Thoughtex, my mind-mapping/brainstorming application written in WPF was launched about 3 months ago. Thanks to some generous linking by the likes of FrankArr (we’ll miss you Frank) and a few others it was downloaded many thousands of times. By all accounts a great success for a free product, but that is only half the story.
The other half is the money side. Although I developed Thoughtex mostly for fun, and released it for free, I had an idea of how to commercialize it by building in contextual advertising. The idea was this – as you’re making a mind-map Thoughtex shows you links to various kinds of related things: web pages, images, books, files on your local file-system etc. If you see a book that interests you, and you buy it from Amazon I make a few dollars. After all, I reasoned, you’re clearly interested in a particular topic because you’re creating a mind map about it. Surely a few people will click on those book links and buy books? It seemed like a cool way to monetize software – users would be served useful contextual ads, and I could grow filthy* rich in the process. Also it removed a significant barrier to end-users trying out a piece of software. They wouldn’t have to go through the rigmarole of paying for it, and I wouldn’t have to worry about collecting the money, which would be surely coming in vast amounts. No more nagware or trial versions that expire after 30 days or only let you create a really simple file or whatever. Just pure software development and revenue.
Except it didn’t work.
I should have seen the writing on the wall. I showed the app to several people, mostly developers with a bit of a commercial bend to them. All of them said I should charge money for it. The whole “perceived value” thing. “You can always lower the price later” they said. I wanted to give this alternate model a try. Certainly lots of web-sites are created to be funded by Google AdSense# revenue, but I hadn’t seen this done many times with software.
Sometimes, when everyone says you’re wrong you’re not a mogul or a visionary, you’re just wrong
Since Thoughtex went live I’ve earned exactly 66 cents from its contextual advertising, from exactly one sale of a Logitech Attack3 Joystick.
If you bought that Joystick through Thoughtex I’d love to send you a thankyou card, but at this point I probably can’t afford to. Based on my domain registration costs and hosting costs, and the time I estimate I have spent on it (roughly 100 hours) I’ve lost about 24 cents every hour I’ve been working on it. Development on Thoughtex and feature planning continues. The dreams of earning a small income from the advertising revenue were only a fun sideline to the joys of the main event - trying out cool stuff with WPF. Who knows – some small tweaks to the UI could make “clicking on books” more attractive, which could lead to more sales, but at this stage I’ve told my wife that unless there is a dramatic change in the mind-mapping industry I won’t be going into early retirement. I'd love to hear of other people who have tried this model to fund their application development, and also to act as a cautionary tale to others who might be contemplating the same thing.
* For very small values of filthy rich.
#AdSense can’t be used in rich-client applications. It violates the Terms of Service. Opera came to some kind of special arrangement.