business-models

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business models are ways to offer indieweb products and or services that users pay for both for their own benefit, and in support an open indie web.

The idea is to build actual businesses that can sustain themselves in this environment, not just building the next silo that gets acquired by Google / Facebook / Twitter / whatever.

Businesses should exist that both encourage people to own their online identity and are supported by the fact that people are not using silos.

Current Examples

Real world examples of sites with business models and paying customers, clustered by category.

DO NOT add theoretical or "it would be great if" or "someone should" business models here. Add them to Brainstorming down below.

Site Membership

Some independent sites charge an annual membership fee, which their members gladly pay as way of supporting a site they get value out of.

Patronage

  • Gittip - a way to get tips for your indieweb site.

In progress:

Pay what you will

Main article: pay what you will

Some websites allow users to pay whatever amount they think is appropriate for the value they get from the site.

Domain Registration and DNS

Main article: dns

To get started on the indie web, you first need a personal domain. There are a zillion different companies offering domain registration. Most of them also offer adjacent services such as DNS or web hosting.

DNS is the glue that points your domain name to a web server. Many hosting and domain registration companies offer DNS services.

Hosting Services

This is a well-established business model. Hosting is provided at various levels:

Web Hosting Services

Main article: web hosting

Web hosting services provide a web server that you have some degree of access to that will serve pages on a domain of your choice (which you may need to register separately with a Domain Name Registrar), and execute a number of "CGI" or programs written in various backend scripting languages (PHP, Python, Ruby).

  • VPS model where you get root access to a virtual system and can install whatever you want
  • FTP access with PHP or Perl CGI in a shared hosting environment
  • High-level language-specific runtime environment

See web hosting for more providers and reviews of providers (what can go wrong, what's good to look for, etc.).

File Hosting Services

Not focused on serving web pages, these services typically still allow you to access raw files via HTTP, though don't provide any execution environment for scripting / backend code.

  • Dropbox - Create files locally, are served up via Dropbox's CDN. There are several guides and services for using Dropbox to host a website, see web hosting.
  • GitHub Pages - Push to a Git repository and they serve static files. GitHub provides a paid version that allows you to have/use private repositories including for serving pages.

Application Hosting Services

These services don't allow you access to the file system, nor configuration of the web server, but instead only provide paid access to higher level web application(s), but at your own domain.

  • Application-level hosting (blogs, splash pages, etc)
    • Wordpress.com - provides custom-domain support for a fee, then incremental pay-for add-ons such as custom CSS styles. IndieWeb example: Chris Wilson
    • Ning - provides pay-for community content hosting with a custom domain

Content Hosting Silo Services

While nearly all silos are free (they use an #Advertising based business model), a few offer "premium" or "pro" accounts for pay with additional features / capabilities.

  • MLKSHK - charges $24/year for a one year premium account for image content hosting, with unlimited sites, faster updates and search.
  • Flickr - charges an annual fee for a Pro account.

POSSE as a service

  • Convoy is a paid service for Known sites to POSSE to various silo destinations. Rather than maintain all your own app keys and API calling code for various silos, you pay Convoy to do that for you.

Compare with free alternative:

Statistics and Metrics

Various applications are available that gather data and analyze it on your behalf as a hosted service. Examples of this include services that analyze web traffic, social presence, etc.

  • ThinkUp is an example of a paid service that analyzes your silo activity provides statistics and analysis. Like several other hosting models, the business supports an open source project for the software. They charge for the hosted version of their service, but theoretically you can install the open source for free on your own server.

Transport Services

Transport services are like plumbing, they do not provide an outward-facing presence for your web identity, but move bits around behind the scenes. Ideally transport services work with purely open standards so that they can be swapped out under the hood without anybody on the outside needing to know.

Emails

Main article: email

Email services allow you to send and receive email on your own domain using a simple API rather than setting up an SMTP server yourself. Some people in the IndieWebCamp community are using email to post new content on their own websites.

  • Mandrill - Send and receive email with a simple API

Notifications

  • Prowl - Send push notifications to your mobile device with a simple API

Filtering/Search/Subscriptions

  • Superfeedr provides a paid service that allows you to subscribe to feeds or keywords and receive PubSubHubbub pings of new content

Authentication

Proprietary (paid service)

Contrast with:

Open source (and free)

Anti-Spam

  • Akismet - has free and paid levels

Feed Readers

Despite the availability of many free feed readers, there are some aggregators that charge for use, and people pay for, for a better experience, customer support etc.

Non-profit

Non-profit: The idea of setting up a non-profit organization that provides indieweb-supporting services is similar to the idea of Mozilla Foundation offering Firefox as a not-for-profit web browser. Known examples:

  • riseup.net (email, forums, etc.)
  • jpberlin (in German)
  • eu.org (domain name registration and DNS hosting)
  • ... (any others?).

Bundles

Sometimes paid services of various types (see above) will collaborate in offering a bundle of their services that you can purchase for less than the cost of purchasing them all separately, in an encouragement for people to try them out for a year, or give them as gifts.

Avoiding

Advertising

Main article: advertising

Advertising based business models are to be avoided as they are exploitative.

Nonetheless many companies who provide a "free" service, are actually ad-based businesses

Challenges

  • The "free" platform model where services are offered in exchange for user information has become so pervasive among the silos that it would be very difficult to charge users any amount of money for an indieweb service. It is very hard to convince people to pay for intangible benefits such as "owning your data" when a silo will offer perfectly adequate services at no tangible cost.

Brainstorming

Even if hypothetical (of which there are no known examples), we can additional brainstorm business models for the indie web.

Some of these brainstorms are existing free service which may have (unrealized) potential as paid services.

Aggregators

Existing aggregators are all free to use. No one is charging for actual use. Those that make money at all do so via #Advertising.

Search

For pay web search could be useful in professional verticals such as medical, legal, or other professions. But needs more documentation of specific efforts / companies. No known examples currently. Or rather, existing search engines all depend on #Advertising. Possible forms of for-pay search services:

  • medical search
  • legal search
  • people search

Mentions Proxies

Mentions proxies are all free currently, and do not use ads either, however they do cost some amount to maintain, and therefore it is reasonable to expect that at somepoint they'll have to charge for their (quite useful) services.

Identity Hosting Services

A version of a hosted service that takes care of the knowledge required to set up a domain. Just like you don't need to be a real-estate agent or go to school to buy a house, you should not need to know an extensive amount of information to be able to buy a domain.

  • Middle-ground service that does not require the user to have knowledge of things like DNS or nameservers.
  • Simply makes a storage container that affiliates information with your identity.
  • One's personal data file. A separate database for medical, vehicle, money/account, your public persona, private messages, etc. There's a separate database for images, with permissions for people who are friends, family or public. This all runs on your own domain name. There's a space for notes and work in progress and an internal blog you Email to. You can allow a doctor to have permission to your medical file and add to it, based on what the medical appointment was about. That way you have a centralized data repo that you own.
  • Could be an appliance mailed to you that is a physical cube that you plug in and configure in three easy steps, with a backup on the web (or not).

Not-for-profit

In contrast to non-profit (see above), a not-for-profit organization could offer services for free (covered by donations), as well as for-pay (if people are willing to pay money for a product). The difference would be that the non-profit status would stop them from being acquired and/or doing anything that puts its users into a silo. A freemium model might be best, because it would give people a much lower threshold to move their profile outside the commercial silos, but at the same time can offer more advanced services in a more sustainable way by charging people for what they use (at cost price, for instance).

See Also