Advertising in Applications

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Few things elicit the visceral reaction that advertising inserted in applications does. Just the mere mention of the word brings out a stream of critics who decry the intrusion that ads impose on usability and express dismay at the treasonous behavior of the developers and companies in question.

Yesterday Nick Bradbury released a beta version of FeedDemon that includes a small display ad served by The Deck. As Nick states, his goal was to include the ads in a tasteful manner while also including highly contextual ads that reflect the predominately tech oriented community that uses desktop feed readers, hence the selection of The Deck.

I’ve watched the comments that first appeared on his post and then as the day went on. The comments reflected a good balance of 1) no big deal, 2) disappointed but understand why, 3) want to pay for an ad-free version, and 4) going to look at other products.

NewsGator has to support these apps not only from an operational standpoint but also from a continuing development perspective and the costs of running a datacenter that supports sync, 4+ million feeds, search services, and then the development of a complete portfolio of client products are daunting. We made client apps free a year ago and at that time made no commitment about advertising other than to say we were not doing it at that time. Nick has continued to develop FeedDemon, this is the 3rd release of the app since Jan. Even when we charged for the product, not all upgrades were free therefore it’s still a good tradeoff, IMO.

I looked at what we were doing with our client applications and rightly concluded that if we could generate some revenue that would offset the cost of supporting those apps, then that would be the responsible thing to do. As Nick (and Brent Simmons and Nick Harris) will support, what we talked about was the right approach to doing this. We didn’t want Viagra or University of Phoenix ads showing up in the apps and we didn’t want ads in feeds and we didn’t want interstitials. It was also important to not impact performance negatively so compact asynchronous ad streams were important.

What we wanted were ads that reflected the community of users who rely on these products and placement in an unobtrusive manner that, if we selected the right network partner, would prove to be actually useful to the community. Nick was the most skeptical but as he writes in his post, even he has been clicking on the ads because they are relevant to him.

The FeedDemon v2.8 release is a beta, it’s something we are trying and while we welcome the feedback it’s also important to recognize that adding ads to an app that is being made available for free is not unreasonable. It may turn out that this doesn’t work as well as we would like, hence the reason for calling this a beta, and we reserve the right to change our mind but from where I sit this is a good compromise that satisfies our financial requirements while also presenting ad content that is not distasteful or overwhelming to the user experience.

The reality about desktop applications is that very few outside of large packaged software apps can generate a large enough community of users who are willing to pay for them, at least not enough to pay at a level that supports those applications on a fully loaded basis. This is even more true when you are competing against some very good products that are free. A reasonable person might consider that the alternative of having the app go end-of-life is a less appealing alternative to running ads to offset the operational costs of supporting them. We’ve just gone through a period of time where you could reasonably make the argument for free as a business model but given the economic realities of right now and what 2009 is looking like, you simply have to rethink everything.

Lastly, for the part of the community that remains unsatisfied by this decision and wants to voice their criticism, don’t direct it at Nick, direct it at me.

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