SitePoint Podcast #94: Appy New Year!By Kevin Yank
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- SitePoint Podcast #94: Appy New Year! (MP3, 66.4MB, 1:12:31)
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Here are the topics covered in this episode:
- Craig Buckler: My Three Web Wishes for 2011
- Techcrunch: Apple will sell $2 billion in apps in 2011
- Kroc Camen: RSS Is Being Ignored, And You Should Be Very Worried
- Slashdot: Pay What You Want—a Sustainable Business Model?
Browse the full list of links referenced in the show at http://delicious.com/sitepointpodcast/94.
- Stephan: Coding a Blog Layout PSD File into HTML & CSS
- Brad: WordPress 3.1 RC2
- Kevin: Nike Better World
- Patrick: Quora
Welcome in to another episode of the SitePoint Podcast, just another episode, only the first one of 2011. Can you believe how long we’ve been doing this, guys?
Brad: We’re getting old.
Patrick: I actually looked it up, and don’t ask me why but I just had a feeling, and I think it’s in July it’ll be 10 years since I first took some sort of volunteer staff member-ish role at SitePoint, so 10 years is of this year.
Kevin: Holy Crap!
Patrick: Yeah, no kidding.
Kevin: I can’t believe we’ve been around that long, that’s amazing.
Well, it’s 2011, wow, I actually just spotted in my notes my first mistyping of the year. My notes said January 7, 2010. Hopefully that will be the only time that happens! We’ve got a predictable range of stories here, we’ve got a bit looking back, a bit looking forward, and we’ve got our typical mix of news stories as well. But I wanted to start off with Craig Buckler’s blog post on SitePoint, Craig’s always got great stuff for us on the SitePoint blog, and he posted on New Year’s Eve his Three Web Wishes for 2011, and I saw this got picked up by a few sites, he’s done well with it, and I thought we could go through this and see if we agree or if our wishes would be a little different. His three wishes, the first one he wished Microsoft would release Internet Explorer 9 on Windows XP. I have to admit if I were making my list of wishes that probably wouldn’t be at the top of it. He starts off by saying it’s his “realistic list of wishes,” so he’s not wishing for more wishes here, he’s not wishing for a million dollars, he’s wishing for things that he thinks might actually happen, but still, top of the list IE9 on Windows XP, I don’t know, is that something to be excited about?
Patrick: Are we still on Windows XP? Just kidding.
Kevin: Well, I think that’s his point, a lot of people are still on Windows XP.
Brad: Well, if the goal of Microsoft is to phase out XP, which I’m sure it is by now, then that obviously is not a smart move for them.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, I suppose they’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and I guess as podcasters and bloggers in this space we generally tend to keep our computers pretty up to date. I know I would bet very strongly that Brad as the Windows user here in the Podcast you’re probably on Windows 7 on all of the computers that you use regularly, would that be fair to say?
Brad: Yeah, absolutely.
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. So it’s difficult for us as web developers probably to get excited about Internet Explorer 9 on Windows XP until maybe we look at our visitor stats. And those would probably tell us a very different story, that the regular users out there probably a lot of them are on Windows XP still, and so until we get them either off Windows XP or Microsoft does what Craig suggests and puts IE9 on Windows XP we’re not going to be able to rely on the technologies that are in IE9. This is I guess something we covered when we talked about how IE8 is going to be the next IE6 for this very reason, that it’s the last version of Internet Explorer to run on XP.
Patrick: According to Statcounter.com global stats, Windows XP usage in December of 2010, and this is of operating systems in general, so you’ve got XP, Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X, Linux and other of the six categories, Windows XP accounted for 50.59% of overall usage, global usage, in December. Just to compare that year over year, December of ’09 it was at 65.12%, so it’s fallen about 15% but still holds obviously a majority of 100 and also a vast lead over second place which is Windows 7 with 25.86%.
Kevin: This is for what, worldwide web users?
Kevin: Wow, 50%, yeah so, gosh. Man, that number really depresses me; when I think about all of the exciting things that are coming in IE9, you know, the HTML5 video support, the CSS3 support, all of these things, and 50% of my users aren’t going to be able to use that browser. I’m hoping a significant number of those 50% have moved to Firefox.
Stephan: So we’re kind of back at the IE6 problem, right, just in a different way.
Patrick: New year, same way to get traffic baby.
Kevin: (laughter) But it’s true, every time Microsoft takes a break or makes something really successful that they stop building new versions of for a while, and we saw it with IE6 and now we’re seeing it with Windows XP, it gets them into trouble, or it gets the Web into trouble I suppose.
Patrick: Yep, IE6 and ColdFusion still kicking, still hanging around.
Brad: I think a lot of it has to do with Netbooks, that’s one of the reasons it didn’t die off when it was supposed to was because of Netbooks.
Kevin: Right, yeah, definitely. Well, they’re doing the right thing with Windows 7 there, Windows 7 reportedly runs as well on a Netbook as Windows XP and that’s kind of one of the main design focuses they had there, right?
Brad: Yeah, I actually formatted my Netbook and put Windows 7 on it and it runs great.
Kevin: Looking at the visitor stats for SitePoint, which is probably a more tech savvy, well, more web developer focused audience, obviously. We’ve got 75% of our users are Windows users, and 43% of that 75% is on Windows XP. So, you know, a little less than half of our Windows users, and a very similar percentage, 42%, are on Windows 7, so the poor sods stuck on Windows Vista account for 13% of our Windows traffic, which again is three quarters of our overall traffic. Yeah, definitely, okay, I was skeptical to begin with but I’m on board with Craig, it would be really nice for Microsoft to make IE 9 for Windows XP. I’m not sure they can do it though. This is something he brings up, he says that IE 9 uses Windows Vista/7 rendering technology, so this is I suppose why Microsoft would say they can’t do this because at some point they have to start building on a more modern foundation, and so taking advantage of the core features of Windows Vista and Windows 7, even if they decided they wanted to could they make a version of IE9 for Windows XP? It’s a 10 year old OS. Hmm, yeah. I suppose maybe asking them to move to Firefox wouldn’t be out of the question. Brad, would you consider detecting Windows XP users on Internet Explorer and asking them specifically, you know, displaying some sort of message specifically to them saying, yeah, we’re not saying you need to upgrade your operating system, but on that operating system Internet Explorer just is not a good browser to be using.
Brad: Possibly, I guess it depends obviously what the site is doing and if there are features that aren’t available or wouldn’t work, yeah, I mean it’s a tough one because it’s not like you’re saying switch your browser, although they could, it’s kind of like switch your operating system, that’s a pretty personal choice and a more advanced choice too.
Patrick: That would be bold.
Kevin: “Switch my what?”
Brad: “This site runs best on Windows 7.”
Kevin: (Laughs) “This site runs best on anything except what you’re using, change something, change anything!”
Stephan: But we all know that Brad wouldn’t suggest Firefox though, he would suggest Chrome, I mean come on, of course.
Kevin: Yeah. Does Chrome run on Windows XP? I suppose it must.
Brad: As far as I know it does. I don’t have XP anymore, so.
Stephan: I think so.
Patrick: It does. It does. Just to confirm.
Kevin: Well, I want to skip over Craig’s number two and come back to it, but his number three is web developers would backtrack on bandwidth hogging websites. “There’s an annoying web development trend which considers bandwidth to be unimportant. Why do some sites insist on multi-megabyte pages, why is the total file size larger than the browser used to render it?” Well, geez, I’m okay with that actually (laughs). “But I have some sympathy with those developing complex web applications,” still quoting Craig here, “although there are a few excuses. Google and other vendors can provide full online office suites in a few hundred kilobytes, so there’s rarely a need for larger applications, but it’s an entirely different matter for content only websites. Bandwidth is not necessarily cheap or unlimited, especially for those using mobile devices. Trim that bulk or have your web development license revoked,” says Craig. Well, I’m kind of on board, I think mobile is definitely making file sizes and bandwidth limits a lot more important for ordinary users out there then they may have been for the past year. Certainly I remember vividly the day the main online news site in Australia, news.com.au; someone showed me it loading up on their first generation iPhone. The homepage of news.com.au at the time at least was over a megabyte in size, and the phone from memory dropped five percent of its battery just by loading that page from scratch.
Brad: I feel like this is one of those issues that kind of comes and goes, and it has as long as I’ve been building websites, because back a few years ago when Web 2.0 was all the craze, Web 2.0 this and that, the minimalist design was really in at the time, everything was very minimal, clean, simple, very simple websites, not a lot of info on them. And now it’s kind of going back to where it’s jam as much stuff in there as you can, make sure you have 50 ads per page, and it just seems like a rollercoaster almost.
Stephan: My personal favorites are the sites that have 30 videos on one page, those are awesome.
Kevin: And they all play automatically.
Stephan: Exactly (laughter).
Stephan: My question is why is this important though?
Stephan: CoffeeScript, the new bytecode.
Stephan: That’s what we’ve always done, right?
Let’s take a quick break from the news here and look at the SitePoint Poll because I said we’d be looking forward but we should also be looking a bit backward to 2010, and the SitePoint Poll at the moment is “What was the most important web technology of 2010?” Alright, guys, here are your choices: HTML5; CSS3 and web fonts; mobile apps; and REST. Let’s go around the table.
Stephan: Who’s going first?
Kevin: Let’s go around the table. Patrick, what’s your pick of that bunch?
Patrick: Okay, I’ll be the sucker. My limited understanding, I’m not even sure what REST is so don’t make too much fun of me, but I would say from this list that I would have to say mobile apps, I mean if we think about HTML5 as being everything, right, not just HTML5 but this all-encompassing term, then I guess it would probably be impossible for HTML5 to lose. But, given just the growth of mobile as a whole, we’re going to talk about mobile apps a little later and how Apple’s doing with app sales, I think that I guess most important web technology is mobile apps I guess for me. I think all these things are interesting except for the one I don’t know what it means; CSS3 and web fonts were definitely big stories this year in this space and very cool in their own right, but again, mobile apps it just seems to be the most impactful, the most — the one that’s done the most damage so to speak.
Kevin: Is anyone else voting for mobile apps?
Brad: I am; I think I would definitely say mobile apps too. And I think that the obvious answer like Patrick says is probably HTML5, but honestly it hasn’t peaked yet, and I think 2012 or 2013 that’s going to be the year of HTML5. We saw a lot of cool stuff come out of it but I really think mobile apps, and I know it’s one of the topics coming up as well, definitely made huge grounds this year in terms of sales and overall market value and just as developers as a whole, everyone’s really starting to kind of take hold of what a new market it is and how open it is so you can really dive in and make endless amounts of money if you know what you’re doing. I mean just look at some of these apps that are out there, a dollar a pop and these guys are becoming millionaires from it.
Kevin: What is your response to people who would say that mobile apps are not part of the Web; they’re a competitor to the Web.
Brad: There’s definitely an argument for that, see, I think they can work together; I think we’re going to start seeing a lot more mobile apps that interact with the websites that we use on a daily basis. We already see it for like Twitter and Facebook and things like that, but I think we’re going to start seeing it for the smaller sites that we use, maybe the local news channel or things like that, ones that are more than just reading news headlines but actually interacting with the websites via your mobile phone. So I like to think that they will eventually work together across the board, of course they are a little bit of a competitor right now, but I think eventually it will be where everybody’s trying to work together.
Kevin: Yeah, I think I would have to vote for mobile apps as well. Definitely 2010 I think was the year of mobile apps in technology. If you had to put a label on the year as a whole the biggest thing that happened in technology was the rise of apps. And certainly there are a lot of people out there that are railing against apps, they’re saying apps are these things that are tied to particular devices, particular vendors like Apple, particular app stores. And this is not a good thing in the long term because you’re going to invest a lot of time and put a lot of data into these things that just go away the next time you want to switch to another mobile phone brand. But as far as how it pertains to the Web I think that what we’ve seen is a lot of mobile apps that back on to web services and websites. So apps like Dropbox, apps like Evernote, all of these things are rather than just storing data on the devices, which I agree is kind of a walled garden you want to keep away from if you can, these apps, the ones that are really breaking ground are the ones that back onto web services, store data in The Cloud, or at least a copy of data in The Cloud that can be synched to your other devices, your computers, and available through the Web when you’re away from your own devices. And that to me is what made mobile apps really exciting in the Web space in 2010. The Web has reached its fingers out into these devices, but rather than doing it through browsers the Web is doing it through apps, and I think that’s really exciting. Stephan, you haven’t voted yet.
Stephan: Yeah, you know what, I was going to say mobile apps, but now that you guys have all voted for it (laughter) I’m going to go with CSS3 and web fonts, and particularly web fonts, not necessarily CSS3.
Kevin: Okay, I’m glad it was mentioned separately then.
Stephan: And the reason the web fonts mostly for me is because I’m thinking long term, I think it’s going to have a huge impact on the future of how we do typography on the Internet, so I’m hopeful that we’ll see some cool stuff, and we already have, we’ve mentioned a few things on the show, so I think it’s a big deal this year, for 2010 it was a big deal.
Kevin: I think you’re probably right, Stephan, that in a decade’s time if we look at what the Web looks like then and go back and look at the year 2010 and go what was new that year that has the biggest impact on the way the Web looks now, it probably is web fonts. I think developers are a little shy of it at the moment because web fonts, at least the good ones, cost a bit of money. And when you’re designing a website from scratch going, okay, the HTML is free, the CSS is free, I can do the graphics myself but web fonts are still a bit mysterious and going out and paying a commercial service to get access to some fonts I don’t think designers have made that mental leap to paying that money upfront just yet, but I think when we start to see more sites designed using this it’s going to act as a landslide and I think it’s just going to become commonplace pretty quickly.
Stephan: Definitely, and I think the place that we’re going to see it is people developing sites for the tablets and trying to make really cool magazine-type feeling websites —
Kevin: Hmm, yeah.
Stephan: — for iPads or the Android ones and things like that; I think people are going to want that experience without having to build necessarily an app for it.
Kevin: Right. Alright, so let’s take a look at the results of this poll here, and … oh, well would you look at that, HTML5 is the winner according to the SitePoint Community. Certainly HTML5 I think made the most headlines probably of these technologies in the Web space, but I think Patrick’s right, it might be just because it became that brand that meant nothing. It was the year of HTML5 but what did that mean really? Hmm, I’d love to hear from some of these people that thought 2010 was the year of HTML5, well, HTML5 was the most important web technology of 2010; what made it important?
Stephan: It’s the double rainbow, you know.
Kevin: (Laughs) Don’t take our word for it, listeners, leave a comment on this episode and tell us why we’re wrong, tell us why HTML5 was the most important web technology of 2010, with 37% of the votes you’re definitely not alone in believing that if that’s what you think, right behind it, though, mobile apps with 34%, so guys well done. Stephan, you were in the 23% group with CSS3 and web fonts; a measly 6% of people thought that REST was the most important web technology of 2010. Yeah, I don’t know, when I was talking about mobile apps there, the way the Web reaches into our devices through mobile apps, the way they did that was with REST, this ability to use the full capabilities of the HTTP protocol to make different types of requests to do things on the Web other than just viewing web pages. I think REST is maybe kind of the silent achiever here, no one really hears about it unless they’re writing the code deep down in these things, but REST is what powers web APIs, people.
Patrick: A whopping 72% had no idea what it was when they voted in the poll.
Kevin: Really? (Laughter) Where did you see that stat?
Patrick: The source for that data… (laughs) I’m looking at it right now, no, I don’t know, sorry.
Kevin: Let’s skip ahead and talk about apps, guys, because Brad you had a story about apps.
Brad: Yeah, TechCrunch actually had an interesting article, and it’s detailing a report that was released by Citibank, the report is called the U.S. Internet Stock 2011 Playbook, I don’t think they could come up with a longer name, but anyway it basically details that Apple is projected to sell two billion dollars’ worth in app sales in 2011, and they came out and said in 2010, the year we just ended, app sales across the entire market not just Apple were about at four billion. But I thought the really interesting stat from this report is that they’re projecting by 2013, so in basically two years that app sale market across the entire market will be right around $27 billion which is an insane increase in just two years, I mean it really makes you think about how young and infant this market is for apps.
Kevin: Yeah, I would love to know because Apple takes 30% of that. When they sell an app for a dollar they take 30 cents of it and give the other 70 cents to the developer of the app. So I’m wondering how much of that 30 cents is profit for them, because they’ve said before that the iTunes Store in general doesn’t make a whole lot of money for them, that more it’s something they more or less break even on but that they leverage to sell their devices, their iPods and iPhones and iPads and all these things, which is kind of the unique thing that Apple has going for it in their business model compared to competitors like Google and Microsoft that they don’t make so much money off of the platform so much.
Stephan: The difference is though that the music is expensive for them to license to sell, right, and they need to sell it a price point where you want to buy it. I think with the apps they’re taking 30% off no matter what you sell the app for, so if it’s 99 cents or it’s 99 dollars they’re still taking 30% of that, and I don’t think there’s a lot of overhead for them to just put your app out there minus —
Kevin: There’s probably a fair bit of overhead in, well, not so much hosting costs, I expect that scales pretty well and the more apps they have the less they’re paying for hosting per app. That’s probably pretty good but they have a big staff that’s doing reviews and support and all this sort of stuff, and they probably have a lot of free apps as well that they’re not making any money out of that kind of drags them down a bit, and I expect they have to have a pretty big staff to deal with the number of apps they have to get that $20 billion, $2 billion, sorry, two billion is still a very big number though.
Stephan: I wonder where they’re doing their support and reviews, I wonder if it’s offshored or actually in Cupertino, that’d be good to know.
Kevin: Hmm, I wonder too. So, I suppose the question here in this TechCrunch story is whether the Web could have benefited from taking a similar approach to the app market. Well, the Web in general has always been sort of architected around free, that websites are free by default, and web applications are free by default. And this culture of free has possibly been to the Web, and the mobile Web’s specifically, detriment, and that the reason apps have taken off the way they are is because they have been marketed as things that people pay for. From the very beginning the expectation has been set that if you’re going to get an app it’s something you’re probably going to pay for if it’s any good. And the same can’t be said for websites, and so is the fact that the mobile web has this culture of free what’s holding it back compared to the app ecosystem?
Brad: Yeah, that is strange, because I remember back in the early Internet days, late 90’s, when a lot of the news sites were, they weren’t free, they were pay, and that was kind of the standard, they were all doing that; you could read excerpts and some articles were free, but to get full access to all the news articles and all the content they were providing you had to pay. I don’t know any stats from how well that worked back then but then somebody switched it up and now all the content’s free and then ever since then it just kind of seemed to be what was accepted, you just expected it to be free and if it was pay you looked for an alternative that was free that was just as good.
Patrick: Yeah, it’s a really interesting question I think, and it actually reminds me of a couple of sites I was thinking of spotlighting but I opted not to and went with another site to spotlight on this episode, but the sites are letter.ly, and that’s the first one I found and the one I was thinking of spotlighting. And then there’s a site tinyletter.com, and what they allow you to do, especially letter.ly, letter.ly is just a simple service that allows you to publish email subscription newsletters and for some small amount of pay usually, so you have newsletters that are $1.99 a month, $2.99 a month; Wayne Sutton just started one for $2.99 a month that will focus on geolocation and location based services. So, it says 1,304 newsletters, I know Chris Brogan just started one as well, Dave Moran, and so on, and so it’s almost like not micro-payments but a small subscription fee and some would consider it private blog posts, some look at it as a newsletter, but it is kind of a small payment, monthly subscription and they get access, private access to this blog post, this newsletter, and you can send it at whatever interval you want, basically you have the freedom to create the newsletter you want but at its core it’s a form of monetizing content obviously.
Stephan: Do you guys think that mobile apps are different than let’s say desktop apps, whereas people — I’m trying to think of how to word this, do you think it’s different for people to choose to buy one, rather than a desktop app? So someone looking to buy an app on an iPhone, do you think they’re more easily swayed to go find a free one than they would be to let’s say if they were going to buy a piece of software on their computer? Like how much searching do you do for a free app or a free application on your desktop versus a paid option?
Patrick: I’ll do a fair amount of searching myself, I would say. But if I find the pay option is exactly what I want and that has good reviews then I mean I’m willing to pay for it. I just bought something that will let me get the contacts on my old pay as you go phone, so it was a service that someone recommended that says it will do exactly what I want and for the 30 bucks it costs I was much happier to do that then to come up with some other hacked up backhanded solution that I would have seen from my random Google searches.
Stephan: I think my point being is that I think the functionality on mobile apps is much easier to imitate and move around, so people are able to find free versions of the apps that they want a lot easier then they are to find desktop versions of the software that they’re looking at. Am I making any sense?
Kevin: I don’t know, I think for me it feels about the same, and it’s very task dependent; there are some things for which I’m willing to pay just because they’re bigger priorities for me, and in fact if I see an app that’s well reviewed and costs a fair price and I see an app that’s free, I may actually go towards the paid one because I know I’m going to probably get a better quality experience, and it’s something that’s worth paying for. I’ll give you an example, as a web developer my text editor is vitally important to me which is why right now I use TextMate which cost me a bit of money, but I felt that was money worth paying for that, you know, if I can pay $20.00 to get a better text editor that’s a little slicker, a little faster, a little smoother, a little more configurable, a little more stable than the free option, and there are dozens if not hundreds of free options out there, but you know, this is my life, this is my job, I write code and it’s worth paying for.
Stephan: That’s my point is that you’re willing to pay for the desktop software whereas if something let’s say on your iPhone was a simple functionality app that was $2.00 you probably are going to go try to find a free version that does the exact same thing because it’s not hard to imitate it, right.
Kevin: If you take it as read that the things that you do on your phone are more casual, more hobby, less vital to your, I don’t know, to your working life, your career or whatever it may be, whatever is important to you; if you do more important things on your computer than on your phone then I can see that definitely being true. I think the ace in the hole there is games though; I pay a lot of money for games on my phone. (laughter)
Patrick: Another thing about the whole phone thing is, again, I’m not in the market for that, I don’t have an iPhone, but I would think that they’re all priced, most of them are priced at such a low level, right, 99 cents, $1.99, $2.99, that if you see an app and we assume that you’re not someone who’s pirating software, right, through an unlocked phone or whatever, you’re in the app store, you’re buying things or you’re downloading free things from the app store; if you add an item right now and it’s a buck 99, I mean a lot of the app store stuff is impulse buys, right, you see what you want, you buy it, maybe next week you don’t even like it anymore but you still bought it. So I mean I could see that just because of the low price and you’re on your phone you want it fast, it doesn’t have a great keyboard, you’re there with your thumbs or whatever, and you got this and you buy it and you download it. I don’t know, I think that would factor in there too where a lot of people would just buy it for the sake of convenience and not having to look around any further.
Kevin: Hmm-mm. Since we’re talking about pricing of things, this plays into another story that I put on the list for today. This is a topic that fascinates me, I don’t know if it fascinates you guys as much as it does me, so we’ll see how much gas we have in the engine for this particular topic, but this is a story that caught my eye on Slashdot, about the ‘pay what you want’ business model. This is something that I’ve seen a lot happen, particularly in the music world; Patrick, I imagine you’ve seen a fair bit of that as a music fan.
Kevin: Yeah. So the idea here is that, and it’s something we’ve seen in the Indie software market as well a lot lately, that whereas previously you would pick a fair price for this thing you’ve built and try and guess at the supply and demand curve that will put you at the exact point where hopefully you make the most money out of this thing that you’ve built by picking the magic price that is low enough that people will buy it but high enough that you’ll make some money out of it, and there you go, you’re rich, right? But the pay what you want business model has no fixed price, rather you put this thing out there and in most cases you say take it for free if you don’t think it’s worth paying for, but if you think it’s worth some money pay me what you think it’s worth. And it’s almost an honor system at times, some examples here with software that are mentioned in the story are the Humble Indie Bundle, humblebundle.com, various other software bundles, and I’ve seen it a lot as I said in the music space that some of my favorite indie artists have released albums or EP’s and said, you know what, pay me what you want for this.
Stephan: So basically it’s donation-ware really.
Kevin: Ah, I don’t know, maybe it’s just a matter of spin but the idea here, the way that they pitch it usually is not take it and if you like what I do I’d appreciate a donation, rather they say, look, I’m putting this thing up here, you get to pick the price and pick one that you think is fair.
Stephan: Yeah, it’s semantics.
Kevin: It is, but I think marketing is semantics in general.
Stephan: Yes, exactly. Sorry, I don’t mean to interj— you know.
Kevin: Patrick what’s your take on this?
Patrick: As far as it being a sustainable business I think if we look at this Slashdot post a number of these things are tied to charity in some way, at least the ones that were cited there. And my answer would be yes maybe for some, I think the way these things work is it’s almost an event-based situation, so if a company is using this as their primary strategy just to stay afloat I think an example of a situation where it might work is a company that released a new product every month, for example, with that model. And maybe, perhaps, after a certain amount of time passes, then they set a flat price for an item, so you might have let’s say a game development company because that’s an easy example with the Humble Indie Bundle and whatever else, let’s say a company puts out a new game every month and they say pay what you want for 30 days and then after that it’s $19.99, and so they kind of build up this library of back catalog games and people will discover those games and want to buy them over time, over years, that won’t necessarily know about their pay as much as you want plan that they launched it with but still want to buy it so they will, and then you still have that initial rush of people who paid anywhere from I guess nothing to $10.00 to $15.00 and rush in there to get that good deal and to I guess support the company if they like that sort of strategy in general. I definitely think it’s a niche based model but in that situation I think it could definitely have some potential for the right business. Now, of course the question is will letting people pay what they want end up with more revenue than simply charging, for example, $29.95, I guess that’s the question.
Kevin: That’s the key here I think because that’s the point that’s brought up in the Slashdot thread and I think it is the key point that is often overlooked that there has to be a reason for you to try this alternative business model, it’s a lot more complicated and if you’re going to make more money out of a fixed price there’s no point to doing it, if you’re going to make the same money as the fixed price there may be no point in doing it depending on what your objectives are.
Kevin: All things being equal your goal here is to make more money out of this business model than you would out of a fixed price, and so how are you going to do that? It seems to me that publicity comes into this a bit and the novelty of this model, and that to me has a limited shelf life; the idea here that by adopting this model you’re going to make a lot of news headlines, people will go, oh my gosh, you can get it for free, oh, you get to pick your own price! And it generates this whole other halo of publicity around the thing that you’re selling that has nothing to do with the thing that you’re selling but attracts more eyeballs, more attention than your competitor next door that’s just selling the thing for $19.95. I don’t know how long that’s gonna last, and the more people do this the less the shine is off this model and the more people go “Oh boy another package of stuff that they couldn’t sell at a fair price so they’re trying to give it away at whatever price they can get for it.”
Stephan: Well, couldn’t you do this pay what you want for a little while and then switch it up and say, okay, now here’s the set price, like maybe average out what people are paying and say it averages to 20 bucks.
Kevin: So use it as a research tool you’re saying.
Stephan: Exactly, yeah.
Kevin: It’s interesting, one of the posts in the Slashdot thread cites some stats form the Humble Indie Bundle’s results, they said their average purchase price for this bundle of games that they were selling, Indie Games, this bundle of games worked across Windows, Mac and Linux, and so they were able to show after a significant period of purchasing that the average purchase price for this bundle was $7.77. The average purchase price for a Windows user, however, was only $6.64 whereas Mac users paid more than the average at $9.06, and Linux users were the extreme case, they paid $13.78 on average.
Stephan: That’s a conundrum.
Brad: Yeah, really.
Kevin: Well, yeah, to me this kind of reflects the supply side of the supply and demand curve; if you’ll go with me for a minute and we treat these games as commodities, it doesn’t matter what they are, but Windows has a ton of games out for it, and a lot of them you can download for free, whatever, Mac has less variety, less selection, so the fact that these games are being put out there for that platform the Mac users are going, “Oh, how nice of them to make their game Mac compatible, I’ll pay them in this case almost three dollars more on average.” Linux users, see this is what led me down this train of thought, the fact that the Linux users are willing to pay $13.78 a pop on average tells me that Linux users were so happy to have games for their platform they were willing to pay more than twice as much than the average Windows user for the pack. So it is kind of a research tool I suppose, you can see the values that these different sub markets placed on this, and then you can go oh, well, you know, I’m going to sell the Windows version of my game for this, the Mac version of the game for this and the Linux version of the game for this.
Stephan: I actually think your reasoning for why the Linux folks paid more is off maybe.
Stephan: Yeah, I think it has to do with who uses Linux and the geekdom that’s out there.
Kevin: You think they have more money to spend.
Stephan: No, I think they appreciate what software developers do and game developers do and they’re willing to pay a little bit more.
Kevin: That’s a really good point.
Stephan: And I’d even say that maybe the Mac folks feel the same way a little bit.
Kevin: Mmm, yeah! I can see that, that’s where the developers are.
Patrick: Just to put it into context too is Windows users accounted for more than what Mac and Lenox users combined as far as total payments per platform, so obviously probably more people will drive down that average I would think, just a guess, but Mac and Linux had about the same number of payments, which I don’t know what that says for Mac actually now that I think about it that Mac users had the same amount of payments as Linux users would, that seems a little strange to me but maybe that’s just me.
Kevin: So, bringing this back to the Web, there’s a web service that we have mentioned a few times in this podcast, I know Stephan you’re a big fan of Instapaper and the developer of Instapaper last year made the quite unexpected move of allowing people to pay for his service. This free service, this completely free service, he offered a pay option and, Stephan, did you see this story?
Stephan: I haven’t seen it, was it posted today?
Kevin: No, no, no, it was in the middle of last; well, in the past few months he made this change.
Stephan: I remember him saying he was going to allow people to pay for it.
Kevin: Yeah, yeah, can you guess what extra features you got for paying?
Stephan: I’d say like an email or something a day or something.
Kevin: Yeah, you’d expect something like that, but in fact you get nothing extra for paying. You get a premium account that no one sees because it’s not a social sharing sort of service, but in fact aside from the happy glow it gives you to have supported this service that you use, you get nothing. He said he did it in response to some people who wanted to give him some money for the service, and he said sure, you want to give me some money I’ll write the web pages that lets you give me some money, but he did nothing else, and he made it — oh, I wish I had the figures right in front of me, but he made no small amount of money. He quit his day job with Tumblr to work on this thing full time if that gives you some idea. So, this to me is an extreme case of this pay what you want pricing model that he basically gives away the service, the default price is free, and this is more like the donation model that we discussed before.
Before I was saying that all things being equal your goal of trying a different business model like this should be to make more money, but maybe it isn’t always, maybe if you can make the same amount of money the fact that a lot of extra people will be able to use your service, buy your product, listen to your music, whatever it may be for free, maybe that is a benefit in itself that it generates free publicity for your product that all these people who go, ah, it’s nice enough that I’ll use it, that I’ll try it, that I’ll maybe even recommend it, but it’s not worth paying for to me. Those people are worth capturing and that’s maybe the secret weapon of this business model that it gives you that activist, that free publicity element to your market that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
Anyway, it’s fascinating to me, I wonder if SitePoint might have the guts to try a pay what you want eBook or something like that sometime in 2011. Hmm.
The last story on our list here is something that we’ve discussed before but it’s come back into the spotlight, and it is this idea that RSS is dying, and we have an essay by this fellow named Kroc Camen, I hope I’m pronouncing his name right, Kroc Camen, his blog post says, RSS is dying, actually strike that out, not dying, RSS is being ignored and you should be very worried. The interesting point he makes here if we can just skip over the whole is RSS dying or not for a second, we’ll come back to that, but the interesting point that made me read this was the point that he makes is that RSS is one of the few ways left for us to read stuff online without that fact being public. So if you want to subscribe to something on Facebook you’ve got to Like it, Facebook knows it, the site knows it, its advertisers get their cookies in your browser history, all this stuff happens. Similarly if you want to follow something on Twitter your following of that becomes a matter of public record more or less. What RSS lets you do, just like going and visiting a site from your bookmarks, it’s this technology that makes it convenient to follow things in an anonymous way or in a private way, that you can follow a site like SitePoint and not necessarily let anyone know that you are a SitePoint reader, a SitePoint fan, a SitePoint potential customer. He is afraid that if RSS goes, at least as a mainstream technology, a end-user technology, if it goes away that’s the important thing and it’s going to be lost—the ability to read stuff privately.
Patrick: I have a couple of problems with this post. Well written, interesting read, but, you know, firstly I think it’s not Mozilla’s job to promote RSS, I don’t think it’s any browser makers job to promote RSS. I think that RSS itself is not going away by any means, it’s a mechanism for delivering updates, and I think that in itself allows it to be used in any number of concepts, and it is used, it’s used on Twitter, it’s used on Facebook, it’s used in browsers, it’s used on websites, it’s used all around the Web, it’s used on every device. So it’s not going anywhere it’s just the simple behind the scenes sort of thing, and I think that is its strength and that’s where it should go. I think the idea of RSS itself is unimportant; RSS the term, the icon, the button, the whole RSS thing is unimportant and doesn’t need to be known by the most people. I think maybe browser makers, and someone from Mozilla posted a nice rebuttal that included in the message I thought, maybe they need to make it as just a subscription option and maybe that’s how websites need to look at it, subscribe, you know, and it needs to be an easier better way of doing that perhaps, but RSS itself, I don’t know, I’m not all that concerned with, again, I don’t think it’s going anywhere, and again I don’t really view it as, I don’t know, the browser makers and it’s their job to promote this. It’s a feature that you can promote on your website and embed and if people want that they’ll use a tool that allows them to get it. I don’t know if the mainstream culture needs to be bashed over the head with RSS.
Stephan: I think the argument of it dying, RSS dying, and us losing privacy is a non sequitur, I don’t buy it.
I can read stuff on Facebook without subscribing to it, right. So, if RSS goes away, and the other thing is, too, is RSS necessarily doesn’t give you privacy when you’re doing something on Facebook either, right, because you can’t — is there a way to do an RSS feed of a fan page, of a page you like? Things like that I don’t really think that’s a valid argument, I don’t think people are going out and using RSS because they want to stay quiet and be private, I think people use RSS because it’s an easy way to get updates, like Patrick said. That’s the reason I use it, that’s the reason that most of my readers on my blog are RSS readers, not necessarily visitors to the website, and I’m fine with that.
Patrick: And also— You can have an RSS feed for a Facebook fan page, I just looked I up, just kind of a factoid.
Stephan: You can?
Patrick: You can, yeah, I went to facebook.com/sitepoint for SitePoint’s Facebook page and there is an RSS feed available for the updates. But I think you make an interesting point about the privacy issue, and for me I read some of this and I find that it’s kind of at odds with itself at some point, this piece, because I think, and here’s like a quote here, “If RSS isn’t saved now,” and then there’s a portion in there that I removed and then “basically if it’s not saved I will have to have a Facebook account or a Twitter account or some such corporate control identity where I have to like or follow every website’s partner account that I’m interested in, and then I have to deal with the privacy violations and problems related with the corporate owned entity owning a list of every website I’m interested in and wanting to monetize it, and every website I’m interested in knowing every other website I’m interested in following. And I have to log in and check this corporate owned identity everyday in order to find out what’s new on the websites, whilst I’m advertised to.” And then of course he continues with “We lose the ability from one website we read to not know what other websites we read.” But then he says that “If RSS dies we lose the ability for a website operator to be in control of what he or she advertises, rather than being at the behest of Facebook, Twitter and Google.” And I think that you maybe cannot have it every way, I don’t know if you can have it where, okay, no one knows what I visit and I can just read things within my RSS reader and also want to support people, website publishers with advertisements; it’s kind of a hand-in-hand thing at this point. Yes, RSS ads exist, but by their very nature, yes there is some tracking in there of those ads and what you’re viewing and what you’re doing, and it’s just a part of online advertising, and some may view it as evil, I don’t, but again, I think it’s kind of a conflicting message.
Stephan: Well, no, I don’t think RSS should— I agree with the general point that RSS shouldn’t die, like we need it, right. Do you read blogs online, Patrick, or do you visit a website every time that you read a blog? Or do you read a feed reader, right?
Patrick: For the most part I read a feed reader when I do use it, and I haven’t been in for a couple months which is pretty bad, but proceed.
Stephan: So, you know what I mean, like if it dies then it goes away which to me is a huge negative because that’s how I can consume a lot of content, and for me to consume content any other way actually would be very time consuming. So in that regard I hope it doesn’t die but I don’t think his arguments are valid.
Brad: It’s not going anywhere, I don’t think it can go anywhere at least until there’s a suitable replacement, because you’re right, it’s too much of an integral part of how websites work today and how content’s read. Another aspect that isn’t really touched on in this article that I use quite a bit with RSS is to aggregate that content or that data into different systems, because right out of the box almost every major CMS out there has RSS support, so I can instantly grab that feed and pull that data and pull into any system I need to. So it’s a great way outside of setting up some kind of XML or some kind of custom feed like that to pull that data, so there are a lot of different uses for RSS other than just feed readers to keep track of the news.
Patrick: One thing we should remember I think is that the growth of RSS wasn’t by browsers, I don’t think, I think RSS was this tool that people could use to stay up to date with websites, and then they used tools that could handle that RSS feed and then that’s how RSS grew, it wasn’t IE or Firefox that stimulated the growth and adoption of RSS, it was the tool being useful and helpful and then other tools integrating that and users who wanted that using them.
Kevin: I would agree definitely that it is not the role of any browser to, I don’t know, give people features that are good for them rather than the features that they want or to promote any particular technical or usability approach for the Web over another because it is better for people or for the Web in general necessarily. I think it’s useful here to focus the discussion that I don’t think RSS—or feed technology in general whether it’s RSS or Atom or any other standard—is going away anytime soon, it’s just a question of whether it is a user facing technology or as Yahoo! would call it, pipes, the technology behind the scenes that makes things go. I think feed technology will be making things go for a long time to come, but if Google Chrome is any indication feeds are not something that need to be exposed to users at this time because whereas what we’re arguing about or what the author of this post is arguing about here is whether or not the RSS or the feed icon that appears in the address bar of the browser when you visit a site with a feed on it should be hidden from the user or not or relegated to a Subscribe option in the Bookmarks menu, which is the case with Firefox 4. Chrome, however, has no support for feeds whatsoever, it has no icon that appears, it has no menu option; if you visit a URL for a feed the browser doesn’t even handle the feed, it simply has no support for feeds whatsoever. So it seems clear that even to Google, which is all about the pipes that make the Web work, doesn’t believe that feeds is something that should be a user facing technology at this time. I think if a browser figured out a way to make feeds work that users loved that they actually used then they would quickly do that and then the other browsers would quickly do their — make their own competing implementations of that; I don’t think we need to force the browsers to do it or I don’t think the browsers should be looking for a way to do it that aside from that motivation of market share that they already have.
Stephan: I’m sure we’ll see an ‘Add to Google Reader’ setting in Chrome soon enough.
Kevin: Oh, well you know there’s bookmarklets for all that sort of stuff, but I think the author of the FeedDemon feed reader for Windows, I was reading his blog today and he was weighing in on this, I wish I knew his name off the top of my head, but he was saying that RSS at this point in history has basically failed as a mass market user facing technology, but, all of the people who are writing for the major blogs, who are podcasters like us, they are the people who are using RSS as a user facing technology, and those people are well served, they’re generally tech savvy—thank you Patrick, Nick Bradbury, Patrick just looked up his name there, Nick Bradbury’s blog has this. He’s saying, look, as much as he would’ve liked his product, FeedDemon, to have become a huge hundreds of millions of copies selling piece of software, at this point he’s resigned that the market for feed readers is really a few million people, and those people they are the publishers, they’re the information addicts of the world who want to be able to subscribe to dozens or even hundreds of sites in a convenient way, in an anonymous way in some cases, and for those people RSS is a user facing technology whether there is an icon visible by default in your browser of choice or not.
Patrick: And just to kind of sum up my feelings, I don’t think a web browser either way has a say in whether or not RSS lives or dies. I think either way it’ll be okay, it’ll be something that people use, the technical people who use these applications and want to be updated in this way will use it whether or not all browsers support it or they all rip out support tomorrow, and I doubt that’s going to happen.
Kevin: Alright, this is going long, guys; we need to rip through our host spotlights here. Let’s take a look at the things that pressed our buttons this week. Stephan, what have you got?
Stephan: So I have a tutorial that goes through I think you say to SpyreStudios and it’s the Brilliante Blog Layout, and it’s just a tutorial that this guy goes through how he took a PSD and turned it into HTML and CSS, and I just think it’s interesting; since I’m not a designer I think it’s interesting how his process works and stuff. It’s a good read, fairly detailed with screenshots and code and it’s well written so take a look.
Kevin: Always great to get a glimpse into people’s workflows, especially in something like CSS layout that is still — it feels like every web designer has their own way of doing it, and yeah, it’s great to be exposed to other people’s ways of doing things. Brad?
Brad: Yeah, my host spotlight this week is WordPress 3.1 Release Candidate 2 which just came out on January 1st, so it’s WordPress 3.1 is right around the corner and it might be this week, it might be next week, but it’s soon, but the Release Candidate 2 is obviously pretty stable, you can certainly start playing around and testing it and you can see all the new features that are included in it, a couple of the features real quick: post formats, so basically you can have a post format for like quotes, and then if you switch your theme and they support quotes then it’ll still look good in that theme, so kind of some cool stuff there. Internal linking so you can easily find old posts and pages that you’ve made and linked to when you’re writing new content, there’s a new admin bar that makes it much easier when you’re on the front-end of WordPress and kind of manage your website, and then a bunch of more kind of techie things, but we’ll have a link in the show notes so you can see all the new features, but play around with it, it’s pretty fun.
Kevin: Really nice. And if you don’t have time to update to a major release like 3.1 at least you should be definitely making sure your WordPress 3.0 is up to date at the moment, right Brad?
Brad: Yes. Actually 3.0.4 just came out, and just a quick note, the small incremental updates are usually just bugs and security patches, the last couple have been security patches, they don’t introduce new features so the likelihood of them breaking your site are very, very slim, so that’s usually a very smooth upgrade.
Kevin: Yeah, I read 3.0.4 especially was a fix to a rather nasty security bug, they said was highly critical.
Brad: Yeah, so definitely get those sites updated.
Kevin: My spotlight is a site called Nike Better World, and I did this because I know Patrick was so very impressed with the last site I picked that had special effects tied to scrolling that when I saw another one I just knew I had to have it as my spotlight. This is a site by Nike, the shoe maker, that is highlighting their various initiatives to make the world a better place through their green packaging and their Creative Commons licensing of their environmentally friendly rubber technology and all these sorts of things that they’re doing. Look, I’m as cynical as the next guy about a major corporation like Nike’s efforts to make the world a better place; at the end of the day, they are making stuff that ends up in landfills a lot of the time and they are just trying to get our money and bah humbug and so forth, but, they do put together a beautiful site about making the world a better place. And as you scroll down this, in a desktop browser at least, what we see is kind of a parallax effect that different elements in the background scroll at different rates and give this sort of pseudo-3D effect, it is really something nice to behold and when you get to the bottom it tells you how many pixels you have scrolled toward a better world.
Look, (laughs) beautiful site, very inspiring whether you believe the message or not. Patrick what have you got?
Patrick: My spotlight is a service that appears to be coming into its own over the past three weeks or month or so, it’s called Quora, and according to its About page it’s a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited and organized by everyone who uses it. And if you’ve been on the service already you probably have noticed some followers, like I said in the past few weeks, just because the service has really grown recently. It launched in private beta in January of 2010 and so it’s been around for a little while, but after lingering for a while it’s really picking up activity-wise, and it’s kind of a cool site, it’s very simple, very straightforward, it’s questions and answers, emphasis is on quality, on being detailed, in general those are the answers that rise to the top, there’s a lot of early adopters there, you know, one of the early people at Facebook is there to answer a question about how he felt being portrayed in the Facebook movie, for example, and you have Steve Case who co-founded AOL, and you have Evan Williams from Twitter, and just a lot of different people there answering questions and participating in the community which at this rate is not that large, so it’s not that easy to get lost in kind of like Twitter was when it first started one might say. Brad has an account, Kevin has an account, I have an account and Stephan is the only holdout among us but if it sounds like your thing you should check it out at quora.com.
Kevin: Yeah, it does feel like it’s got some momentum going for it at the moment and it stands a chance at being the breakout web 2.0—if we’re still calling them that—service of 2011.
Patrick: Right. It was co-founded by a couple of the Facebook guys so they know a little bit about being the breakout 2.0 you could say, the former CTO Adam DeAngelo is a co-founder as well as a former engineer and manager at Facebook, so they quit Facebook to start this service, quite a leap.
Kevin: So far I see a lot of questions, like I typed in a few questions that I had and a lot of the questions that I typed in were already in there, there weren’t many answers for them yet, so I’m not sure if this service actually works or if its just being driven by a lot of hype and is getting a critical mass of users at this point. I’m looking forward to seeing how it changes in 2011.
And that is it for the show this week, first of 2011, good one guys, it feels like we gave them a show and a half which makes up for the week off we had last week. Our hosts as usual are Brad, Patrick, and Stephan, guys tell them who you are and where you are.
Brad: I’m Brad Williams from webdevstudios.com and check out our new design; we did a 70-hour marathon redesign on our site, so I’m pretty excited about it.
Kevin: Oooh! I’m changing my spotlight!
Kevin: You can follow me on Twitter at Sentience and follow SitePoint @sitepointdotcom, visit us at sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on this show and to subscribe to receive every show automatically. The SitePoint Podcast is produced by Carl Longnecker and I’m Kevin Yank, thanks for listening, bye, bye.
Theme music by Mike Mella.
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