and the CD Revival

I just read A Future History of the CD Revival. Ten years from now, there are clubs based around burning music CDs. The physical discs aren’t just pleasingly shiny.

Unlike today’s collaborative, crowdsourced, and automatically generated playlists, a CD’s tracklisting is fixed, and the CD-burning scene is an opportunity for music lovers to show their deep individual loves of music, its sequencing and presentation.

The article is at Pitchfork. I found it via a selection of the top music articles of 2010, which I in turn found via Largehearted Boy.

I appreciate LHB’s music and lit blog, especially his curatorship of the certain musical strands of the web. He often points in turn to selections, so we have multiple levels of curatorship here…

Yahoo no longer delicious, interest Flickring

Yahoo has had a bad year. In a week or so, I’ll probably be able to update this post with a link to a timeline (I’m sure someone will do a Yahoo review for 2010).

The current month might be labelled the December of dumping Delicious, one of the hot social media properties when we used to call social media Web 2.0. A recent review at Mashable reminds us that Yahoo initially declared Declicious’ status to be “sunset,” then declared it to be for sale, but adds that a sale of Delicious might not be easy or even appropriate.

I use Yahoo for two things. One is email. I’d like to be able to get to my Ymail from the Android mail app, but since basic Yahoo mail doesn’t allow straightforward use of IMAP or SMTPs, I have to use the Android browser.

I also use Flickr. My Flickr Pro account is one of the few examples of my paying for a freemium service.

I’ve been very happy with Flickr, and have not been too annoyed since the Yahoo acquisition. So maybe my Flickr photo for this post about Yahoo is rather snide; or maybe Yahoo is like a precarious, storm-battered shack.

But my confidence is Yahoo has sunk below the point at which I can recommend Flickr. It has not yet sunk below the point at which I will use Flickr.

As we head into 2011, I’m regretting that each of the two Yahoo services I use is rather sticky. Perhaps it was silly to use an email address with a domain I don’t own (andrew at changingway dot org, now that makes more sense). I have thousands of photos at Flickr, some of which are linked to from this blog and from other sites.

Perhaps Yahoo will be the comeback kid of 2011. I don’t see that happening, though.

A Course on Schoology

Schoology is a learning management system (LMS) with social media features. My wish to kick the tires was quickly granted, in the form of the verification of my signing up as a teacher.

I created a course on Schoology. I should clarify that. Do I mean I created a course about Schoology, or that I created a course at schoology.com? Yes, to both. What I created is very much a first version.

You can check out Schoology and the course by going to schoology.com and using access code GT24N-XBSBF. Hope to see some of you there. Since I need to approve registrations using that code, feel free to email me (andrew at changingway dot org) so that I can respond to your registration request promptly.

37signals, One Suite

I’ve long been an admirer of 37signals. Today, Jason Fried announced the 37signals suite. The suite comprises 4 web apps: Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire. The last of these is for online chatting, the first three for managing, respectively, projects, contacts, and stuff.

There are three pricing options, starting at $99/month. It’ll be interesting to see how and if that changes. 37signals like to keep things simple, while some of their clients will have “but I want more of this and less of that with price more like that” comments.

It’s interesting to see that this is not a freemium offering. There is no $0 small-scale or trial version of the suite.

37signals is the best example I know of a firm with a strategy. By strategy, I mean propensity to respond to requests with: No, that’s not what we do. In particular:

  • 37s takes a hard line against feature creep. To make it into a product, a new feature has to add a lot more in terms of useful function than it does in terms of clutter.
  • 37s does not believe in losing money to gain clients. It has always priced for profit. There are $0 versions of the apps, but they are intended for trial, not for extended free-of-charge use.

In terms of my own use, I like the first of these things a lot more than I like the second. One of the reasons I stopped using Backpack was because my use outgrew the $0, but my inclination to pay didn’t. I do currently use Highrise.

What should 37s do next? Well, what I’d like them to do is a Learning Management System (LMS). A ruthlessly uncluttered LMS would allow focus on learning from the course, without wasting cycles navigating the LMS. But I don’t think that an LMS is on the 37s radar, and so I’ll keep on writing about other LMSs.

Netflix: Streaming Beats Discs, But Loses to Downtime

Netflix is now a digital video streaming company first that happens to also offer DVDs by mail, observes Forrester’s James McQuivey at Paid Content (via RWW). Netflix is starting to deliver more content by streaming than my mail.

That’s mostly good news, although it does rely on Netflix being able to stream. It was down a few minutes ago (but is back up right now). Netflix does downtime less gracefully than a certain whale-watching site I could mention: it blamed my computers, got stuck on at the license stage. It didn’t own up to having problems, and it didn’t show me a cute animal. Then again, Twitter has had more practice with downtime than has Netflix.

That suggests a couple of games. The first is to come up with a mascot for Netflix downtime. I suggest the Netflix narwhal, but will leave the artwork/implementation to others. Then there’s the Netflix version of rock-paper-scissors. Downtime beats streaming, which beats discs, which beat downtime. I hope that streaming wins…

Schoology: A Real Learning Management System?

If you ask most students and instructors what they think of Learning Management Systems (LMS), you’re probably going to get one of two responses: “What’s a Learning Management System?” or “I really hate the system we have to use.” (Typically, there’s a company name attached.)

Blackboard is the typically-attached company/LMS name. It’s the LMS I’ve had to use as teacher and as student, and the above paragraph reflects my experience. The paragraph by Audrey Watters at RWW. It opens an post about Schoology, “a startup that seeks to address many of the pain points of the LMS.”

Schoology apparently has the look and feel of the social networking sites with which students are familiar. That sounded interesting, so I signed up. I wanted to kick the tires right away. I signed up as a teacher, and went into verification limbo. I hope to be able to get going soon. It would be possible to start learning about Schoology right now, through relatively passive means such as reading blog posts (such as the recent post on updates to the service). But, as usual, I prefer more active learning.

I’m hoping that Schoology is a real LMS, focused on learning and on the student. Blackboard always felt to me like a TMS – a teaching management system – focused as much on the teacher as on the students.