(Please excuse my ramblings below… This is a two-day personal brainstorm.)
Imagine a small village, in a remote area. It doesn’t need much. The people there need huts for shelter, clothing, food, and water. This was true of every human being on the planet at one point. Things were simple. Everyone had their expertise. The hunters hunted, and had nearly all of the same tools. The gatherers gathered, and had pretty much the same tools as well. Each society functioned pretty much the same way. However, thanks to procreation, these villages began to grow. Needs began to change.
The next thing you knew, the huts weren’t large enough for families. No longer was the individual alpha male in each family able to build the hut on his own. He needed the help of another male who had better expertise, and created newer, better tools. The same could be said of every expertise. Some hunters figured out new techniques and built new tools to make hunting easier and faster. Some families would have more food then necessary, while others would nearly starve due to the new competitive hunting strategies and lack of upgraded tools.
Eventually, water wasn’t just carted into the village in buckets. Structures and waterways were built to bring the water to the villagers. Modes of transportation like wagons were built. New weapons could launch large boulders, and throw fire, obliterating entire villages, and taking their food stores. But this picture is beginning to get a long way from the simple hunters and gatherers that we began with…
The scenario isn’t just an overview of human evolution. It is an overview of the human condition. Through our constant need to innovate and compete, we are continuously looking for ways to be better and faster and earn more than the hunter next to us. We want to provide the best hut and food for our family. We can only do this through the best tools that we can find. But these tools eventually become so large in scope of how they are built, pretty soon the tool builder is dedicating all of their time just to create a single tool. But, how can that tool builder build his hut and feed his family now?
This is the way of all things that we as human touch. The DotNetNuke® eco-system is no different. It hasn’t escaped innovation and forward progress. And it certainly hasn’t gotten any smaller in scope. In fact, it takes one or more people as full time employees to maintain the most complicated installations of DNN. The plug-ins or extensions that you can install into DNN have gone through the same evolution.
We are far beyond the time where a simple Blog Module (just as an example) can be created and sold at a successful profit. We are also beyond the point to where it’s okay that the same Blog Module has a limited set of features. We expect for that module to have something new that the others do not have. Otherwise, it’s the same bow and arrow that everyone else has. The module, and in turn, the business will not survive.
A handful of recent forum, twitter, and blog conversations have inspired this blog post. I keep seeing a few of the same statements over and over. For example:
If you recognize any of the above statements, please note that I didn’t pull any one of these questions from a single person or source. These are things that I have heard in person, and/or seen online at least two more times. So please do not think I am singling anyone out – which I don’t do. At least, not while you’re watching… Stop looking at me! ;)
In the beginning, DNN and its extensions did the minimal number of things in order to function. Over time, the DNN framework and its extensions have continuously been upgraded with new features. Accordingly, and most often before, the 3rd party offerings for the same features have also grown to compete with each other, and to stay ahead of any newcomers in the DNN eco-system. Needless to say, we are at the point where the difference between then and now is like a bow and arrow compared to a laser guided missile.
There was a time where a blog simply needed to allow the posting and viewing of text in a journal format. Now, if you want your Blog Module to even be downloaded for free, it needs to have support for a wide array of features. Think about the things like Metaweblog API, oEmbed, multiple administration views, comments engine, sharing capabilities, reporting abilities, URL rewriting, meta tag administration, and so on. Now, think about the amount of time that will take you to build such a module from scratch. Don’t stop there. That module also needs to be usable. The buttons, links and features need to be exactly where your “customer” expects for them to be, before they use it. The text needs to all make sense at a glance too, because the end-user won’t actually read, but will be upset if it doesn’t look right. Keep going… Now the module needs to look pretty. Someone is going to have to slap a nice CSS scheme and graphics to it. Not only that, the module needs to use a template because your richest “customers” would like to use their own HTML formatting. The story goes on, and on.
Such a module would easily take a single developer several months to build this from scratch. If you throw a couple more developers at it, the time will be cut significantly. Also, throw in a designer to help with the HTML, CSS, and graphics. Even a shorter window for release is in view. However, none of this is free. All of these people have families, hobbies, jobs, and more. These same people need to somehow pay for the computers, software, and homes that they use to work on these projects. Many of these people simply cannot spend all of their “free” time building out these features and expect nothing in return anymore. They need to be the hunters. They must bring the food and water to their “hut” and protect their “village.”
In the cases of extensions that have all of the features that you’re looking for, you have to make a decision. You build it and spend your own time learning what to do and how to do it, or you pay someone to do that. They took the time learn how to build the better tools already. They can build a bigger, better “hut” in less the time with less cost.
Does that mean that their time always means money out of your pocket? Of course not. But there needs to be a compelling reason for that individual to spend that much time away from others, creating those extensions that you love so much. If they aren’t getting paid through currency, then they must have another form of payment that’s less tangible. For example, perhaps they just want to “give back” to the community.
Something that I cannot stress enough of any company that builds extensions for the DNN community is that they should plan for a free version of their products if at all possible. (In the very least, do this for your most popular ones.) However, since these products still cost the company money, there (once again) needs to be a compelling reason to do so. They need to benefit from the giveaway in some way. For companies, this can normally be balanced through marketing, advertising, and a limited feature set. I would suggest that all extension providers follow this model. It will benefit you. Your product will get exposure to a wider audience in less the time, with less cost. How?
This is achieved through the beautiful art of “word of mouth” advertising. You give your potential customers something to talk about. They tell like-minded friends about this FREE extension that they bought, and the other person downloads it. One or more of the people in this single chain will blog or tweet about it too. Then, they will ask themselves, “why doesn’t it have feature X?” They find out that the missing feature is in the paid version. Viola! A new customer.
If your product is priced right, and has the right balance of features and usability, this is a no-brainer. If you’re not confident that you can pull this off, then you need to revisit how your product is built and competing in the DNN eco-system. Perhaps it needs an upgrade.
The argument of the DNN eco-system becoming commercialized is a natural progression of any eco-system. History has proven it. If this progression doesn’t happen, the entire eco-system will fail altogether. No one will be able to continue to build the great “tools” that we have come to love. In turn, the quality of the extensions would begin to degrade, and one by one, eco-system participants would begin to move on to another eco-system, as they wouldn’t see a future for them.
The DotNetNuke Corporation founders have done an absolutely fantastic job of not only trying to make sure that the eco-system exists, but that it’s healthy, and it will live on beyond their tenure. (Sure, there’s been speed bumps. And there will be more. But it will live on, and it will be successful.)
Does that meant there aren’t any free extensions out there? Absolutely not. However, the eco-system has proven to those who are entrepreneurial-minded that there is profit to be made. You cannot fault them for that. They want to carve a section of the DNN eco-system for themselves and build a company. I admire that about any person in any industry. The time it takes to build an extension that you would be willing to download and install on all of your DNN sites is enormous these days. Having an income stream helps to validate the time spent working on the extension, and will be incentive to continue to build on it for frequent releases, bug updates, and more.
If you think I am wrong, please prove it to me by building a world-class DNN extension yourself, for free, and keep it updated regularly to be as good or better than the competition out there for at least 1 year. Only a very select few of you would be able to do that. And you are the exception to the rule. And I envy your talent. ;)
That being said, there are still plenty of free extensions for DNN that are very good or excellent in quality. A prime example is the Advanced Control Panel by Oliver Hine, or the Expandable Text/HTML Module by MItchel Sellers. And there have always been a ton of free skins out there for DNN, with more coming out on a nearly daily basis. In fact, Ralph Williams has an excellent blog post outlining his favorite free extensions for DNN.
Let’s talk price for a second though… When you compare an DNN extension to something similar to most other similar products, your eyes will bulge. The extensions for DNN are usually a fraction of the price of similar offerings on other products (that we might say compete with DNN).
The fact that some of the community members have recently been employed by the DotNetNuke Corporation is not a bad thing – by a long shot. In fact, it’s a very good thing. Think about people like myself, who have somehow built a name for themselves in the DNN community. We have spent a lot of our personal time away from our families and jobs doing whatever it is that we do – all for the benefit of other DNN community members. Working for the very company that we have been helping to succeed (indirectly) with our community work will only magnify our efforts.
How? Easy. The DotNetNuke Corporation encourages community involvement by all of their employees. I think that the participation in the blogs and forums is a clear indication of that. Why would they want to have it any other way? Through the evolution of the eco-system, the community and DNN Corp have come to a point where they are co-dependant. They each require the other to survive.
The DNN product could not continue to survive without the funding and backing of a full-fledged company to pay engineers to work on the core code. In turn, that product would no longer be able to grow in terms of adoption and innovation without the community. What some people have failed to realize, is that the community is still the driver in how DNN will grow and evolve more in the future. You, as a fellow community member, have all of the input and information that they need to continue to keep DNN the world class product it is.
If you’re as passionate about DNN as I am, think about that for a moment… Imagine working with DotNetNuke® on a daily basis at your job. Picture it. All day long, you get to play with DNN. On top of that, you get to do the community stuff too – and you get paid to do it. This is any community members dream come true!
It’s pretty easy to look back at where DNN has come from. In doing so, we can see all kinds of ups and downs by many people and moments. We can see the early days where everything was freely available. We can see where people began placing their stakes in the ground, taking a chance that there might be a future in building a company based on DNN. We can see many of those people that are still around, and those who have since moved on. We can see the corporation being formed and later being built. We can see their ups and downs since. Above all though, we can see that with each and every day, DNN, its eco-system, and its community has gotten larger and stronger. As a result, everything in the DNN space has become more competitive – but it is thriving better than ever before!
Want an example? Oliver Hine and I constantly bicker and compete to say who’s (FREE) lightbox gallery module is better! This is well-documented on twitter. :)
This can be paralleled to high schools. Think about the high schools that are in rural areas. They have less students by the very nature of how large their own surrounding eco-system is. Pretty much every person that tries out for the football team gets on the team. Contrast that with a high school in a city as large as Miami, and only a small percentage of those interested in football can get into practice.
This has been the current state of evolution for the DotNetNuke® eco-system. So what’s next for the eco-system? I have no clue. In fact, few people out there have the true expertise to be able to forecast such a thing. There are so many unknown variables in the future that it’s nearly impossible to be able to forecast the future of the eco-system. I would certainly be very skeptical upon most people who might try to do so. I might even ask them for their crystal ball, and tarot cards.
However, I think it would be a very safe thing to try to generalize on the future. There are things that I would feel comfortable taking for granted, myself. I am certain that the right leadership is in place in the DNN Corp. I am very confident in the long term success of not only DNN, but the DNN Corporation, the DNN community, and above all, the DNN eco-system. Things are getting better every single day. If you cannot see evidence of that, just watch the various blogs an forum threads out there.
This is not a definitive outlook by myself. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Our perspectives change quite regularly for all kinds of reasons, depending on our surroundings and the events within those surroundings. I simply hope that this blog post spurs more (constructive) discussion on this topic. After all, that’s how the community began and has lived ever since.
I am very proud to be able to say that I am a DotNetNuke® community member! And I am extremely excited to see what comes of the future of the eco-system. Are you?