It has been an amazing eight months since we first released Digsby into public beta testing. We have now released 41 builds and Digsby keeps getting better. We’ve gotten great feedback from our users and incredible reviews everywhere from LifeHacker to the Wall Street Journal.
We spend a lot of time talking about the product on this blog and almost no time talking about the company. So, here is a little info about us. We are a startup. We are a team of RIT graduates based in Rochester, NY. We hated the inefficiency of managing multiple IM, email, and social network accounts…. so we created Digsby!
People often ask us how we plan to make money since Digsby is free. Since our public beta launch, we have focused completely on fixing bugs, adding features, and improving performance. However, at the end of the day we do need to keep the lights on so we can keep making Digsby even better! With that in mind, we’d like to share two revenue models that we are currently testing. We are posting this info so everyone understands how each one works, how it affects (or doesn’t affect) you, and how you can opt-out of anything you don’t want to participate in.
We’re currently testing a new installer that shows you offers during the installation process for other products such as the Yahoo Toolbar and a desktop weather application. The reason we are testing this revenue model is because we believe it is better to show you ads once during the installation process than to plaster banner ads all over the product like other IM clients have done (ie: AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ). We want to do our best to keep Digsby free and ad-free and this is one way we are able to do so.
This is different from our previous installer so it’s important to clarify exactly how this works. All the offers shown to you during installation are 100% optional. You don’t have to install any of the products advertised in the installer and none of them will be downloaded or installed to your computer if you choose not to install them.
This is not a unique revenue model and many other products do this including Java, DivX, CCleaner, Trillian, etc. All the mainstream IM clients also offer the option to install their toolbar just like we offer the Yahoo Toolbar.
We’ve tried to make the offers as clear as possible to make sure people don’t accidentally install something they don’t want. You are clearly given an “Accept” and a “Decline” button. It is not a “Next” button with an obscure pre-selected checkbox somewhere on the screen. The installer also has a list on the left-hand side of all the products you have chosen to install and clearly shows what is being installed at the end of the process.
There are numerous research projects that require a massive amount of computing power to complete. One option is to run these on a supercomputer but there are very few of these in the world and renting time on them is very expensive. Another option is to break the problem up into many little pieces so each of the little pieces can run in parallel on thousands or even hundreds of thousands of regular computers. This is called Grid Computing.
A few examples of popular grid computing projects are: Help Conquer Cancer, Discovering Dengue Drugs, FightAIDS@Home, and The Clean Energy Project. Besides these non-profit projects, there are many commercial applications for grid computing such as pharmaceutical drug discovery, economic forecasting, and seismic analysis.
Now that you have an understanding of grid computing, let’s go over how this fits into Digsby. We are testing a revenue model that conducts research similar to the projects mentioned above while your computer is idle. Unlike the installer revenue model above, which is commonly seen in many products, this is much more unique so we’d like to clarify what it does and how it works.
The module turns on after your computer has been completely idle for 5 minutes (no mouse or keyboard movement). It then turns off the instant you move your mouse or the press a key on the keyboard. We did this so it would have absolutely no effect on your computer’s performance and only uses processing power while your computer is not being used. It also runs as a “low priority” process so if any application on your computer asks for CPU power it will always get it before the research module gets it. On laptops, it will use a much smaller portion of your CPUs overall processing power than it will on desktops. It will also never turn on if your laptop is running on battery power.
So what exactly does it do? It downloads a very small chunk of data and runs it through a mathematical algorithm to get an end result. It then reports the result back and gets another chunk of data. The process repeats on thousands of computers until the computation problem is solved. The data it gets is kept in RAM while it is being processed so the module does not access your hard drive at any point. It does not store any data on your computer and it does not access anything at all that identifies you personally.
The idea is to make this both a revenue model and a feature! Some of the research Digsby conducts may be for non-profit projects like the ones mentioned above and some may be for paid projects, which will help us keep Digsby completely free. So, using this module keeps Digsby free and contributes to research projects that will make the world a better place.
Lastly, we have made this module 100% optional. You can disable it in the main menu by going to “Help > Support Digsby” and disabling the “Help Digsby Conduct Research” option. We linked to this blog post in the FAQ section of our website and we’ll be adding more info explaining this feature into Digsby itself, as well as, more extensive options like the ability to set how much of your CPU to use.
In starting to test these two revenue models we made one major mistake. This blog post should have gone up two weeks ago when we first started testing them instead of right now. We have been a user-focused company from the day we launched Digsby. We pride ourselves with the level of customer support we offer and our development process is guided almost entirely by the feedback and suggestions we get from our users. We want to do our best keep this reputation as we keep pushing harder than ever to make Digsby an even better product. Not announcing this before we started testing it created the misconception that we were trying to hide something when in reality we just didn’t want to make a big announcement like this blog post until we decided to make these things a permanent part of Digsby. It was a PR mistake and we learned our lesson. As a young startup we have many more lessons to learn and we will keep doing our best to provide you with a useful communication tool.