💡 Ideas
Toby Toby Waterhole Founder May 26, 2023

How could a free tier work?

Good question from @Awilum in Introducing Waterhole:

Toby, I have a question regarding price models. Could you please take a look at the price models for Craft CMS and Statamic? They seem to be a little more user-friendly, but ultimately the decision is up to you.

For reference, Craft and Statamic have a free "Solo" plan "for when you're building a website for yourself, a friend, or a hobby". You are limited to a single user account, which makes this plan unsuitable for teams/businesses.

A free tier for Waterhole is something I've spent a bit of time thinking about and haven't ruled out. I just haven't worked out what a good comparable limitation would be for forum software.

  • Limit the number of user accounts?
  • Limit forum activity?
  • Nerf the groups functionality?

What constitutes a "hobby" community vs a more "serious" one?

No guarantees that this will be implemented, but I'm very much open to thoughts and suggestions.

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Choice of limitations will depend on the specific features and capabilities of Waterhole and the target audience you have in mind. It's important to strike a balance that provides value to free tier users while still incentivizing the upgrade to a paid plan for larger or more professional communities.

Variants:

  1. Limit the number of user accounts: You could restrict the number of user accounts that can be created on the free tier. This limitation can help ensure that the free tier is suitable for smaller communities or personal projects while encouraging larger communities to upgrade to a paid plan.

  2. Limit forum activity: You could set limits on the frequency or volume of forum activity for the free tier. For example, you could restrict the number of posts, comments, or topics that can be created within a certain time frame. This limitation would allow smaller communities or hobbyists to engage in discussions while still encouraging more active or professional communities to consider a paid plan.

  3. Nerf the groups functionality: If your forum software offers advanced features like user groups or permissions, you could limit the functionality of these features on the free tier. For instance, you could restrict the number of user groups that can be created or limit the permissions available to free tier users. This limitation would ensure that more complex or enterprise-level community setups require a paid plan.

  4. Restrict access to advanced features: Consider offering a stripped-down version of the software for free, with access to only the essential features. This can help differentiate between hobbyist communities and more serious ones that require advanced functionality such as custom themes, advanced moderation tools, or integrations with external services. The free tier can act as a gateway, enticing users to upgrade to a paid plan for access to these premium features.

  5. Limited customization options: Restrict the level of customization available on the free tier. For example, you could provide a set of pre-defined themes or templates, limiting the ability to customize the forum's appearance, colors, or branding. Advanced customization options could be reserved for paid plans, appealing to businesses or communities that require a unique and branded forum experience.

  6. Reduced support options: Differentiate the support provided based on the tier. For the free tier, you could limit the support to community forums or documentation, while offering more personalized support options like email or live chat exclusively for paid plans. This would ensure that users who require dedicated support or faster response times are encouraged to upgrade.

In reply to Awilum Awilum

Limit the number of user accounts: You could restrict the number of user accounts that can be created on the free tier. This limitation can help ensure that the free tier is suitable for smaller communities or personal projects while encouraging larger communities to upgrade to a paid plan.

Tbh I am not a huge fan of user accounts limit as I have some users but most of them are not active.

Limit forum activity: You could set limits on the frequency or volume of forum activity for the free tier. For example, you could restrict the number of posts, comments, or topics that can be created within a certain time frame. This limitation would allow smaller communities or hobbyists to engage in discussions while still encouraging more active or professional communities to consider a paid plan.

This is the idea I like the most. But it would depend on the limits itself if it is viable.

Nerf the groups functionality: If your forum software offers advanced features like user groups or permissions, you could limit the functionality of these features on the free tier. For instance, you could restrict the number of user groups that can be created or limit the permissions available to free tier users. This limitation would ensure that more complex or enterprise-level community setups require a paid plan.

Also quite a nice idea but then I think it would still scare users away.

Restrict access to advanced features: Consider offering a stripped-down version of the software for free, with access to only the essential features. This can help differentiate between hobbyist communities and more serious ones that require advanced functionality such as custom themes, advanced moderation tools, or integrations with external services. The free tier can act as a gateway, enticing users to upgrade to a paid plan for access to these premium features.

What are advanced features in your opinion?

Limited customization options: Restrict the level of customization available on the free tier. For example, you could provide a set of pre-defined themes or templates, limiting the ability to customize the forum's appearance, colors, or branding. Advanced customization options could be reserved for paid plans, appealing to businesses or communities that require a unique and branded forum experience.

Phew, that would make me unhappy. :D I like the design but I think there are some things I would like to change.

Reduced support options: Differentiate the support provided based on the tier. For the free tier, you could limit the support to community forums or documentation, while offering more personalized support options like email or live chat exclusively for paid plans. This would ensure that users who require dedicated support or faster response times are encouraged to upgrade.

I think this is good but I don't think people getting the free version should expect personal support.

Another ideas I had:

  • Sell hosting for communities. I don't know if Flarum offered this and how it went. @Toby might have more insight on this.
  • I recently saw a project (can't remember which) which offered custom feature development which could also be contributed back to the original project.

Note that these last two ideas might not be what you envisioned. :D

Another idea I had would be dual licensing. Let's say I would like to help develop e.g. a tighter integration for the auth system (like stated here . I have no incentive to work on this as it wouldn't benefit my project (because I would have to pay some $$$).
However you could opt to release this under a dual license. Let's say one license requires everything to be open source (I mean everything, even all other packages for example) and if you would like to have a tighter integration or have some proprietary packages (which I think has been be quite important for the companies I worked for) then you got to pay.
What do you think about it?

Toby Toby Waterhole Founder May 26, 2023

Thanks for the ideas! Some of the stuff I've written in the Philosophy is also highly relevant here:

The Waterhole business model is very simple: We make great software. You pay to use it. That money goes back into making the software even better. [...]

By charging for licenses, we avoid having to undertake other activities which would distract from product development, like soliciting donations, or running services. We believe that others are better placed to offer services around Waterhole, and we encourage freelancers, agencies, and entrepreneurs to seize this opportunity and become a part of the ecosystem.

That is to say, I'm not interested in doing anything involving services at this stage.

Dual licensing is too complicated. I think the only way I could see this working is with some kind of product limitation, like the Craft/Statamic model. Will keep thinking about it.

I'm a member at a freelancer cooperative and we offer some paid open-source products. The model we have is free for communities, paid for business. There is just one license and you always need a license key. But you can get a free one as a community user:

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Well, just sharing our approach. What I believe would be important in general is finding a solution that promotes community contribution. You'll want to build a vibrant community around the product. Restricting size or customization options could work against that.

In reply to Manuel Manuel

This would be really beneficial for my use case to be honest: Building a hobby community.

I think the best business model is to provide unique functions and services to paying users.

For example, referring to flarum, only paid users have the right to use specific extensions to meet specific features, such exclusive features must be harmless for ordinary users, but they are essential for commercial users.

We still make the basic functionality of the community program available to everyone, and if they have the ability to develop extensions that meet their own needs, then we don't have to limit them.

We only provide advanced commercialization features and extensions, long-term technical support and other services to commercial users.

Building a community is not an easy task and sometimes hit or miss. I just discovered Waterhole through Laravel News and would like to try it for a few different forum ideas. So a free tier plan or at least less expensive plans for user accounts/activity would be beneficial. A pay-as-you growth approach.

Another idea is a white labeling limitation.