So something I've been talking about since the launch of WP Chat is possibly monetizing it with "Pro" accounts. Well, it's been going strong for over 6 months (wow!) since the launch, and I figure we're at a good point to start talking about monetization.
Just to be clear, this wouldn't change anything for new/existing members. All forums as they are now would remain public and free to access. Absolutely no features as they are now would be "crippled" in any way if members didn't pay up. Just bonuses for those that do.
The benefits would be as follows:
Some sort of "signature" that would include your job title, a linked company name, and linked Twitter handle. Basically, the more time you spend contributing quality posts, the more directly you're building up your company's reputation (moreso than a logo as your avatar, for example).
Access to a new, private "Pro" forum. This could be used for private discussions you wouldn't necessarily want publicly accessible and indexed in Google. Basically, what happens in the WP Chat Pro Forum, stays in the WP Chat Pro forum.
It's hard to guarantee activity in the private forum, but it might be a good place for more ranty, controversial topics that you wouldn't feel comfortable out in the open. And I'd make an effort to personally respond to every single thread in there, like I do now on the public forums.
I've listed some concerns below that I'd love your feedback on.
Let's see all the things we have to pay for on a monthly basis. Rent, utilities, internet, phone, insurance, TV, Netflix/Hulu-like services for cord cutters, etc. In the WordPress space we have membership sites like Post Status and WP Elevation that you may also subscribe to.
WP Chat seems like the least essential compared to all of the above. Do people really want to have another recurring expense if they don't have to? Even if it is reasonably priced?
What would be a fair price for a WP Chat Pro subscription? $5 / month, $10, $20? How much could you see yourself realistically paying?
A clear value proposition
I don't want to a WP Chat Pro subscription to feel like a "donation" in any way. I want to provide real, quantifiable value in exchange for paid subscriptions.
If somebody gains a few loyal Twitter followers through their Twitter handle link, or acquires a new customer based on their posts here at WP Chat, I think that's pretty worth it.
Most of the benefit will be directly proportional to how much time you invest in the platform, but I guess that's true of most membership sites.
How else could WP Chat Pro provide value?
It seems like Stripe is the most popular choice for membership site owners, although judging from some of @krogsgard's tweets lately, it seems PayPal is the more popular choice with membership site customers.
Not that Stripe hasn't had its fair share of horror stories, but I'd very much prefer to avoid PayPal for reasons outlined in this article by Shawn Hesketh of WP101.
If you were interested in WP Chat Pro accounts, would you have a problem paying with a credit card via Stripe or BrainTree? Or would PayPal be your preferred option, and if so, why?
Unfamiliarity with Discourse plugin development
If WP Chat was a WordPress-powered site, I could set up all the functionality I needed for free with the Paid Memberships Pro plugin and some custom code I'm capable of writing myself.
Unfortunately, there is no PMPro equivalent available for Discourse at the moment and I just don't have the skills to replicate the same functionality in Discourse. I'd need to know Ruby, and possibly Ember.js to really get started, plus Discourse-specific knowledge to make the actual plugin.
As for hiring developers to do the job for me, I've gotten quotes as high as $4k. And with lower quotes I've gotten, bottoming out at $300, I'm unsure if they can actually do the job right.
Also, plugin maintenance is an issue, because Discourse plugins get outdated fast.
Unlike WordPress, Discourse doesn't seem to dwell too much on backwards compatibility. For example, the User Directory plugin broke on a core update months ago, and has not been fixed since.
I love the experience of Discourse, but I can't help but feel a little regret thinking that the cost of maintaining custom subscription plugin might not even break even compared to the amount of revenue it generates from subscription payments.
The Discourse community is still in its relative infancy, and despite some interest in a similar plugin, nothing has really materialized yet. It might have to be me that steps up to the plate.
If I did, I'd keep everything is a public GitHub repository so other experienced developers would be free to provide feedback on the code.
Funding the initial development, and handling maintenance through GitHub, seems to be the most realistic option for me to get a Discourse-based solution working in a reasonable amount of time.
Any other thoughts?
Any and all feedback would be appreciated on this, thanks!