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.
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.
IndieWeb Stack as a Service
- micro.blog offers a variety of bundled services including hosting, use of custom domains, IndieAuth, Micropub, Webmention, import, and export, among others. The main service is $5/month with smaller additional fees for add-ons like syndication and podcasting.
Some independent sites charge an annual membership fee, which their members gladly pay as way of supporting a site they get value out of.
See Snowdrift.coop's summary of funding sites for a thorough discussion of all the various platforms for crowdfunding.
"a work in progress: public ALPHA — not functioning yet"
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
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.
This is a well-established business model. Hosting is provided at various levels:
Web Hosting Services
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
- BandPage - appears to be a whitelabeler of Ning services specifically for musicians and bands. E.g. http://runrivernorth.com/
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:
- Bridgy Publish
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 was 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 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.
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
- Prowl - Send push notifications to your mobile device with a simple API
- Superfeedr provides a paid service that allows you to subscribe to feeds or keywords and receive PubSubHubbub pings of new content
Proprietary (paid service)
Open source (and free) services
- Akismet - has free and paid levels
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.
- NewsBlur - http://newsblur.com/ - paid aggregator that charges $24/year for premium service.
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?).
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.
- The Good Web Bundle - https://goodwebbundle.com/ - $96 for one year subscription to MetaFilter, MLKSHK, NewsBlur, The Toast, ThinkUp
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
- Most silos
- All known aggregators
- All known general web search engines
- 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.
Even if hypothetical (of which there are no known examples), we can brainstorm additional business models for the indie web.
Some of these brainstorms are existing free service which may have (unrealized) potential as paid services.
Existing aggregators are all free to use. No one is charging for actual use. Those that make money at all do so via #Advertising.
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 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.
- webmention.io - Handles receiving pingbacks and webmentions for a site and provides the data via an API
- Bridgy - Sends webmentions for comments on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram.
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).
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).
- "A handy guide to making $$ in open source"
- "We do. I'd pay for a non-ad-based, privacy-protecting social network that was tightly curated to enforce standards of civility." @waltmossberg December 17, 2018
- Want To Upend An Entire Industry? Change Its Revenue Stream by Ryan Baum (Jump Associates) (Co.Design) Includes a list of 8 known revenue models and discusses how changing them can affect industries.
- https://twitter.com/sarah_edo/status/1220592167971782656 for https://twitter.com/sarah_edo/status/1220570131178196994
- "I would pay for a subscription service" @sarah_edo January 24, 2020
- Ideas and methods for creating a “bland” could be useful for a IndieWeb business that is attempting to provide a simpler and more interoperable alternative to larger companies: 2020-09-07 Bloomberg: Welcome to Your Bland New World (scroll down to Template)
- Brainstorming: idea for name of a startup that helps people setup and maintain a nice personal website, across various levels of expertise: Four Generations Total Webscaping
- Some documentation & criticism of content creation / subscriptions / patronage as business models: 2021-05-08 The Economist: The new rules of the “creator economy” / Social-media platforms used to get most of their content for free. That dynamic is changing
- referral link
- Thread: https://indieweb.social/@firstname.lastname@example.org/109349167499233396
- Criticism of many tech/startup business models, thread: https://twitter.com/odannyboy/status/1634960060303695872
- "Too much in tech has become about value extraction, not about value creation." @odannyboy March 12, 2023
- ^ https://twitter.com/odannyboy/status/1634961700331098112
- ""What industry can we insert an unwanted middleman into?"
"On what other surface areas can we put advertising?"
"What else can we get users to pay for?"
Strip Mining as a Service" @odannyboy March 12, 2023
- ""What industry can we insert an unwanted middleman into?"