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May 15, 2004

Six Apart Clarifies Licensing Strategy

Six Apart responded to the deluge of complaints about its new pricing plan. For the most part I think they had made decisions based on reasonably good information (a survey of their users), but failed to take all of the available information from their environment in account. The missteps are instructive, and--saying this with great fondness for what I think is a good company run by nice people--I would love to build this incident into a library management class called Fatal Errors.

What led to the management equivalent of the Blue Screen of Death? Six Apart had failed to factor in the frustration users feel at the "element of surprise"; the impact of small errors (the original license had a single-CPU restriction, which was simply a dumb error); information right under their nose; the importance of minority constituencies; and--a viper they have nursed to their own collective bosoms--the ability of blogging to dilate and disseminate the opinions of a few.

When I had heard what "everyone" was saying, my manager's ears perked right up; whenever you hear vague references to "everyone," you are often hearing a minority opinion undergoing heavy self-promotion. When I peeked late yesterday afternoon, I saw fewer than 500 complaints. You may think that's a lot, but think about how many people use Movable Type. But due to the capabilities of TrackPad--a technology they invented--the complaints had enormous self-perpetuating power. (Now you know why I was in such a hurry to quickly squelch the Googlehacking incident with LII.)

Then again, the notion of "a lot" is relative. I keep thinking about the 15% of their users who have more than five blogs. (I do, actually, if you count the trashed-out test blogs I use to test features--and the new software should include a non-publishing test capability, so you aren't making sausage in public. In fairness, I don't need more than one or two of these, but I will still have to delete a couple to become compliant.)

Where I work, we just completed a user survey with over 4,000 respondents, and I consider 15% to be a very healthy constituency. After all, these folks are representative of a larger number--that's why it's a sampling, remember? Honing in on those 15% would have been useful for Six Apart.

The other factor they didn't consider, in analyzing the complaints, is that many personal bloggers fall into what the cell phone companies call "family plans." (Asking follow-up questions of the 15 Percenters would have helped here.) A blog with four family members sharing thoughts about their petunia gardens is a much different arrangement than the engine behind major blogs such as Blog for America.

Six Apart recognized this, upped the number of authors to five, and added the capability to add a blog and an author to a license for $10. If your family is Cheaper By the Dozen, get the $100 edition, now on sale for $70 (you're paying that much every week for milk and bread, anyway).

But--oops--don't buy anything for at least a week, since Six Apart is rebuilding its billing engine, they tell us, and who in their right mind would make an online purchase with that information in hand? I can already read the message, "For those of you who created orders between May 13 and May 21..." Six Apart, leave the fuzzy management stuff behind with the steaks and martinis of the Fin de Siecle. Just say you will begin accepting orders by May X, and make sure this capability is available on that date.

Also, they failed to recognize the needs of institutional users, such as educators and library consortia. These organizational elephants often rely on a specific price (which, note, had been "free") to make their decisions. There were several ways to handle this, but suddenly announcing a price structure where the previous price had been "none" was not a good option. Their previous, loosy-goosy "give us what you think we are worth" was ignored by institutions not because Movable Type isn't worth anything or because they didn't want to contribute to this product, but because purchases at the institutional level need to be based on solid prices you can see and touch. And it's agony if the price changes mid-year, which is why so many institutional purchases require some kind of license or contract. Six Apart will still need someone to help them negotiate the complicated world of institutional purchases. (If you're a librarian looking for work, why not pitch this to them as a PT gig? Gee, if I weren't gainfully employed and painfully overcommitted, I'd do it myself!)

They also missed addressing the licensing issue that people create mini-logs to build bigger blogs--a trick touted on their own help forums. They've addressed this, and in doing so have suggested that in terms of how many blogs you actually have to your name, MT will still be on the honor system (which may mean I can continue to create malformed and ugly test blogs that should never see the light of day).

I give them management style points for accepting criticism, addressing the problems as quickly as was reasonable (it took a long time for them to dig themselves into this hole, so a 24-hour rescue is pretty good, all said and done), and appearing to be enormously contrite. Rumsfeld they ain't.

Now can we move on to life's real indignities, such as the Bush administration?

Posted by kgs at May 15, 2004 10:52 AM

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Tracked on May 20, 2004 01:51 AM


What a mess! I wonder if all this confusion will actually encourage a lot of MT users to stay at their current version or to switch to another blogging product.

I have no intention of upgrading from 2.7 at this point, until all of this is resolved.

Posted by: Fiona at May 17, 2004 11:51 PM