No Such Thing as a Free Sprout

About a year ago, I tried Sprout Builder. A sprout, in this context, is a Flash widget. SB cost nothing to try, and there was quite the buzz about it at the time. Two days ago, those of us with Sprout accounts got an email from Carnet Williams, the CEO.

Like many technology companies, we offered our service for free while we worked on our products, spoke with customers and developed our go-to-market strategy. Now that we have developed a solution worthy of creative professionals at the best agencies in the world, it is time for us to monetize. Starting in early February, we will begin charging for our service.

My reaction was one of surprise and interest, given the widespread use of the freemium model. I would have expected a very limited free version, with steps up from there in terms of price and service. Instead, as ReadWrite Marshall puts it: “Users will need to pay a minimum of $140 for a year of uptime for three widget projects.” He considers the lack of a free version a bad and sad thing, as do most of those who commented on his post.

Mashable Adam takes a more neutral tone. He quotes the SproutMail in full, and, based on a conversation with Carnet, “notes that the company will continue to offer free accounts to non-profits and academic institutions.” Again, comments on the post are mainly negative, with some feeling that they have been taken in by a bait and switch, with the year of free beta sprouts as the bait, and the recent email as the switch.

“The Case of the Charging Sprout” raises several questions, such as:

  • What is the deal for edu/nonprofit customers of SB? One of the quotes earlier in this post indicates that SB will be free for such customers, while the pricing FAQ states that “educators, design students and non-profits can use Sprout Builder at a discounted rate.”
  • Did SB give sufficient warning that the free sprout honeymoon would end?
  • WW37SD? What would 37signals do? 37s has done an impressive job with the freemium model, making the free version interesting enough and the $ versions premium enough. It’s interesting to compare the Basecamp pricing chart with the Sprout Builder chart. The former shows that there is a free version, the latter that there isn’t. Now, project management is certainly different from widget building, but I think that similar pricing considerations might apply.
  • How will SB’s decision work out? I don’t think that it will work well. A free version, however limited, encourages people to get started. While SB offers a 30-day free trial, that’s not the same thing as being able to maintain a sandbox over a period of time, so that one can, as time allows, keep going back to SB, assessing its fit for different projects that come up, and comparing it with competitors.

I’ll send a couple of emails soliciting answers to the first and third of these questions. But I hereby solicit your take on them, and comments are open…

Sprout is Out, Fresh From DEMO

Several of the major web 2.0 (I know, that term is so last year… or was it the year before?) blogs have someone at DEMO, where they… attend lots of demos, and blog about them. One demo that seems particularly blog-worthy was the launch of Sprout.

As Sprout CEO Carnet Rogers noted: “Techcrunch, Mashable, and RedWriteWeb posted as we launched and gave us a very kind review.” Marshall Kirkpatrick, writing for RWW, was more than merely very kind.

SproutBuilder is going to explode the world of widgets on the web. This is far and away my favorite product I’ve seen at DEMO, not just this year but ever in the three years I’ve attended.

I’ve just signed up for the beta of SproutBuilder (invites are, or were, available from the three blogs linked to from the quote above). I did build a sprout, that is, a multimedia widget. I won’t inflict it on you. One reason is that it’s a rather sorry and bedraggled sprout right now.

Another is that my attempt to plant my sprout here at WordPress.com failed. I didn’t expect to be able to plant it here, but one of the Publish options offered by Sprout was WordPress, which seemed to mean WordPress.com. And indeed, the sprout did get sent here, to be wrapped up in a draft post. But the “interesting” code was stripped out. In other words, it met the fate of most widgets at WordPress.com.

I intend to cultivate a sprout or two, post them elsewhere, and link to them from here.