In the 1954 western “Vera Cruz”, when asked how their “wild west” trip was, Henry and Maximilian reply “successful but distasteful”. Successful but distasteful is what I call a business which succeeds on paper, but failed to get there in a fair play. By “fair play” I’m talking about any means that are moral and go hand in hand with customer satisfaction. Not “all is fair in business” in my humble opinion.
How to succeed distastefully? There are numerous ways:
- 3rd parties: In software installation, taking advantage of users who click “next” without reading, and installing third party software on the poor customer’s own computer. Software they don’t need, never asked for, and will probably never use (and is usually some kind of spyware), but only installing it adds a cent to a couple of dollars to the original software vendor. This is how iMesh was saved from bankruptcy, and is widely used in P2P software (see comparison here).
- Leeching: I use “leeching” for software that needs a computer genius to uninstall. For the past decade or so, the vast majority of computer users are non-geek people, and abusing that fact to wear them out of trying to uninstall your software is really distasteful. Google “~uninstall hotbar” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. IncrediMail’s success (and failure) is, in my eyes, as distasteful.
- Conspiracies: Your website login information is usually saved in a cookie. No website can read that cookie unless their Internet address is the same as the original website’s. In order to read login information of another website, you have to partner with the other website and plant a “web bug” in your own. This way you can “steal” login information from your visitors and use it for the other website. “FaceBook Beacon” is a complete platform which allows conspirators to publish their site on Facebook under your profile. Google’s DoubleClick is based on the same mechanism.
So in short, you can succeed by hijacking users, tie them down or use their private information without them knowing about it. It’s an easy way to show a massive customer base and value your company based on that. But does this go hand in hand with user satsifaction? I’m not so sure.
So how can you be tasteful?
When thinking about your business model, first think what your customers want, and only then how to make money out of it. Put yourself, your parents and grandparents in the user chair. If you’re comfortable with them using your product, then it’s probably good enough.
Build a successful business, but in a tasteful play.