Of Fluxiom and Getting Real

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

Asking customers for a credit card number, even when they sign up for a free trial is not outrageous. It's standard business and it's time we accept that. Here's why and, more specifically, why it's the perfect example of the Getting Real way of life.

41 Comments

Nathaniel
2006-04-28 03:01:52
With all due respect, you're wrong. Asking for payment information in order to provide a free trial smacks of CD Clubs and Porn sites -- the kind of revenue model where you're counting on people to forget to opt out before the first bill hits. Fluxiom or whoever can certainly feel free to ask for this information up front, but they will find most professional users unwilling to provide it, and thus we'll go elsewhere for our services.


Of course, you realize many credit card companies do, in fact, allow unlimited credit card numbers. By generating one-time use card numbers they offer protection from exactly the kind of opt-out recurring bill scam that has gotten out of hand online.


The real discincentive to users registering new free accounts every 30 days is that it takes time to set up whatever it it you're using the account for -- managing data, etc. Professional users (the kind who will happily spend thousands of dollars a year for an online service) don't have the time for that kind of shenanegans.


The eaxt issue is that eople don't trust unknown companies with personal financial data before we have any experience with them. You can wave your hands around and the company can show charts and graphs, but in the end that is part of what a 30-day trial is supposed to achieve, building that trust and letting customers know there really is a service that wroks on the other side of this web page. You assertation that we have to provide valuable data to test the service is laughable - why would anyone be uploading sensitive personal or company data in order to try out a service? IT pros will upload old generic text documents and useless files like MP3s and web pages in order to test initially. It is only after trust is gained that any sane person is going to hand over important documents -- or financial information.


I don't really care much, myself -- I don't have the slightest idea what this company does other than some sort of document storage or management, you've never actually said despite putting out two articles about them in one day. But your assertation that the internet will somehow be better if we can go back to 1997 when people were expected to provide credit card numbers before even seeing if a site is legit is, well, laughable. If this wasn't O'Reilly I wouldn't even have given it a second thought, but I find it amazing somebody assosciated with this site has such a user-hostile view of what the internet should be. We've already tried your way, and it led to massive fraud and overbilling. Join the rest of us here in the 21st century.

Adrian
2006-04-28 03:25:15
I agree with Nathaniel; you are plain wrong; your arguments are ridiculous and it is a shame that they appear in this website rather than in your own blog.


Let's put it this way: If I'm happy with the system, I will gladly put my credit card number afterwards, period. But NOT before a free trial. I have already had and seen enough trouble with credit card misuse and if I try, I try; no credit card needed. If I buy, I buy; I provide my credit card number. Basta! I don't see why to "defend" the position of a company (which is what you are doing even if you say that it isn't) saying that this is for the sake of a "simpler internet" (sic). This is plain hypocrisy.


And regarding test accounts, with "apple123" passwords and so on, well, you could have a policy to delete everything after 35 days if the person does not continue after the 30 day trial period. This is NOT my problem as a user, it's theirs. The same for recurring users. Reduce the amount of MB for test accounts! I do not care!


Just an end user point of view.

Nico Mommaerts
2006-04-28 03:50:03
Wrong wrong wrong.


This is the typical scenario (for me and plenty of other users):
Step1: wow, a cool new web2.0'ish application, let's check it out
Step2: clicks on free trial link
Step3: WTF these guys want my creditcard number for a *free* trial?
Step4: closes browser tab


That is reality. Whatever the motivations of the business are, they won't negate this fact.


'Getting Real' is still about making money, decimating your possible future user base in this way is *not* about making money.

FJ
2006-04-28 03:58:04
Nathaniel,


First of all, thank you for your comments.


I do not believe asking for payment information upfront means one counts on people to forget to opt out. After all, using a "free trial" is our full right but, should we choose to opt in for a certain number of days, it does not seem unreasonable to keep our calendar in mind. In fact, money is almost always asked for first before a good is provided: you pay for a font before downloading it, you pay for your song before iTunes downloads it to your drive, etc... In that light, the additional 30 days seem to me like icing on the cake, so to speak, not something that is due to us.


I do realize many credit card companies allow unlimited credit card numbers in some countries and in some conditions. Not everywhere however and that possibility is still proportionally offered to a lesser number of people than unlimited email creation. Also, while I entirely do agree that some schemes clearly are "opting out scams", not everything is. When it is clearly stated you will be billed, how much your bill will amount to and when it will occur, it hardly seems to me like a scam -- we're not talking 8 points font in a footer, here.


I do not believe my "assertion is laughable", as you say. First of all, this service is clearly aimed at individual users and small businesses, not large corporations with large IT departments. Hence, I would be extremely surprised if anyone actually bothered to do some testing with dummy and useless files. Also, one has to ask whether dummy files make for rigorous and effective testing -- a question quite commonly raised in the development business. Finally, a service can work perfectly but there could be a hidden malicious part to it -- the very principe of a Trojan Horse. 30 days of testing with dummy files would not detect that, unless one includes traps in the test files -- and even then.


The reason I have never actually said what Fluxiom is all about is that it merely serves as a basis for general discourse here -- I am not reviewing it per se. Also, I believe Fluxiom.com should answer your questions should you want to learn more.


I do not see my view as user-hostile by any means and I am the first person to criticize shady business practices. Providing a card number late in the game does not provide any more security than coitus interruptus, if you will excuse the comparison. A risk is taken and, provided someone is determined to scam you, there are good chances they will, in a way or another.


Of course, this is merely my view and a personal one at that.


Thanks again for your time,
FJ

FJ
2006-04-28 04:01:03
Nico,


Thanks for your comments. I do realize this decision will indeed turn off some users. Whether this was wise is a question that is not mine to answer but rather Wollzelle's and their accountant. All I am saying is that this is not necessarily unwise of them to require it.


There are many ways to make money. Some of them are creating an exclusive group or committed users, others are to make a service available to anyone under any circumstance. Both are legitimate and both can work. Both are, indeed, "Real".


FJ

FJ
2006-04-28 04:09:45
Adrian,


Hmm, is there need to use uncouth language here? In any case, I do appreciate your taking the time to comment.


While this blog is very kindly hosted by the O'Reilly Network, I am responsible for my comments here so rest assured I do not have the pretention to speak in the name of O'Reilly.


I did not say "simpler internet", I said "better Internet". And I am not defending a company here, merely a business practice. All I am saying here, and I am sorry if I have not been clear, is that the Internet of tomorrow is one we will want to build on trust and mutual respect. Whether a company asks me for a credit card number or not has nothing to do with it but is simply a matter of procedure, one that is perfectly acceptable. Trust and respect are the real questions we should focus on instead of centering our attention on rather gimmicky interface details such as when the number is typed in.


I entirely agree that credit card misuse is a real issue but I am convinced free trials are not the answer. They are an attempt at alleviating a problem, at best.


I do agree with you there are many ways to deal with test accounts such as deletion, reduced bandwidth, etc. Some companies use them with great success. But the question remains: Should it be the only way?


FJ

Frank
2006-04-28 04:41:50
While I don't know what kind of service Fluxiom offers, I heartly disagree with your statement that "It's standard business [to ask a customer for his credit card information for a free trial] and it's time we accept that."


Actually in my experience it's not a standard business practice and there are certainly good reasons for this. Asking for a credit card upfront makes a user think twice about trying out a service especially if he has to opt out of the service afterwards. Here in Germany even newspaper trial subscriptions are no longer opt out -- you have to opt in after the trial period. There has to be some reason for that, don't you think?


I think the purpose of a free trial should be to let the potential customer find out if he wants to become an actual customer. Thus the cost of the free trial is mainly a marketing expense. Without having solid statistics proving the point I'd expect that usually a lot more people are likely to try a new service than subscribe to it. Forcing all of them to enter their credit card information thus increases the likelihood of charging a lot of people who registered and forgot to cancel.


From my point of view it makes much more sense to provide a free trial with as little hassle as possible to get more people to try out the service than to make the transition from trial to subscription seamless. A nice little mail halfway through the trial period reminding you of the need to subscribe to continue to use the service would do the job in most cases.


Of course there's the risk of freeriders who create a new account every time the trial period is over, but for a reasonable service those should be the minority and part of the cost of doing business. Traditional shop owners know that a certain percentage of their customers (and employees) will be shop-lifters, however so far they have refrained from requiring their customers to give their credit card information upon entering their premises.


I'm not expecting Web 2.0 companies to provide all services for free. I'm certainly willing to pay a reasonable price for a service. However, a service must be very tempting for me to try it on an opt-out trial basis.


Reading your post it seems to me you're more worried about the potential damage a user could do than anything else. If a company gave me that impression before allowing me to test their service I'd gladly pass and take my business elsewhere.

FJ
2006-04-28 05:03:47
Frank,


Thanks for your comments.


There are indeed good reasons for subscriptions being opt-in rather than opt-out. As commenters pointed out (or expressed through the intensity of their wording), opt-out subscriptions have very bad press, for some entirely understandable reasons. As such, it is only logical some businesses, especially those in an industry that has gotten a fair share of bad press on the topic, would try to clearly state they are not looking into scamming anyone in any way.


I do understand people are afraid of forgetting and you do raise extremely valid points. Actually, we seem to agree on the course of action to follow should one decide to run a fully opt-in trial: send reminders. This certainly is a viable option but it may prove confusing for customers, especially when a system is geared towards "teams" where the "one responsible party" is often forgotten or loosely defined. The sign up process is the one and only time where one is sure to have the full attention of someone who is in relative command.


I am not saying opt-out is the only way, far from it, but I do believe it has received some very unjustified comments over the web -- and, again, comments to this entry point in that direction. My opinion is, very simply, that both are legitimate business practices with their respective reasons to be. Flaming one down as being "old school" (which you didn't, of course) is just what I cannot understand and prompted the writing of this entry.


As far as the potential for damage, I believe we can all agree any service on the web will have to face wrongdoers. When it comes to CMS, and especially one on which I may decide to upload my company data, I would rather ensure safeguards are in place, at every level.


I hope this answers your questions,
FJ

J Lane
2006-04-28 06:16:59
Getting Real is about doing useful things, not wasting time. Asking for a credit card number without charging it seems contrary to that. I agree with the other posters here, keep this kind of stuff off of Mac DevCenter, it has no place here. If you want to rant about how people don't want to release highly personal information just to look at a web site, do it on your own blog.
Nico Mommaerts
2006-04-28 06:28:58
FJ,


thanks for the (very polite :)) answer.
There are certainly many ways of making money (thank god :)), in this case it is done by offering a service to a certain number of people. Regardless of the characterization of your user base (committed, exclusive, ...), you have to succeed first in getting people to become a user of you service. How can I become a committed user if I never got past the signup form?

FJ
2006-04-28 06:32:48
J Lane,


I always appreciate feedback from my readers. It is however difficult for me to judge what you mean by "Stuff". If you would care to elaborate on your comment, I would appreciate it greatly.


Also, allow me to respectfully add that I believe you did not understand the main point of this post. Maybe I was unclear. In any case, I invite you to read my reply in the comments above for clarifications. Feel free to ask any question as well.


FJ

FJ
2006-04-28 06:40:47
Nico,


You are most welcome, it is always a pleasure to hear from readers!


I believe the answer to your question lies in how much you want to go past the signup form and what the barriers it contains represent to you. For example, many people are willing to jump through dozen of hoops to get concert tickets while others would only go grudgingly provided they were handed out on the sidewalk in front of their office.


To me, the answer lies in efficient market segmenting and pre-signup communication. Provided you belong to the application's market, the PR material should warm you up enough to make the effort of punching in your credit card number. Also, provided you belong to the targeted group of customers, you should deem it normal and natural to provide such information. Users who feel this is too much of a burden or do not want to disclose such information do not belong to the target customer group.


Of course, this is the theory here. In practice, many people will be discouraged by something even though they do belong to the group the company is trying to reach and, in reverse, some users will zip right through while nobody would expect them to. There are a great many parameters involved including the talent of the marketers, luck, the current public mood, etc...


I hope this answers your question. Otherwise, feel free to ask!


Again, thank you for your comment,
FJ

Ed
2006-04-28 07:18:51
Getting Real also involves respecting others and speaking appropriate to the context. You may like Fluxiom, but your post has zero to do with Macs or software development. Please take it some place else.
FJ
2006-04-28 07:22:33
Ed,


As stated on my entry, I am not a Fluxiom user and merely use it as a basis for discussion. In that light, I cannot say I "like" or "dislike" the Fluxiom software. I have heard many positive echos on it but that is another story.


As far as this entry not having anything to do with software development, I wholeheartedly disagree. It does have to do with the end part of software development: how small companies market their product to end users. Note this blog entry is filed under "Opinion".


Thanks for your comment,
FJ

Nico Mommaerts
2006-04-28 07:37:35
FJ,


I think you've confirmed my doubts about your post by saying:
'Of course, this is the theory here. In practice,..'
I feel that most of your arguments in your original opinion piece are on the theory side of things. Your last comment resonates a lot more with reality. Marketing plays indeed a major role in how far people will go. But that still doesn't mean you don't have to make your signup process as simple as possible.


This is a good article about the subject:
http://alistapart.com/articles/flywheelsandfriction

Jonathan
2006-04-28 09:55:29
Perhaps Fluxiom would be better off stating that they will Invoice in 30 Days, and that the terms of the invoice are clear payment within X Days and state that the invoice is for NON TRIAL Commercial use of the product from the end of the trial period forward and make it clear that at 30 Days + X and after say 3 reminders - the account and any assets within it will be removed.


That way people can try it, and use it without risk or fear of billing mistakes,accidents or unwelcome charges for a genuinely free trial period.


Then when the trial is finished the invoice is sent and further use is conditional on payment.

Cameron Hayne
2006-04-28 10:12:22
I agree with all of those who have ridiculed the idea of asking for a credit card number for a "free trial". Like it or not, the words "free trial" are taken to imply no risk, no commitment, etc. Supplying personal information is a cost (to me) - so that in itself makes it not "free".
And anyone who is sensible will test this out with documents that they don't care that much about (as others have said).
J Lane
2006-04-28 10:49:19
Certainly, I'll elaborate on "stuff". Stuff = personal opinion pieces about why users are reluctant to act in a certain way. To me, this article reads like a rant, which is something I would expect to find on personal blogs, not on web sites like Mac DevCenter. If you wanted to look at "Payment up front vs. at after trial period business models" phrase it that way, not "you're all wrong to be leery of Fluxiom requiring a credit card number". Although we know that you're in no way affiliated with Fluxiom, it sure sounds like you're trying to defend them. Keep your examples far more generalized.


"All I am saying here, and I am sorry if I have not been clear, is that the Internet of tomorrow is one we will want to build on trust and mutual respect. Whether a company asks me for a credit card number or not has nothing to do with it but is simply a matter of procedure, one that is perfectly acceptable. Trust and respect are the real questions we should focus on instead of centering our attention on rather gimmicky interface details such as when the number is typed in."


Agreed, trust is big in Web 2.0 and beyond. Personally, I don't have problems supplying my credit card number online for products I HAVE PURCHASED. I've been using eBay for an age, I subscribe to Basecamp and Backpack. Providing my credit card number to a company for something that I haven't bought is different. Trust works both ways, companies need to respect their customers enough not to ask them to submit payment information until payment is due. Unfortunately, that gimmicky interface detail has the potential to cause me a load of trouble if it gets over charged, leaked or abused in any other way. I'm on the hook, not Wollzelle. It's my credit card, not theirs.


I think one of the great names to throw in the ring on this is AOL. Remember the good old days when you would sign up for an AOL and get 50 free hours? They required a credit card number up front but you wouldn't be billed unless you went over 50 hours (or used any of their premium services -- but that was in the small print). AOL made it so easy for the end user by just automatically billing them. They didn't have to jump through all those hoops of having to confirm their intention to make a purchase. The number of horror stories from people who received their credit card statement and found huge charges from AOL have made people weary of this business model.


While there's no doubt in my mind that Wollzelle wouldn't charge my card until billing is due, wouldn't automatically upgrade my account if I started to run out of space or in any other way pass unauthorized charges, if they don't have my credit card number they can't. Case closed. There's no possibility of a billing screw up - that I'm billed for 36 premium accounts by accident, it's just not possible.


The biggest bee in my bonnet on this comes from throwing the "Getting Real" term in here. If this is such a "Getting Real" way of doing things, why isn't it the way 37signals does things?

FJ
2006-04-28 11:07:23
J Lane,


Thanks for your reply, I really do appreciate it!


Allow me to say upfront this is not an article but an Opinion piece, categorized as such, posted on the MacDevCenter blog. There are MacDevCenter articles and there is a MacDevCenter blog. The two entities are separate are part of two different elements of the O'Reilly Network. As far as this entry being a rant, it certainly is critical of a number of things but I do not whether it really classifies as a "rant". Maybe it does, I will leave that decision to you.


I am indeed trying to defend a certain flexibility in how we see things and appreciate new business models. From this entry stemmed dialog (even if heated) and a certain debate that a long, theoretical study would not have prompted. Also, such studies are best suited to an article form or to the O'Reilly Radar, another O'Reilly publication.


I appreciate your advice of keeping my comments more generalized but hope you can take the above elements into account.


As I said above, there is more, way more to this than trust and I can legitimately understand why a company would ask for a credit card number upfront, even if it trusts its users. Whether you and I like it as individuals is another matter and not one I had any intention to discuss in this blog.


I have never been an AOL customer so cannot really speak on their past but do the actions of one company need to discredit an entire industry? If, as you say, you do not doubt Wollzelle would not be dishonest, why the reluctance? If an accident were to happen on their side, it may well happen after the trial period and you may well get over-billed. If you were to forget about your typing in your credit card number, well, maybe you could use your Backpack account to remind yourself of it. Maybe Wollzelle automatically warns you of the nearing of the end of the trial period? (I did not check and it seems nobody here did either.)


Sure, not giving a credit card number outright closes the door for many a "screw-up", but it also opens another one, with equal chances of happening. In the end, all we can say is that we take risks no matter what policy we follow.


"Getting Real" existed before 37Signals (they say so themselves). And I do believe even 37Signals sometimes fails to "Get Real", much like the best chefs occasionally botch a soufflé.


FJ

FJ
2006-04-28 11:13:57
Cameron,


You seem to understand "Free trial" as in "Commitment-free trial", much like a bird is free. In a commercial sense, "Free trial" means "a trial that is free of charge". These are two very different concepts. On top of that, we need to consider what the law defines as "Free" -- and it, surprisingly, is usually a third meaning in itself.


As I said, you can conduct all the testing you want with dummy files, it would not mean much. I believe anyone who is sensible would run his file server on a machine he controls in a data center he controls thanks to a carefully reviewed open-source application, compiled by his own hands, through his own keyboard, for fear a sniffing device were installed on the USB cord. Unfortunately, we are more or less all imprudent. It just so happens our definition of what being sensible means varies greatly based on our individual experiences.


FJ

FJ
2006-04-28 11:15:09
Jonathan,


That certainly may be a way to go.


FJ

FJ
2006-04-28 11:20:37
Nico,


Thanks for passing that link along, it is most interesting.


Yes, a large part of what I discuss here indeed relates to theory. As I have stated, I am using Fluxiom and the heated comments I saw on the application over the web to discuss business models and trust, not what a single application should or should not do.


I would have to disagree with you on the use of the word "have". In some cases, it pays off to make the signup process difficult and hard to go through. In fact, this in itself may become part of the marketing ploy, appealing to a particular audience. Now, this is probably not what the makers of Fluxiom were after, but, since we are talking theory, I believe this is an important aspect to keep in mind.


FJ

Alex Diablon
2006-04-28 12:13:34
FJ,


I want to hire you to go work at my all competitors. You'd kill all competition with your "savvy" marketing and sales skills and then I'd own the market. :-)


I'm guessing you aren't serious, but maybe O'Reilly pays you by the blog, so you needed to post something. When I first started reading what you had to say, I thought maybe you were taking the Dvorak approach and were trying to get a rise out of the MacDev Center audience. The problem is Dvorak presents solid contrary arguments, while what you offer is a point of view of someone who seems like they are very smart, but maybe doesn't have a whole lot of true experience in the business world.


A trail period should be free. Period. Otherwise what you are describing should be called something along the lines of a money back guarantee. Have you approached Tim O'Reilly with your idea? Maybe you could convince him of the value of instead of allowing people to freely browse O'Reilly books at a store or content at Safari, O'Reilly should impose a barrier as you have suggested. It just wouldn't work.


You did succeed in one thing. You were able to create enough of a stir to get me and others to reply to your posting. I congratulate you on that point. I see too many blogs out there with no comments and that's a lot of time where most of the value lies.


Finally, one last point as a couple of the other comments stated. I come to the MacDev Center for Mac information. In fact, I love visiting here. But... If O'Reilly believes in diluting the blog with articles like the one you authored (which has value, don't get me wrong, but doesn't belong here), then I might have to think twice about how often I visit. I guess you could say it's another way besides barriers to lose customers.

J Lane
2006-04-28 12:28:37
You certainly have managed to create a really interesting discussion here, kudos for that.


On a side note, I often get to Mac DevCentre via RSS which doesn't distinguish between blog posts and articles (unless, of course, you examine the URL and pay close attention to the page and not just the content). That's probably what's sparked some of the "keep your opinions where they belong backlash". Until you stated it in your follow up comments, I didn't even realize that this was categorized as opinion, let alone posted to the blog, not as an article. Mea culpa.


You're right, of course, that the actions of one company should not doom an entire industry. Unfortunately, in my experience, that doesn't translate into practice. The actions of the RIAA and certain record labels are typecasting the entire music industry as being "evil" and "out to screw their customers". Unfortunately for many artists and labels, the RIAA doesn't speak for the entire industry. I know several individuals online and off that have stated that they just won't buy CDs anymore because of some of the horror stories associated with rootkits and those crazy non-CDs that would get stuck in peoples' iMacs. Just not worth the hassle. Unfortunately, with AOL, they were the only game in town for a long time for a lot of people those are the lenses that people are still looking through.


Indeed, there are risks associated with any business model, but as a paying customer, I have accepted those risks (or at least acknowledged them). As a prospective customer, I have not formally entered into an agreement with the vendor yet, so if a screw up occurs, chances are they'll lose my business. Let's pretend that Wollzell's customer information gets hacked. They now not only need to contact all of their current customers, apologize profusely and work hard to retain their business, but they also have to contact all of their prospective customers, apologize profusely and try to convince them to give them a second chance. In both cases, a customer-service oriented organization would likely offer free service for a month (or something). If they've tainted their entire current and near-future customer base, the company is going to have some serious cash-flow problems.


Okay, that's a big hypothetical, and maybe I'm just beating a dead cat. Would it have been so hard for them to go the 37signals model, offer a free account with a 10 MB limit (or something absurdly low, but just enough for someone to "kick the tires") and then ask for payment when the customer is convinced? That's really all that the free trial would be about in this case, allowing someone to experience the product through something other than screenshots, animations and flowery text.

FJ
2006-04-28 12:29:42
Alex,


First of all, thanks for your comments.


I am very sorry but you are, in this case, guessing wrong. While I am not at liberty to discuss the inner workings of O'Reilly, I assure you I am not paid by the blog post so my not posting at all or spitting out the entire phone book on a daily basis would not change a thing. (Although I guess that could make for a widely acclaimed conceptual art experience...)


Interestingly enough, that entry is exactly what you describe: a point of view. As far as my being smart goes, it definitely is not mine to judge. And as far as my limited business experience is concerned, I guess I have way more business experience than a great many people and way less than a great many other. Neither you nor I knows enough about the other party to reach a conclusion on that matter. And even then, would it really be of importance? I believe not.


It seems to me you are confusing two things here: a good and a service. An O'Reilly book is a good. Safari is a service. I never recommended putting barriers for entry for the purchase of a good, although I know of many a company that does so very successfully -- in the fashion world, the example of Hermes springs to mind. As well as putting barriers for entry on a service, I never recommended it either, I am merely stating it is and can be a viable way of proceeding provided you are offering a specific service that you market at a specific group (see above).


It is always a pleasure to hear from my readers and I am humbled some of you are taking the time to post and share their opinion. As you rightly point out, it is where most of the value in a blog post lies.


As far as dilution goes, you need not worry. The O'Reilly Network offers a slew of RSS and Atom feeds which you can use to subscribe to exactly what you want. An FJ-free experience is at your fingertips! Now, as far as Mac information goes, Fluxiom definitely has heavy ties with the Mac world. Looking at the Network, and even the MacDevCenter, you will see a great many different topics, from PlayStations to Segways. In the end, this is what makes it such a rich resource.


FJ

FJ
2006-04-28 13:47:53
J Lane,


I am sorry you believe the feed is not good enough at distinguishing the various contents the O'Reilly Network has to offer. I know the O'Reilly webmasters have been hard at work compiling targeted feeds so you may want to look at the Network's new offerings in that realm. As a rule of thumb, RSS entries announcing articles will have an image into them, designed by the great O'Reilly artwork department. Blog posts are either artwork-less or include "raw" images -- such as a picture or snapshot -- within the body of the message.


I do agree there is a definite PR challenge to consider here and the actions of one bad entity can often cast a shadow of doubt on everyone's doings. Again, this is why I consider this blog entry to be of a general nature (theory if you will), a starter for discussion, and not a definite truth or an exact reflection of how the market works.


The reason we disagree seems to me like it boils down to a very simple point. To you, a customer who signs up for a free trial is a "prospective customer" while, to me, he is a "customer", who is simply benefiting from a special offer. Maybe this stems from a difference in backgrounds. In any case, it makes for an interesting debate.


Before even wondering whether it would have been hard to go the 37Signals route, I would have to ask whether it would have even been a smart move on their part. Is the 37Signals way the best in any case? Or should we follow their own advice and adapt the meaning of Getting Real to each individual venture?


Thanks again for following up on your comments,
FJ

Alex Diablon
2006-04-28 21:57:38
Hello FJ,


Thanks for the reply. I appreciate it. Honestly, it's not that I don't find your opinion interesting, I just thought a Mac forum was an odd place for the discussion. But after a little searching, I discovered you are correct. It seems over time the focus of this blog has drifted from it's main purpose which is to feed Mac developers useful information. There's quite a few opinion pieces or articles that really don't have much to do with the Mac developer community.


Maybe dilution of the blog is inherent anytime a site allows mutiple authors to blog in one channel and there's no oversight. When O'Reilly creates a book or any computer book pubisher for that matter, a developmental editor works with the author to make sure they stay on track and focused. Most multi-author blogs don't seems to have this check and this seems to dilute the blog. Also typically an author of a book has a particular area of expertise and that's why they were hired to write the book. It seems here on the Mac Dev blog even though the bloggers may have specific areas of expertise they are allowed to write about just anything. I don't think this is wise. It takes away from the quality and the focus of the blog. John Batelle runs a company called Federated Publishing Media where they foster bloggers individual sites, but also have an editor that aggregates the appropriate blog entries into one tech blog. Maybe O'Reilly should adopt this approach so the focus is on what the audience is seeks. One thing I do know is a number of people commented on that fact they felt like your piece wasn't relevant to the Mac Dev blog. These people are the Mac Dev audience. Without the the audience, the blog is impotent. Paying attention to the audience is important as we all know, since they are the potential/current customers.


Thanks again FJ. I appreciate your feedback.

RMP
2006-04-28 22:47:12
I enjoyed reading your post and all the comments and I have some really enlightening comments and information that you will find highly relevant. I will be happy to provide you with an abstract of my comments for your review. All you have to do is provide me with your credit card number for "registration purposes." Don't worry, it won't be charged, unless you decide that you would like to download the complete article. In order to better serve you, and make your browsing experience simpler and better, your acceptance of the terms of this free subscription will be assumed if you do not opt out within 30 days.
FJ
2006-04-29 04:40:58
Alex,


You are most welcome!


While I may not be the best person to comment on O'Reilly's policies by any means, it is my experience the MacDevCenter always had a strong Mac edge. The new blog structure however introduced some more general -- but always somehow Mac-related -- opinion pieces that broaden the field of discussion and often help bring in interesting external viewpoints into our Mac discussion.


It is an unfortunate fact that any blog will content and discontent part of its readers. I would even say this is a good sign as it means an opinion was presented and the means were given to readers to interact with the author.


As far as dilution goes, your comments are certainly most interesting and I have passed them onto the appropriate people. This being said, I would invite you to check the new RSS feeds offered by the O'Reilly Network as these will help you narrow down your search too.


While I am certainly ready to accept my piece was out of place -- although, so far, I stand on my belief it is not --, I would like to stress many of the people commenting on this piece mistakenly took it as an article, not a blog entry. That, unfortunately, is something I have very little power on.


Thanks,
FJ

FJ
2006-04-29 04:45:43
RMP,


Thank you for your comment.


First of all, I invite you to see my note regarding the difference between a good and a service above. I certainly would not purchase a material (even if downloadable) good in such a matter and the scams you are imitating here mostly relate to the sending of goods, not the performing of a service.


Playing along your comparison however, and assuming I would, indeed, purchase a good in such a fashion, I would be happy to provide you with my credit card number once you have provided me with a verifiable full name, postal address, telephone number, company registration number, replied to a couple anonymous support enquiries on my part, and that I have investigated your activities through the publicly available channels available through most governments.


I notice you chose not to provide us with your email address or URL but maybe you would like me to use your IP address for such purposes?


Seriously, though, thanks again for your comments.


FJ

RMP
2006-04-29 06:03:38
FJ,


You are to be commended for keeping a cool head in response to your critics. I, personally, don't think that your post was out of place for macdevcenter. Thanks for putting up with tongue-in-cheek humor in my earlier comment.


I'd like to step back and put the issue in a larger context, as you have attempted to do. I think you have been very eloquent in making your case about a better internet, the subtle distinctions between customers and (potential) scofflaws, the distinction between a good and a service, etc. I believe that I understand your arguments.


For users, like me, who have been burned by credit card fraud, the issue of privacy and security issues trump most other concerns. (I'll spare you the gory details, but let me just say that I didn't order those replacement motorcycle parts to a Minnesota address because I don't live in Minnesota and I don't own a motorcycle).


The balance of forces operating here is interesting to consider; interestingly, it's about security on both sides of the fence. On the one hand, you have the service provider, who wants to screen out scofflaws (frequent downloaders who use re-register continually to use a service for free) and makes a (marketing? security?) decision to set the bar rather high for would-be users. On the other hand, you have the user who wants to protect themselves against the very real possibility of losing money. Pretty much every IT consultant I know would advise users from giving credit card information away in exchange for a "free trial".


Here, perhaps, is a true story, real life example that demonstrates the balance of forces issue. There is a popular, and very expensive, area restaurant my wife and I patronize named Cafe Allegro. I can vouch for the quality of their food and service. We are regular customers; infrequent, given the expense, but definitely regular. We go every year on our anniversary. They never ask for a credit card number for holding a reservation. This year, for the first time, my wife and I went on Valentine's day. They refused to give me a reservation without a credit card number. When I balked, and explained that we had previously made reservations (many times) without a credit card number, they explained that it was there policy to require it on high-traffic days, such as Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and so on, because too many people were no-shows on those days.


In the past, in another restaurant, I have had $50 charged to my card for failing to show, and the management would not accept my claim that I had called within the allotted time to cancel. So if I had never eaten at Cafe Allegro before, I probably would not have made a reservation on that day, and they would have lost a chance to get a regular customer.


So who is right, the user or the service provider? Well, of course, neither, or both. The answer lies in the appropriate balance of forces. I would be interested to know if there are hard data or statistics on the number of downloaders who are truly freeloaders. For example, I have read (but do not know if it's true) that many of the people who downloaded free music through napster back in the day actually went on to purchase music that they appreciated, and that the fear of loss of revenue promulgated by the music industry was overly hyped.


I will close by saying that while you are right to insist that there are valid reasons for requesting a credit card number for registrations, you have really touched a third rail of privacy and security issues for most of us, and your apparent disconnect with the typical mac user point of view is what has upset your detractors. You are like a professor who gave an articulate lecture on pros and cons of population control, and was surprised to find that it sparked outrage in the lecture hall on the subject of abortion, which was not the main topic of his lecture.


It is possible to keep the debate academic (as I hope I have done), but failing to recognize the context of the debate means that the professor will have to scurry for the exit!

Alex Diablon
2006-04-29 07:38:27
Thanks again for your response. I like the fact that you are so involved with your blog and the responses of the viewers.Though I might not agree with your assumption regarding use of potential customer's credit cards, I do respect your postion and your commitment to the O'Reilly network. With that said, I look forward to more of your postings whether in the MacDevCenter blog or elsewhere. Keep up the good work.
FJ
2006-04-29 11:31:57
Alex,


Thank you for your kind words. It is indeed always a pleasure to interact with my readers and I definitely am always happy to examine both sides of any argument!


I'll look forwards to your comments on the Network,
FJ

FJ
2006-04-29 11:46:25
RMP,


Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to follow-up on your comments! A bit of tongue-in-cheek humor always makes for a relaxing pause in any discourse!


I am honored you found my arguments of interest.


I entirely agree that the issues of privacy and security are not to be taken lightly by any means -- and have commented on that fact on this very blog many times already. Since, as you very rightly point out, both sides of the transaction see the issue in opposite but legitimate ways, I would imagine this calls for a superseding frame, providing assurance to all the involved parties as to the seriousness and solvency of the others.


When it comes to privacy, for example, the French government has created the CNIL, which, while imperfect in a great many ways, helped dramatically curb the raise of identity theft and privacy invasions in the country. I believe such governmental bodies do have a role to play here, especially since the transactions we are talking about mostly happen within an easy frame to control, provided the right tools are put in gear. This definitely opens up interesting lines of thought for the future of the web.


Your story about Cafe Allegro is indeed very enlightening, although one would have to go back to the difference between a continued service and a one-time purchase -- a meal. It definitely seems to me however invoking "policy" and not recognizing customers over the phone is a great mistake for any company, maybe even the worse one can make.


I believe statistics on the actual number of freeloaders would be extremely hard to come by, but they sure would be most interesting. I gather this heavily depends on the type of service provided and the customer group one targets.


I always enjoy discussing with my fellow Mac users and investigating cross-cultural issues -- since the O'Reilly Network gathers people from all around the world. It seems indeed many tend to equate a credit card number with a highly personal piece of information while I tend to see its potential for long-term damage as being relatively limited, compared to say, a social security number or even, sometimes, an IP address.


Thank again,
FJ


PS: I took the liberty of deleting one of your postings since it appeared in duplicate.

Nico Mommaerts
2006-04-29 13:57:24
'In some cases, it pays off to make the signup process difficult and hard to go through. In fact, this in itself may become part of the marketing ploy, appealing to a particular audience.'


I'm sorry but uh? Can you give me an example of this?

FJ
2006-04-29 16:42:19
Nico,


Thank you for your kind reply.


In some cases, making a product or a service difficult to obtain can give it a more exclusive feel and, hence, make it seem more valuable to the eyes of a certain customer group.


For example, should you go into some high-end fashion shops in Paris and ask for a few popular items, you would probably be told flat out they are "impossible" to buy and, only after much discussing with the sales staff would you be put on a wait list. Then, the item would be made available to you at a high price months after you ordered it.


These methods will seem highly irritating and meaningless to some while they will only increase the eagerness of others. I guess it's always a question for catering to the right tastes, in the right fashion.


FJ

Dan Shockley
2006-05-01 10:05:54
A couple definitions would remove a lot of the disagreement here, and possibly remove a lot of negative sentiment towards Fluxiom.com:


What does a "free trial" realy mean?


Most people think of a "free trial" as something that is completely no-strings-attached. In other words, I can get it, look it over, drop it, all without any kind of commitment being made. In other words, most people think of a "free trial" as a default "will not keep" operation. Only if the person wants to _keep_ the object will they have to make a commitment. In other words, the most widely-accepted meaning of the term "free trial" is one in which the "opt-in" occurs _after_ the trial period.



Now, what Fluxiom.com is doing is normally referred to as a "first month free" service, including a "cancel anytime" clause. This is is more specific than "free trial" and will nto lead a majority of people to have false expectations. I believe that many people posting here are more offended by having their expectations proven wrong than if Fluxiom.com described their trail period for what it is: "you sign up, get first month free, and can cancel anytime." Then, people can decide immediately if they wish to take the offer. If, however, you tell people "30-day free trial" without those extra details (and I mean _immediately_, in the same marketing phrase), they will form an expectation in their heads that will soon be broken. At the point where they find out the actual situation does not match the expectation that was created, they will feel deceived. Fluxiom.com probably does not intend to deceive their potential customers, but it is very important to avoid forging false expectations with marketing phrases, especially in an industry where trust is paramount.


So, Fluxiom.com would be well-advised to change their "hook" phrase - make sure that the first thing a potential customers reads won't lead to a broken expectation.

FJ
2006-05-01 13:13:19
Dan,


Thanks for your comments! :-)


FJ

Steve Kampenhuber
2006-05-06 08:06:00
Well, I partially agree with u, but on the other hand I don't. First: Yes it is absolutely reasonable to charge money at all for a really professional service. Want a free one - go flickR! But on the other hand I understand fully if somebody has some kind of problem providing his/her credit card info just for a free trial. And it is NOT neccessary I would say. Doing some research in the DAM industry here in Europe I discovered some other hosted solutions available. Some are even more powerful, like this one www.smartimagine.com - it seems to be some sort of side-product of an enterprise level document/DA managment solution (www.celumimagine.com). It is even more expensive, BUT they don't ask for CC info for test drive, and the demo expires without any hassle if you decide not to subscribe finally. We have screened a few of the huge to-buy-only systems like Stellent's DAM Server or artesia(opentext), so all the mentioned solutions provide damn cool performance for the money they charge. My oppinion (maybe because I am with a large industrial company - but that's the kind of company they target anyway) is that this celum IMAGINE thing is the better choice, because they provide the possibility of "upgrading" from hosted to on site service, which is especially useful when you are having 100s of GB of digital media to manage - it's just a matter of scalability then.
yours, Steve
FJ
2006-05-06 16:15:21
Steve,


Thanks for sharing!


FJ

John Syrinek
2008-02-27 23:01:28
I realize I'm a few years late, but since this is the first result when searching for "Getting Real" (the popular book from the 37signals folks), I figured I should make this clear. Entering credit card info (or any other form of payment) is a commitment. "Free trial" infers the lack of commitment. People _always_ want to opt in to commitment, not be forced to opt out of commitment.


Would you swipe your credit card at a grocery store just to get a free trial of cheese on a toothpick? Sure, online trials aren't as instant, but that doesn't mean you should add the credit card requirement. Also, who cares about GUID's? Financial risk is still risk. With the capacities modern hardware is able to handle, you shouldn't have to worry about a few dishonest people jumping through hoops to get all of their data in your system.


I think this brings up a good point. Software development is a little bit of everything - graphic design, science, psychology, etc. Keeping things simple is great, but don't outright ignore basic psychological factors.