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I just got back from the Fields in core code sprint at Acquia that I helped organize. Our participants all had the same goal for this five-day sprint: get CCK functionality into Drupal 7. The participants were Yves (CCK maintainer), Karen (CCK maintainer), Barry Jaspan (CCK contributor), Moshe Weitzman, David Strauss, Florian Loretan, Károly Négyesi, David Rothstein and myself.
It was a very productive week. For 14 hours a day, we discussed CCK, aligned our visions, tackled important design questions, wrestled with terminology, wrote code, and hit some important milestones. We can, for example, "field-enable" any object using a clean API. As a prototype, we've field-enabled both users and nodes. While the new Fields API isn't in core yet, a lot of progress has been made and I'm confident that we'll get something in core soon. Work continues now we're all home. To learn more about the current status, or to help drive this home, please consult the fields in core group. Expect to see more detailed and technical write-ups from participants to appear within the next couple of weeks.
All things considered, this sprint was a big success, and I'm now toying with organizing a "drupal.org upgrade" sprint at Acquia during the last week of January. The goal would be to upgrade drupal.org from Drupal 5 to Drupal 6, and make progress on the drupal.org redesign work. Is anyone interested in participating in or helping fund this sprint? If so, more soon.
I'd like to thank everyone who helped make the fields in core code sprint a success, and give a special mention to:
- Yves, Karen, Barry, Moshe, David, Florian, and Karoly for their time and energy -- and for putting up with the jet lags and snow blizzards.
- Everyone who provided remote help.
- Four Kitchens for paying for David and providing Karoly and Florian accommodation.
- Acquia for hosting the sprint and for donating Barry's time (as well as some of mine).
- Our 146 sponsors -- only by all of us bringing a small piece to the table have we been able to pull this off. Together we were able to raise $5,682 USD to support our Fields In Core sprint. Special thanks to Chapter Three, LLC and Gravitek Labs for donating $500 USD each.
- And, special thanks to Pieter De Clercq, who sold his Guitar Hero 3 game and donated the money to this code sprint. Respect!
To help us fund the sprint, please consider making a donation using the ChipIn widget on this page. We need money for airline tickets, hotel rooms, food and transportation. It would also be great to fly in a few additional people with extensive core and CCK experience.
I've tentatively worked out a budget of $7,000 USD, which covers flight, food and hotel costs for at least four people (Karen, Yves, and two additional people). Since Acquia is covering my travel expenses and allowing Barry to participate all week long, that gives us six people working on CCK-fields-in-core for an entire week. Any excess money will be used to add more people, or donated to the Drupal Association.
To guarantee that Yves and Karen can attend, Acquia is funding Yves' and Karen's hotel and airplane tickets if enough money can't be raised through donations. Acquia is also providing working space in our Andover office.
We'll try to allow people to participate in the sprint remotely, and provide a daily update on our progress. If you're interested and available to participate, join the Fields in Core group, enable e-mail notifications, and block time in your calendar between December 15 and December 19. We'll use the Fields in Core group to plan and to let you know how you can contribute and participate.
This sprint could be an important moment in Drupal's history, so we're counting on your help. Please consider making a donation using the ChipIn widget or help us raise funds by spreading the word. Hopefully, fields in core can be this year's Christmas present. Thanks!
Jay just announced Acquia's plans to get into the hosted search business. By doing so, we hope to provide Drupal sites a (i) faster, (ii) more scalable search solution that (iii) can work across multiple sites, that (iv) can handle broader content, (v) that offers faceted navigation and more.
Content management systems with basic keyword search are going nowhere but out of style. Content management systems that do search really well can improve a site's navigation in new and significant ways. We want Drupal sites to be in the latter category.
As we've learned with big sites like drupal.org, it is extremely difficult to do search well from within Drupal, hence the need for a powerful hosted search service. By offering a hosted search service, Acquia continues to tear down barriers for adoption so Drupal can fulfill its full potential.
We're still working on this new service, and we don't know yet when it will be ready, but let us know if you're interested in being an early private beta tester.
I've recently been thinking a lot about the freemium business model. For those unfamiliar with the freemium business model, it was first articulated by venture capitalist Fred Wilson in 2006:
"Give your service away for free, possibly ad supported but maybe not, acquire a lot of customers very efficiently through word of mouth, referral networks, organic search marketing, etc., then offer premium priced value added services or an enhanced version of your service to your customer base."
I've been thinking about the freemium business model because, inspired by Drupal and Open Source, both my companies, Acquia and Mollom, use a freemium business model. (Technically, Acquia uses an Open Source business model which is different from the freemium business model, but there is plenty of overlap and similarities -- pointing out the differences could be a blog post and discussion on its own.)
At Acquia, we currently provide community subscriptions for free -- people that want help with Drupal installation and configuration can get free support from Acquia's Drupal experts. While our free support is limited to certain channels (i.e., forum only), certain support questions (i.e., no module development help and no security best practices) and comes without response time guarantees, we have people on staff whose full-time job is to help you (example customer story). Further, we invest heavily in Drupal and give those contributions away for free.
Similarly, at Mollom, our basic spam filtering service is available for free to sites with limited post volumes. Our free website protection service provides all the features of our commercial Mollom Plus product, but is limited in the number of posts it will protect each day and in its access to our high-availability back-end infrastructure. The great majority of our Mollom clients are using our free filtering service with great success.
There are a number of things that attract me to the freemium business model. The first, and certainly foremost, is the opportunity to do “good” and “well” at the same time. It’s a great thing to help people build quality websites with Drupal, and it’s a great thing to provide Mollom to help deal with spam. Second, I believe a company is better off with a large install base than a small install base, even if the majority of clients ride free. A large install base translates to direct and indirect network effects, including efficient marketing, greater brand awareness, the collective intelligence of your users, and faster product adoption. And, last, I strongly believe that a successful company built on the freemium business model is simply a stronger and more defensible business in the long run.
The freemium business model is relatively new because it didn't become a serious option until the internet gave us a low-cost distribution channel. Ultimately, I can't help but think the freemium business model is the business model of the future for the sole reason that it puts the customer first. With the freemium business model customers only have to pay when they get significant value from the software (i.e. they have reached the limits of the free version). Compare this to the current model where people have to pay to get access to the bits, or where people have to pay before they got enough value from the software (e.g. most shareware software).
That all sounds great but you have to make the freemium business model work first. Getting free users to convert to paying customers is hard. Conversion rates of less than 1% are not uncommon. Free is often “good enough” and only a few people choose to pay for additional features and services. You have to put enough value in the free version to drive adoption (so that you get the scale and the network effects that derive from it), while providing enough incentive for people to pay for premium features or services. The marketing and sales funnel is really wide at the top, and very narrow at the bottom. Plus, you have to make sure that the paying users subsidize all the free users.
Achieving the right balance between free and paid customers is difficult and requires close attention to a number of variables. As a result, I've been trying to answer questions like: how much should we invest to acquire additional free users? How do you estimate the value of a free user? What is the cost of a free user? How long does it take for a free user to convert to a paying customer, and how many will do so? What are the triggers that convince free users to convert?
For example, in Mollom's case, one could argue that we get thousands of dollars worth of value from free users already. We currently have more than 3,000 active users that use Mollom for free. Say each user spends on average 15 minutes a week moderating his site's content and reporting classification errors to Mollom. Mollom learns from this feedback and automatically adjusts its spam filters so that all other Mollom users benefit from it. At a rate of $10 USD/hour, we get $390,000 USD worth of value from free users a year -- 3,000 users x 15 minutes/week x 52 weeks/year x 10 USD/hour = $390,000 USD/year. If these numbers hold up, the value of a free Mollom user could be estimated at $130 USD/year. And that doesn't include the marketing value they add. That said, the value of a free user probably declines as you get more of them and the business becomes stronger.
Both Acquia and Mollom have just opened for business so we have a ton to learn. It will be interesting to look at the different variables and questions a year from now, and to see what we have learned. I hope we can make it work so we can do good and well at the same time ...
After months of hard work, Acquia is now open for business! Starting today, everyone can connect their Drupal 6 site to the Acquia Network to take advantage of our services. Oh my!
The Acquia Network (previously code-named Spokes) is a hosted service that helps you with site management (update notifications, spam blocking, cron service, modification detection, etc) and provides real-time visibility into the health and usage of all your Drupal sites that are connected to the Acquia Network.
Second, the Acquia Network gives you access to Acquia's technical support team. Whether it is an installation question, a development question or a configuration question, our Drupal experts are ready to provide you with technical support. The kicker? Acquia Network subscriptions are available for every budget -- including a free community version. Give it a try!
Third, we are also releasing Acquia Drupal today. Acquia Drupal (previously code-named Carbon) is our Drupal distribution that bundles some of the best, most essential Drupal modules for building social publishing sites. Acquia Drupal is available for free, and all our bug fixes and improvements go straight to the module maintainers on drupal.org. Acquia Drupal defines the collection of modules that you can get technical support for.
Starting Acquia wasn't straightforward. To setup Acquia for success, it required hiring world-class people smarter than me, but that often lacked Drupal background, or even Open Source experience. It took a while before we hit our stride, but it is truly amazing to see how everyone got hooked on Drupal, and how much we have come together as a team. Thank goodness I didn't take that job at the bank, because I couldn't be happier. Everyone in the company is determined to contribute to Drupal's growing success, and with Acquia's offering, I think we can get Drupal into a lot of new and interesting places.
Going forward, you can expect us to help port more modules to Drupal 6 and to add more modules to Acquia Drupal to expand our support offering. You can also expect us to extend the existing network services in the Acquia Network and to see us add new network services that extend what we've started with update notifications, spam-blocking, and uptime monitoring. Details are available on our Acquia Drupal roadmap page (registration required) and on our Acquia Network roadmap page (registration required) respectively. And last but not least, you will continue to see Acquia employees be very active in the community. So buckle up, because this is only a glimpse of what is to come, and we're on the fast track now.