Freemium the 13th

If “we” had to throw away “our” jargon – blogosphere, Web 2.0, social media, and so on – and could keep one term, I would vote to save freemium. I like portmanteau words: wijard = widget + card, freemium = free + premium, etc.

Dries of Drupal, Acquia, and Mollom fame posted earlier today about freemium as used in his projects. His remarks on Mollom are particularly interesting.

We currently have more than 3000 active users that use Mollom for free. Say each user spends on average 15 minutes a week moderating his site’s content and reporting classification errors to Mollom. Mollom learns from this feedback and automatically adjusts its spam filters so that all other Mollom users benefit from it. At a rate of $10 USD/hour, we get $390,000 USD worth of value from free users a year — 3000 users x 15 minutes/week x 52 weeks/year x 10 USD/hour = $390,000 USD/year. If these numbers hold up, the value of a free Mollom user could be estimated at $130 USD/year. And that doesn’t include the marketing value they add.

Meanwhile, Chris of the Long Tail identified four different freemium models. One of these is the “feature limited” model, of which WordPress.com is an example. I pay to make this blog changingway.org (as well as changingway.wordpress.com). By the way, WordPress.com is an example of multiple free business models, not “only” of freemium.

The first comment on Chris’s post is by Ben Watson (no relation). “New platforms are often hard to learn, and you can ease rapid adoption by not putting all the bells and whistles on the free version” is a strong argument in favor of the “feature limited” model.

If there is a black belt in the art of freemium, it is worn by 37signals. Looking at the options for my Backpack account, I see a combination of the “feature limited” and “seat limited” freemium models. For example: my free account allows me 2 users, 5 pages, and no storage; a solo account would cost $7/month and give me 100 pages, a shareable calendar, and some file storage; and so on.

Long live freemium. I like, not only the word, but also what it stands for and what it gives me: good software at no charge; more features, if I am willing to pay; and something interesting to write about.

Mollom: Milestones and Money

Mollom is one of four spam comment fighting services that I’ve covered before. Mollom has enough recent news to merit a fresh post. Centernetworks’ Allen Stern summarized as follows: Mollom Leaves Beta, Hits 10 Million Blocked Spams, Launches Paid Plans.

The Mollom site provides further detail. Dries posted that: Drupal is still the main platform for users with Mollom subscriptions, with Joomla! coming second, and WordPress third. The pricing page contrasts two levels of service: Free and Plus. Plus costs 30 Euros a month (which, at current exchange rates, is about $40, rather than the $30 Allen quotes).

Two Four-Letter Words: Spam and Free

Spam is, for many of us, the worst aspect of Web 2.0. The threat of spam of course creates an need, and hence an opportunity, for spam-fighting services. Last week, I compared four of them: Akismet, Defensio, Mollom, and TypePad AntiSpam. The comparison was prompted by the launch of the last of these (the list, like the comparison table in the previous post, is in order of launch date).

TPAS is interesting, not just because it is the most recent, but because it has claims to be the most free. I use the plural claims because TPAS seems to make that claim with respect to each sense of the word free: free of charge (gratis) and free (libre, open source) software.

In this post, I’ll extend the comparison between the four services with respect to each sense of free. First, free of charge. The last two lines of the comparison table refer to this kind of free. The first of these lines shows that each of the four services is free for personal use.

The last line of the table asks whether each service is free for commercial use. It answers “Yes” for TPAS, and “No” for each of the other services. Following some email exchanges and some thinking, it seems that the pricing issue needs clarification.

Akismet has multiple levels of commercial API key. For example, a problogger key is $5/month. Given that a problogger is defined for this purpose as one who makes more than $500/month, the cost seems reasonable (but then, I’m not a problogger). That an enterprise key starts at $50/month also seems reasonable (but then, I’m not an enterprise).

Defensio is free for commercial use up to a limited amount of traffic. That’s a paraphrase of an email. Defensio.com is down at the moment. I don’t know whether that means that the service is down.

Mollom currently describes its future pricing model as follows.

The basic Mollom service will be free… but it will be limited in volume and features… Our goal is to make sure that the free version of Mollom goes well beyond meeting the needs of the average site…

For large and mission-critical business and enterprise websites, we will offer commercial subscriptions. We are currently working out our commercial pricing scheme for access to more advanced features, unlimited traffic, enhanced performance, reliability and support.

TPAS, per its FAQ, “is free, and will always be free, regardless of the number of comments your blog receives.” The FAQ also addresses how Six Apart will support the service; the firm “may choose to provide enterprise-class services on top of TypePad AntiSpam at some point in the future.”

TPAS is the outlier on this “free as in beer” issue, but I now think that it’s closer to the others than I first thought and implied. Like the other three, it seeks to make money from enterprise clients (and I don’t see anything wrong with that). The difference is that it doesn’t attach the price tag to AntiSpam itself.

TPAS is also the outlier on the free software, or “free as in freedom,” issue. As I remarked in the earlier post, “while the TPAS inference engine is open, the rules are hidden.”

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Akismet, Mollom, or both move to a similar model. I base this on the following assumptions.

  1. Spam-fighting software has the classic intelligent system split between inference engine and rules base. In particular, Akismet and Mollom already have this architecture.
  2. The action is in the rules, which are specific to the domain of spam-fighting.
  3. Following from the above, you don’t give much away to spammers or to competitors if you free/open-source your engine.
  4. The people behind Akismet and Mollom don’t want to cede the “free high ground” to TPAS.

With respect to this aspect of free (libre), as with respect to the first aspect (gratis), I may have exaggerated TPAS’ outlier status. TPAS does have a legitimate claim to being more free than its competitors in each of the two senses of free. But the gap between TPAS and, say, Akismet, may not be as great or as durable as might at first appear.

That conclusion is, of course, my opinion. Comments (or email: andrew at changingway etc.) would be a good way of telling me that you draw a different conclusion or that my conclusion is based on faulty premises or reasoning. I’d welcome other relevant comments. For example, you might know of a spam-fighting service other than the four I’ve focused on.

AntiSpam: TypePad and the Trio

There’s a new spam fighting service in town: TypePad AntiSpam. To put it another way, the spam sheriff of TypePad town is now available to lay down the law elsewhere.

TPAS competes directly with Akismet. The table compares the two spamfighting services with each other, and with two other competitors. I’ve ordered the columns from earliest to most recent (so the alphabetical order is coincidental).

Akismet Defensio Mollom TypePad AntiSpam
Previous post at Changing Way? Yes Yes Yes No
Service offered by Automattic Karabunga Mollom: shares founder with Acquia Six Apart
If in doubt, challenge with CAPTCHA? No No Yes No
Service has own API? Yes Yes Yes No, uses Akismet API
Open source engine? No No No Yes
Free of charge for personal use? Yes Yes Yes Yes
Free for commercial use?* No No No Yes

Each of the four is the odd one out in at least one sense. Akismet was first out, and remains the service against which each rival positions itself.

Defensio is the one that doesn’t share developers or an organization with a prominent publishing or content management platform (Akismet/WordPress, Mollom/Drupal, TPAS/TypePad and Movable Type).

Mollom uses CAPTCHA when unsure whether a comment is ham (the good stuff) or spam, whereas each of the others queues the suspect comment for moderation. That’s something of an oversimplification about the others: for example, a TPAS client can use CAPTCHA when told about a suspect comment by the server.

TPAS is open source (GPL V2). I found this particularly interesting, given that the other three are not. They explain that source code access would help spammers. I then realized that while the TPAS inference engine is open, the rules are hidden.

TechCrunch is currently using TPAS via the WordPress plugin that Six Apart provide. Mike Arrington reports that TPAS is doing well so far.

Anil Dash wrote the announcement post at the Six Apart blog. TPAS also has its own blog.

Missing from the table are two of the most interesting potential comparisons: performance and market share. I suspect that we will before long see data relevant to these comparisons, and challenges to the data, and…

Update, after a few hours sleep and some further research. I made a few changes to the above.

I’d like to add that I find the name TypePad AntiSpam interesting. Or rather, I find the choice of name interesting. The name may give the impression that it’s more specific to TypePad than it really is. My guess is that Six Apart think they have a winner on their hands here, and that the success of TPAS will raise awareness and reputation for TypePad.

* Final update to this post. I decided that the last line of the table, while close to the mark, needs clarification. Hence the followup post (see the first comment to the current post).

Blog Software Firms Spread Their Wings

Acquia was started up by Dries Buytaert, the lead developer of the Drupal CMS, in late 2007. At the time I remarked on the similarities between Acquia and Automattic.

Now that Dries has announced Mollom, there’s a new and significant similarity. Mollom, like Automattic’s Akismet, is a spam-fighting web service. Duncan at TechCrunch reports that Akismet is the current market leader.

Here are a couple of ways in which Mollom is following the leader. In each case, the server code is closed-source, even though it comes from a firm notable for its foundations in open source. In each case, the spam-fighting service can be invoked by any client using the API: Mollom isn’t just for Drupal, any more than Akismet is just for WordPress. One of the main differences is that Mollom uses captcha, albeit only when it’s unsure whether it’s just bitten on spam or ham.

Meanwhile, Six Apart has made an acquisition that expands its range beyond blogging, albeit into a closely related domain. Mike Arrington posted a guest the acquired firm contest on Friday. It now has almost 400 comments: that guy really knows how to get his audience going.

It turns out that Six Apart acquired Apperceptive. Here’s how Rafat Ali described the deal.

SixApart, the blogging software firm with products like MovableType, Typepad and Vox, is now moving up the value chain into offering advertising and consulting services, and has bought New York City-based social media creative agency, Apperceptive. The financial details were not disclosed.

In case you, like me, were wondering what “social media creative agency” means, it seems to be how they say “ad network” on the mean streets of New York.