Licensing ideas for Movable Type

After explaining how I use MT personally, I have more thoughts to add to the conversation that I hope can find their way to San Mateo.

I approach MT with two very different angles: the first one is personal since I've started to use it in November 2001 and launched this very site with it 18 months ago. The second one is the corporate angle, precisely investigating the implementation of a weblog farm at Capgemini (I've listed my requirements in this post.)

When I saw the draft price list just before the public announcement, one with four digits figures on it for the high-end business licenses, I must confess that I did not foresee the public (track)backslash that quickly followed. But I could have, since I expressed to the Six Apart folks my lack of comfort with the (number of weblogs x number of authors) equation. The thing is, this formula is no more appealing to me as an individual than as a corporate user, but for different reasons.

As an individual power user, I've always resented software that have artificial barriers, artificial in the sense that they're applied on top of a unique codebase that, inherently, has no such limits. As a corporate buyer, my policy is very simply to pay a fair price for a concrete deliverable, i.e. I agree with suppliers on a certain amount of money vs. a certain amount of measurable work whatever its form (be it a good, a software or a service), and I think I'm a fair buyer to deal with. For example, I can definitely understand that support cannot come for free and that properly supporting all their users, from individuals to companies, is a core issue by itself for Six Apart, and a pretty complex one indeed. As a counter example, I told them that I would flat-out refuse the single-CPU limit since how I optimize my hardware infrastructure is entirely my business, not theirs (I turned down a well know database vendor for the same reason, but in its case this limit is not a copy/paste error in the license.)

I do understand why Six Apart made the decision to base its model on both the number of weblogs (as web sites) and authors. They're the two simplest variables they can easily measure, and they tried to avoid cluttering their price list by splitting this only according to two profiles: commercial and non commercial. However, this apparent simplicity might be one source of problem, because such model with fixed granularity cannot fit all their audiences and that the number of weblogs and authors are not orthogonal dimensions by which you can separate the modest, casual weblogger from the big corporation.

Here are the various target audiences I can think of, their differences and what kind of license could fly for them (your mileage may seriously vary!):

The individual weblogger
Profile: from casual diarist to serial blogger, usually of the power user type, at least one who prefers a custom solution that can be extended (hacks, plug-ins, etc.) to ASP services such as TypePad or Blogger.
# of weblogs/authors: highly variable and obviously a sensitive issue! Can be prolific, or host family and friends as a courtesy on their own server.
License: a personal license, free under a certain limit (with non priority access to the users forum), flat fee for unlimited weblogs/authors (and priority access to the support forum). $70 seems a fair price considering that MT 3.0 doesn't exactly lead the way in terms of innovative features (MT 3.1 might be an entirely different story.)
Rationale: word of mouth! The success of Six Apart is not only due to the quality of MT as an application, but also to the vast community of individuals who have embraced it. Word of mouth does not come for granted and is as volatile as the mouths owners. Why word of mouth is important for a weblog software: because if it isn't, what is in the blogosphere?
The web developer (freelance or employed)
Profile: the ones who will perceive MT as a platform and develop plug-ins or innovative frameworks they will sell to their clients to power their web sites including, but not limited to, weblogs.
# of weblogs/authors: absolutely senseless to them. Will have as many active weblogs and authors as active projects, and inactive as big as their portfolio.
License: a developer license at a price that accounts for the specific documentation and support that they require.
Rationale: they can discover the tool through the personal license and will pay if they understand the benefits of a developer program which I think is a required element to prove and ensure that MT really is a platform that's worth building on in the long run. MT developers will be the main sales people of Six Apart towards businesses.
The "non-profit" types
Profile: non-profit organizations, groups, communities, sharities, etc.
# of weblogs/authors: very tricky. Some community sites can live with a single website and an awful lot of authors with a high turnover. Some others will have many weblogs driven by a single author. Some weblogs and related authoring activities will be heavily event-based. This is an example where a linear curve (weblogs = authors) isn't granular enough and will be perceived as difficult to those in charge when comes the time to review the license fees as their usage varies.
License: a non-profit license that decouples weblogs/authors, sort out the complexity of finding out how many authors should be counted (e.g. flatten the number as the average active authors over a period of time) and provides a capped fee for which there are no limits.
Rationale: non-profits are interesting for word of mouth too and can provide an interesting test bed for innovative uses of weblogs. But they don't always have more money than individual webloggers.
The non-profit/public educational type
Profile: teacher, school, university, excluding professional training businesses.
# of weblogs/authors: senseless to them. Will have as many active weblogs and authors as courses and classes.
License: the educational license should be pretty close to the non-profit license, except they might even have less money and legal specificities I'm not aware of. May be both licenses could be merged into one educational/non-profit license.
Rationale: same as above, plus to expose potential users to weblogging!
The commercial license
Profile: all commercial users except the developers.
# of weblogs/authors: the current system may work for them, although it would benefit from being more flexible with a clarification on the installation, support and maintenance fees, plus a level at which big installations are licensed at a capped price + maintenance fee.
License: the commercial license which should be quite similar to the new 3.0 commercial license, accounting for the ones listed above.
Rationale: businesses will be the most sensitive to support and the chances of survival of suppliers over the long term (and by suppliers I mean both Six Apart and the developers here!) but they might be uncomfortable with a variable fee after a certain price point, especially at the beginning if they don't know where they're going. Starting with the weblogs/authors plans can help plant the weblogs in house, knowing that if they hit success, the costs can be capped.

So here I am, hanged on my personal and business naïveté, concluding that a more complex model is better :-). I clearly understand why Six Apart worries about some people installing MT to provide semi-industrial weblog hosting that will highjack TypePad or other offerings. MT is the only product to date that can do this pretty much out of the box and even makes it tempting. Being paranoid is not necessarily a drawback in business (look at Microsoft), but it's not a good idea to punish the whole community because of a few bad players. By breaking a monolithic model and rethink it according to each target audience, I think Six Apart may satisfy more of its constituencies that have not much in common apart their weblog tool.

2 Comments

Thanks for your ideas and long post, François.

About Typekeys: try it, it does block some spam, actually...

On Typepad we block now tens of thousands every week.

I might try it, or moderation, or a combination of both, once I get up to speed with the new tags :-).

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