Web hospitality

In the sixth, not yet published, part of our series about Web analytics for startups, we will talk about how components are integrated in our product, what types of users it has (visitors, demo users and registered ones) and how their rights are distinguished. But we did not want to take your mind off web analytics, we’re talking there too much and the idea was born to write a separate post. Also some analysis of how such work is being built in other web services has been done by us and no articles on this topic have been found – so why not share with you about how the well-known web services welcome their visitors and how we decided to do it?

Most services provide the opportunity to work with the system in trial mode or directly subscribe to any of the paid plans. The most popular trial period for the already running service is 30 days. Sometimes the service, which is just ‘hatched’, begins to operate in private beta with a number of free users (beta testers), who are helping you to make your system convenient and relevant to market demands. Beta testers, in turn, participate in testing because (a) your system solves one of their problems, (b) they can make the system convenient for themselves, drawing attention of developers to the features that they (beta testers) lacked. The beta testing period is defined by the developer and there are no rules on the timing here.

Some services ask to pay immediately and they have no demo. The services which are simple and clear, and where you only pay for what is used are amongst them. Thus, paying just a little bit and using it for a while becomes your trial period. This approach is used by Amazon Mechanical Turk (picture) or TextMagic (picture). With this approach service provider often gives a small credit which is added to your first payment. I can recall AWS provided a $20 credit to all new subscribers. Thus not free trial in this case becomes cheaper and therefore more attractive to a potential customer.

So, if you’re going to provide a free way to work with the system, it’s good to decide how you will restrict the ‘freeloaders’ from the very beginning. Or at least know your options and select first one from the list.

First (1) way to demo your product – to give time-limited fully functional registration and after it either to acquire another paying client, or delete demo record. Many well-known web services enjoy this approach. For example Zendesk (picture) or FogBugz (picture).

Free 30 days trial
Account can be deleted or upgraded any time during trial
You must make a decision before trial expires

Second (2) way to demo – to give unlimited by time free account with limited functionally. The trick is that such account is usable but not too valuable. From the other side there is a lot of time to understand whether you are satisfied with a service. For example, Campaign Monitor gives you the right to use their service for sending newsletters free of charge without time limit but with one exception that the number of recipients cannot be more than five in one campaign (picture).

Account can be free for as long as you want but with limited functionality
Account can be deleted or upgraded any time

Widely known web based project management system Basecamp from 37signals uses both ways (picture). That means you can get access to full-featured demo account for 30 days, or free account with limited functionality (one project without the possibility to share files) that you can use indefinitely. If you choose the first way, you need to understand in 30 days whether you are satisfied with service and either start paying or your account will be deleted. If you choose the second type of their trial – use the service as long as you want until you will need to create another project or want to share files. Another example of a combination of a fully functional trial limited by time and limited functionality with unlimited usage is Assembla.

Now let’s talk how web services integrate their products with the systems that surround them.

Slicehost has a wiki (picture) and forum (picture). Both systems are not integrated with the service. That is, you have a login account to manage your slice, but if you want to fix something in the wiki (less likely) or ask a question in the forum (more likely), then you have to create two more accounts.

37signals use own Answers which are integrated into their products with a single sign-on (picture). So, if you’re not their customer you cannot ask or respond to questions. Do not get discouraged if you desperately need something to clear up – just sign up for a trial and you will have that opportunity. You can also ask your question on the support page (picture), where the option ‘I have a question before I sign up’ is carefully retained especially for you.

Assembla uses the forum and portal of ideas from UserVoice. Forum registration (picture) creates you an Assembla account which is done in non-obvious way and you will not notice it until you open Assembla service. Your first visit will offer a choice of a full 30-day trial or four unlimited by time but limited in functionality options (picture). Ideas portal is not integrated with the service and registered users must enter their email address (picture) to vote or to publish an idea. It also means that not only Assembla users can register and post ideas. As we have written in earlier post UserVoice, starting with a Bronze plan (89$/month) allows you to use a single sign-on to access their service. Apparently Assembla just saw this as unnecessary or decided to save a little.
We would not be the Deep Shift Labs team if after digesting it all have not decided to do everything differently. We stopped at the following approach.

We decided to provide a full-featured trial for a month. Registration in our forum gives access to Ideas and Answers which leave inside forum. It also leads to the creation of a trial account in our product. It becomes obvious as all registration links in forum, Ideas or Answers lead to a product registration page. The user can at any moment switch to paid usage or delete your account. Forum messages will remain in place in this case anyway.

Fully functional trial
Account can be free for as long as you want but with limited functionality
Account can be deleted or upgraded any time
Deactivated if not upgraded on trial expiration

At the end of trial your account becomes inactive, but for some time it is still stored in the system. We have to do it because our system executes users tests on schedule, and we give a chance to forgetful demo users to take download their tests as well as results. Being philanthropists deep down, we cannot afford to pay for the resources eaten by such tests and we need to stop them for clarification. If the user did not have time to decide before the expiry of trial, the next logon after a trial expiration will prompt user to either switch to a paid package, or transform account into unconditionally free one with limited resources.

Well, then everything is simple – you pay as much as your tests run. If you do not execute tests – no need to pay. Completely run out of money or just do not want to use the service but like our forum? Convert your account from paid to free, allowing you to perform tests with limited resources and continue to engage in heated debates with people who are tearing web applications with their Selenium code.

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