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CSA Plans : Upgrades and Subscriptions

I have started to received a few emails regarding the future plans around Store Locator Plus and the proposed upgrade and subscriptions model.  Hopefully this post will answer those questions.

Add-on Pack Upgrades

In the not-so-distant future upgrades to the add-on packs will not longer be free. Security patches or patches to maintain compatibility with the base plugin will be free, but upgrades will not be.    Upgrades are primarily changes to the add-on packs that add new features and functionality.   Yes, they will contain bug fixes but that is NOT the core focus of upgrades.

In the future upgrades will focus on adding at least one new feature whenever a new version is released.  Frequency of upgrades will depend on customer input.  The more interest in a feature, the higher it goes on the development schedule.   In general the current add-on packs tend to receive an upgrade with new features at least once every few months.

Upgrades may be available for purchase at a fraction of the cost of the original purchase.   I am not 100% certain this will be an option given the complexities of the current eCommerce system I am using on the site.    However if it is possible, users that do not want a subscription will be able to purchase an add-on pack for $X today and likely a fixed fee of $10 whenever an upgrade comes out with a feature they want to install.

Enterprise Subscriptions

Did you say “users that do not want a subscription”… does that mean some sort of subscription is coming?

Yes.

And no, you will NOT be required to have a subscription to use your product.    You can still get the base product and all the upgrades and patches to the base product for FREE.   Note, I said BASE product.  That is the Store Locator Plus plugin that is listed on the WordPress Plugin Directory.     Add-on packs will still be available via the flat purchase price model that exists today.     The primary change here is if you purchase add-on pack version A today, that is the only version you will have access to.

So what is the Enterprise Subscription, you ask?    Well let me tell you what I’m thinking…

The Enterprise Subscription will give you access to ALL of the add-on packs for the Store Locator Plus product including those add-on packs that exist today and any new ones that are launched tomorrow.   You will also be entitled to get any of the upgraded add-on packs as long as your subscription is current.

How Much Will Subscriptions Cost?

My current thought is that the initial subscription fee will be set at $200, slightly less than the “Kitchen Sink” package that includes all of the primary add-on packs.   The recurring monthly fee will be $10.

Users that purchased more than $100 in products since September 1st 2012 will be given a $100 discount toward the subscription.  Users that purchased the Kitchen Sink package or spent over $200 will be given a $200 discount.   Discounts will be handled via a post-purchase rebate (refund) as the PayPal subscription system “gets all wonky” if you change things on the front-end of the transaction.

Pro Pack Changes

Prior to launching the add-on pack upgrade and subscription programs, I will be doing two very big things to the popular Pro Pack premium add-on pack for Store Locator Plus.

Removal of License Key System

The first change will be to remove the license key requirement completely.    Instead the product will follow all of the other add-on packs and be a completely separate download.    All users that have a license key today will be required to login to their CSA account and download the Pro Pack as a separate file, install it, and activate it alongside the latest release of Store Locator Plus.

For those people that purchased the add-on pack from within the admin panel of WordPress, you will need to go to the CSA website and “purchase” the free Store Locator Plus product.  This will create a login account and order to which I can attach your verified Pro Pack purchase.

Anyone that purchase the Pro Pack prior to January 1st, 2013 you will need to request that the Pro Pack be added to your account.   When sending your request you will need to send your Pro Pack license key and an order # for any order that you have on your CSA account.

Feature Reduction

The other big change to the Pro Pack is the removal of a dozen or so features that are currently part of the product.   Any of the settings that are explicitly related to the search features, map features, or results features will be moved to Enhanced Search, Enhanced Map, and Enhanced Results add-on packs.

The reason for this change is primarily to group all features into add-on packs in groups that makes sense.   The current configuration of “buy Enhanced Search to get these 10 search features or Pro Pack to get those 10” is very confusing to new customers.   It also provides the framework for improving the admin user experience though grouping feature sets, further simplifying the user interface for new users.

In addition, by moving  features into “closely related” groups, it allows for more efficient code.  Underlying functions and methods can live in a single add-on pack that are only activated when needed.   By spreading out features for a single interface element, such as the search features between Pro Pack and Enhanced Search, it heightens the chances that the extra code will need to be loaded into memory.  It also means that nearly identical code either must live in two places, doubling the memory and disk footprint, or the code needs to be moved into the base product which means it loads on thousands (15,000 and counting) of websites whether or not they have installed or use any of the features of the Pro Pack or Enhanced Search.

The primary motivation behind the removal of features is purely for the purposes of simplifying the message and experience for new users while providing improved performance and security in the add-on pack ecosystem.

But I Paid For Those Pro Pack Features!

Yes you did, and you can keep them.  The solution is simple, keep the base plugin and add-on packs the way they are.  Do not upgrade   Remember, upgrades are optional.    When you purchased the Pro Pack from Charleston Software Associates you purchased a product that does A,B, and C for $X.    That will not go away if you do not install the optional updates.

“But I want the latest coolest things for free.  That is how it has always been!”.   As you read above, that is changing.  Upgrades soon cease to be completely free.   The new D, E, and F features will not be available to customers that purchased the Pro Pack, or any other premium add-on for that matter, that had features A,B, and C at the time of purchase.    The reasoning has been explained above.

“Buy my customer will upgrade the plugins, I just know it!”.   Wait, you have customers upgrading their own plugins but don’t know enough about plugins that they hired you in the first place?  Yikes!   That means they don’t read the upgrade notes BEFORE installing something, do they (you do though, right?).    That is a very, very bad practice.   In fact upgrading just for the sake of upgrading to have the shiniest new thing is not really a great idea on a production server anyway.   Production servers are meant to be stable and constant installation of new software makes it inherently unstable.    You’ve never had something break from an update, have you?   If not, count yourself lucky.. and stop upgrading live production servers just for fun.   Read & learn BEFORE upgrading.    And tell your customers to do the same lest they risk things changing.

As a side note, the actual settings that turn stuff on and off via the Pro Pack will not be going away when they move to a new add-on pack.   Thus, if you do upgrade and lose a feature the site should still function as before.    Not guarantees, but in 90% of the cases that is how it will work.    If you are installing on a new site you really should be buying new add-on packs anyway, you just may need to buy two of them now instead of one.

What Is The Upside?

Thus far the Pro Pack discussion has been mostly about what is going away.    The license system going away, that is a good thing for many reasons including a smaller footprint, better performance, and the biggest thing is eliminating the hassle of keeping and finding the license key for new installs or whenever you move servers.

In addition there are several key features going into the Pro Pack.    The focus of the Pro Pack will be to server enterprise clients with thousands of locations.  As such the first new feature once these changes are in place will be location export.   I am also exploring a “migrate settings” feature as well as several interface changes to improve management for locations with thousands of installs.

In other words, you lose some features that are not really related to big-install management of locations but you will gain some new features shortly afterwards.

Why The Changes?

I know some of this may come across as a bit harsh or not very customer friendly.    After having discussed these changes with some of my repeat customers as well as the larger corporate enterprises that are using my plugins, it is clear that this is the right path to follow.    Unfortunately the options of donation-based financial support or paid customization or one-on-one support yields so little revenue, literally NOTHING in terms of donations, it is not sustainable.

Unfortunately these changes are necessary to be able to fund ongoing development and refinement of the Store Locator Plus system. The current model of “buy once get all the new bells and whistles for free forever” (free upgrades, BTW, has never been advertised) is not sustainable as money only comes in from new customers.  People that have invested a lot of time in setting up and configuring Store Locator Plus prefer a sustainable business model that brings in recurring revenue over the risk of all updates and support going away.

Having subscriptions and paid upgrades makes ongoing development and support possible.  Without it the updates and support stops as soon as I run out of new customers that are willing to buy the add-on packs.    I think you’ll agree that the subscription fees are reasonable considering the monthly feature upgrades and weekly patches that have been the norm over the past 6 months.

On the plus side of the equation, these changes will ensure development and support continues.   Funds will be available to build new feature sets and have the funds to pay for the development (with my very close oversight), which means more add-on packs and extended features will be coming.

Please share your concerns, comments, and suggestions.

This is not a done deal yet and I’d like to refine the concept before implementing the technical changes required to support it.

For now, business as usual… but changes… hopefully with positive results for everyone… are coming.

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Store Locator Plus 3.9.4 / Pro Pack 3.9.4 / Enhanced Search 0.6 / Crowd Funding

Store Locator Plus 3.9.4 and Enhanced Search 0.6 were both released today.

You should always update the base plugin first.  It will be available via the standard WordPress plugin directory and will appear as an available update in your admin panel.  Can’t wait the 12 hour cycle for WordPress auto-polling?  Go to your Dashboard link in the sidebar and visit the updates page.  That should re-poll the WordPress servers.   If it does not pick up the change try clicking “check for updates” for force it to re-poll the WordPress servers.

You can find the changes to Store Locator Plus, Pro Pack, Enhanced Search on the 3.9 Release Notes page.

Add On Pack Update System

Included in the SLP 3.9.4 update was a patch to the add-on pack update system.  For those of you who are not aware how that type of system works, it is a custom application that runs both in the base plugin and on the CSA servers.  To get plugins to work properly with the WordPress update system when they are not hosted on the WordPress directory a custom application-information-and-download service needs to be created.    The service has been in place on the CSA server for a while now, but the WordPress plugin side requires a very specific data format.   There was a bug in the update system on the plugin side that has been patch in 3.9.4.

Hopefully this fixes the add-on pack one-click updates.  At least until WordPress changes the format.

To the new version to work and re-check your add-on packs you will want to update the base plugin, then go to Dashboard/Updates in your WordPress admin panel to re-poll the WordPress and CSA servers for updates.     Your add-on packs will need to be up to the prior version for this to work:

  • Pro Pack 3.9.3
  • Enhanced Map 0.4
  • Enhanced Results 0.7
  • Enhanced Search 0.5
  • Store Pages 3.9.1
  • Tagalong 0.8

Crowd Funding

With the recent interest in crowd funding for new add-on packs and other enhancements, I started researching ways to add crowd funding to my Word Press site.   After a lot of searching I finally settled on a premium-only product called “Ignition Deck“.  It is a cool product, but it is far from ready for “prime time”.  Yes, I can get it working but it is a  LOT of work to make it do what I want.  That means code hacking, creation of theme files, and basically a lot of coding on someone else’s premium project.   No fun.

Believe me, I know the issues the people at Virtual Giant are facing.  I also understand what some of my users go through when trying to bend my plugin to do what they want.   I can say, however, that I am far less embarrassed about my own support and documentation as well as my code comments and structure.    It is far above and beyond the only 4 semi-functional crowd funding plugins I have explored.

Sadly, I don’t think ANY of the plugins that are out there, two of which are now defunct, are ready for implementation on my site.   In fact some are so complex or so under-powered that I am seriously considering writing my own crowd funding plugin.  Who knows, maybe it will become the next big freemium WordPress plugin from CSA.

In the meantime I guess crowd funding needs to wait.     Until then maybe I will explore a third party service like Kickstarter or one of the others out there.

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Store Locator Updates / CrowdFunding

New Version Betas

Store Locator Plus 3.9.4 and Enhanced Search 0.6 has been released to the Beta Test list for testing.   Want to help with beta testing, get pre-release copies of the base plugins and add-on packs?   Sign up here.   All beta releases are announced and distributed via the MailChimp managed email list.

I will begin testing the new updates within the next 24 hours.   If all goes well the new updates will be published by the start of next week.

Crowd Funding

I’ve been getting a lot of customization requests lately, some for larger projects.   While I got nearly ZERO response from the general community of users about implementing a crowd funding option, several of the companies that have asked for new features have indicated they would be interested in this option.

What is it?   It is a way for multiple organizations to share the development costs of creating new stuff.   Stuff?  Yeah, stuff.    In this case, code stuff.   Like new plugins, add-on packs for existing plugins, or even just extending an existing add-on pack or plugin.   This provides a way to spread out the costs of developing a feature while gathering enough funds to ensure smaller projects get put on the development radar.

Look for new crowd funding options on the Charleston Software Associates website soon.