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Show me the source or show me your business model
In opposition to free, closed-source software
You know what really grinds my gears? When a software update introduces a worse user experience under the guise of "bug fixes and performance improvements."
These user-hostile changes are usually caused by a need to monetize.
There's nothing wrong with monetizaiton—software is often very time-consuming to create and maintain, so creators cannot make software without some recourse to revenue.
However, bait-n-switch tactics seem to have been popularized in recent years and it's a disheartening trend.
Software is a tool that can be used for positive or negative ends.
As an industry and a community we need a more direct way to discuss these problems, specifically in software. Problems that arise from a strategy of creating something as useful as possible without charging for it and then switching on some sort of monetization strategy once the user is captured.
Captured? Yes, captured. A user is captured when they have no recourse to alternative software that meets similar needs. In other words, when a software provider can establish a narrow monopoly.
The problem, as I see it, is that companies have become fairly adept at providing useful services while maintaining a firm wall between you and "your" data. They are able to capture users because the user doesn't actually control their data, and the data itself ends up being what is most useful to the user.
If anyone knows of a better term than "user capture" for this phenomenon I'd love to hear it. "User capture," as a term, does not feel like it has staying power.
Skin in the game
The issue here is one of transparency, incentives and having demonstrable skin in the game. If you want me to use your software all I need to know is that your business will suffer if my experience suffers.
- If you charge me money and I stop liking your software then you lose my business.
- If your source code is open and I stop liking you software then I can simply fork it or, if I can't be bothered, then some other community member can fork it and disgruntled users such as myself can move to their fork. Thus decreasing your user base.
In both situations we have some degree of alignment between the user and the business.
Contrast this situation with products from advertising companies who's bottom line depends on worsening the user experience and syphoning off small chunks of your most scarce resource: Time.
Do I follow my own advice?
As I write this I have a piece of software released which is both free and closed source. Complete hypocrisy? Perhaps, but I think an exception can be made for early software when the creators tell you their intended business model and give you a migration path if you end up depending on the software but disagree with the long-term direction.
To use my own software as an example, the home page makes two important statements:
- We intend to charge the user in the future, likely after building a more useful software suite.
- Your data is in a SQLite database on your computer. In other words, it is under your control rather than ours.
In other words we're simply being straight with our users.
Thank you for taking the time to read my post.