As we progress with the development of Trillian Astra, we wanted take a moment to explain the current state of affairs here at Cerulean Studios with regard to monetization, how Pro subscriptions will work with Trillian Astra, and where we’re headed in the coming months. There will be no new Astra build this week.
Historically, Trillian’s interaction with servers and systems owned by Cerulean Studios was minimal at best; this meant that offering a free version of Trillian was a no-brainer, as costs were minor and the benefits to the brand were obvious. We’ve never raised a huge round of venture capital (we took a small bit of cash in 2002 from a private investor) and have always focused on running a tight and money-conscious business from day one. Our primary focus is, and remains, building quality, useful software. Monetization came by selling an enhanced version of said software, meaning the burden was really on us to build something you’d be interested in buying! A very old-fashioned approach in this industry, but it’s kept us going.
As we move forward with Trillian Astra, we’ll be incurring substantially higher costs per-user than we have in the past. This means that we need a way to monetize our free audience to ensure we’re able to stay in business and continue offering you great software. “Raising a pile of cash and figuring it out later” has never been an option for us, which means we always need to clearly understand the business angle of Trillian before we make any major moves. We’ve made many business decisions here at Cerulean that have negatively impacted our ability to generate revenue – a lack of tacky advertising, strange partnership deals, weird distribution opportunities, etc. This all goes on behind-the-scenes almost monthly, and our greatest source of pride is being able to shield you, the customer, from this sort of nonsense and focus on delivering a quality product. We’ve clearly made some mistakes in the past, but we’re learning from them and we continue to work hard day and night to develop quality software that will earn your business, trust, and respect.
Moving forward, we’ve decided on the following courses of action, which we believe will fulfill our requirements of keeping cost/user lower than avg revenue/user while not compromising the user experience or product in any way:
- All versions of Trillian will include a small number of partner bundle offerings during the installation process. These offerings will always be absolutely transparent and absolutely optional, but installing them gives Trillian Basic users an option to support our continued efforts without actually spending any money. Selected bundle partners will be industry-recognized corporations who deliver useful, relevant software offerings. We will never bundle something exclusively because it pays us well to do so; the bundle must show clear cohesion with Trillian in some way, or, at the very least, be an independently useful product.
- We may occasionally display contextually relevant, commission-generating RSS feeds in Trillian Astra’s knowledgebar. For example, if you make a purchase at ThinkGeek because of us, we’d see a small percentage commission from the sale. The knowledgebar will be fully optional (you can turn the whole thing off) and customizable (you can reject any sponsored listings and prefer other feeds entirely) for both Basic and Pro users, so if you’re disinterested you can simply turn the feature off. Period.
- Lastly, we will continue to sell an enhanced version of Trillian and work to earn your business the traditional way – by developing and selling something useful. We will almost assuredly (but the plans are not fully fleshed-out) be setting up a customer appreciation program here for past Pro customers, as we’ve done in the past, and will be shortly offering a Pro+Astra purchase guarantee for those of you sitting on the fence today, wondering if buying Pro will guarantee you a copy of Astra. Again, the latter two ideas are still under review and we will make the proper announcement when it’s warranted.
To kick-start the process, this week we’re launching a minor revision to the Trillian 3.x series, Trillian 126.96.36.199. This build fixes 4 recently-reported security vulnerabilities in IRC and our display engine (announcements and advisory texts coming next week), adds proper Windows Vista support, and brings our existing minor updates (to AIM, MSN, and Yahoo) up-to-date in a single package, avoiding the immediate need for an auto-update when you install it. This build also introduces our two new bundle partners, Weather.com and Ask.com. Please consider giving their respective software packages a try the next time you find yourself installing Trillian 3.1 somewhere! Weather.com will be powering our weather services (the Astra widget, plugins, etc.) and Ask.com has a wide selection of useful data at its fingertips (mapping information, search data, etc.) that will quite assuredly produce some pretty cool widgets moving forward. This is what we mean by a “cohesive” bundling partner.
Thanks again to everyone for supporting us over the years; we’re looking forward to delivering an amazing final release of Trillian Astra and will continue to update you with development builds, blog posts, and company news as it becomes available. We have some still unannounced and very exciting features in store for future builds, and we are currently working nonstop to expand our testing team to a much larger audience. We appreciate the ongoing patience and support from those of you who don’t have the build (‘officially’, at least ) yet, and have not forgotten you. Please remember that the official sign-up form for alpha testing can be found here.