Our initial intention when creating sumApp - in addition to creating the tool we needed to use ourselves with our mapping client projects - was to make something simple to use & either free or very affordable. We sensed the system-shifting potential in these new kind of maps we were creating in Kumu and we wanted to democratize that potential. It seemed dangerous to leave the power we sensed in the hands of a few well-funded networks, leaving less-resourced movements out of the fun.
But we soon realized that:
- Data-gathering that aligns with our principles would never be simple.
- Our best clients demanded more and more functionality from the tool.
- The functionality clients wanted generated increasing cost.
- We, on our own, could afford neither to build nor support the infrastructure required to provide all the bells and whistles our clients and customers were requesting.
Therefore we were faced with a decision - keep it simple and cheap as we'd originally intended? Or add the bells and whistles - and charge more for them?
We decided to follow the lead of other Software As A Service providers and use the 'Fremium' model. Which means - the more you features you want to use, the more you'll pay. But we still not that expensive if you compare it to the alternatives.
Regarding Tiers I & II
Our thoughts on 'Free' were this - the truly ground-breaking feature of sumApp is in the connections. The survey/profile aspect is important, but one can use other free survey tools to get at that info. So we figured - if the have the tech chops to do a survey and to combine 2 datasets (which lots of open-source, free, radical-internet types can do in their sleep), the one thing we can add to their tool-set is the connection options. So the connection function (plus, now that we've built it, the time-tagging of connections) is free.
If a group doesn't have the technical chops, or isn't inclined to use another survey tool & combine the datasets - we figured, they can pay $15 for a month or two to do the survey, then downgrade back to free until the next time they want to update their map. The survey data remains in the project (along with the connection data, which is standard in ALL projects), but the survey can be turned off & on. Most groups should be able to come up with $15-30 bucks a time or two a year. We figured that would help cover the data-storage and bug-tracking and email-processing costs, w/o creating a barrier. And it gives all the core functionality you need to make a functional Social System Map.
The take-away here is - you can toggle your survey off & on and keep your expenses really low, or you can play small-scale data-wrangler and use sumApp for free.
Regarding Tiers III & IV
But as we tried on the fremium model, we soon realized - the added functionality increased the quantity, quality and - most importantly - the complexity of the data we gathered. And once it got that complex, there was really no way to stuff that mess back into a more simple format - which means, in this instance, there is no going backwards.
Of course, you can always delete or archive a project to end the cost. But once you enter the land of premium functionality, the projects you have will stay in the land of premium cost as well - for as long as you want to keep the project active.
The take-away here is - there is no turning off the cost of Tiers III & IV, like there is with Tiers I & II.