The other day I posted about OSWs (open source websites, I shortened it because I might be talking about this a lot) and what their feasibility would be.
I've been thinking about this further and have come up with more ideas. One major difference between a web app and a regular app is that web apps require hosting. You can't just slap it up on SourceForge and say you're set.
The problem is that hosting costs money. Under the assumption that your site actually starts getting traffic, I don't feel that it is really fair for you to have to foot the bill while lots of other people are using your site. Not only is it unfair, but quite unsustainable unless you have another job which rakes in the dough.
This got me thinking about revenue models. If you look at other free sites, the make money off things like advertising, market research, donations, merchandise, etc. For the first two you need a lot of traffic to begin with, so if you don't have something great to offer users then it isn't really a great platform. If you're targetting a niche market with your OSW, then you're out of luck here. Merchandise works if your site has a branding, like webcomics or unique online games like Kingdom of Loathing (KoL). But if you don't have this, you're left to rely on donations. While I'd like to think if I started a site I'd get enough donations to cover the costs, but I don't think that's a realistic assumption (KoL does support itself through donations, however it gives rewards to those who donate).
The idea I'm having for a site (I won't tell you about it yet...ooh suspense! and no, it is not porn) allows users to create their own content. Ultimately I'd like to provide the tools for creative and high quality content.
Although the site itself is free (as in freedom), the content itself may not be - that's up to the content creator to decide. Should they choose to, the content creators may restrict access to their content except to those other users who want to pay for it. A source of revenue for the site would be to take a percentage of the money that content producers receive when they charge for their content.
Here is where the question of ethics comes in. Since the site is open source, it may be the case that other users would want to contribute in some way to the site, be it through code or documentation or whatever. Is it wrong to make profits off of this? Suppose somebody comes up with an idea for a sweet feature and codes it in and gives it to me, and it shoots profits through the roof. Is this unfair to the person with the sweet idea?
My answer would be no, provided the contributors know that the site does make profits. In that case it is fair for them to either not contribute, or to request some sort of compensation - either through money, or through privileged services through the site, or something.
For those few of you who actually read this blog, what do you think? Is this fair, or am I sounding like a douche in a suit?