Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Franchised web apps

It's time for another free-for-the-implementing business idea. This one: web site franchises.

Take the software that runs flickr or reddit or any of a thousand other things, and package it so it can be installed on a server farm elsewhere and customized. The example of reddit is perhaps most compelling to me as regards customization, because it's easy to see that the format of the software is so independent of its content, yet the social way reddit functions could be adapted to other groups of people. Right now it would be hard to grow a home improvement user base on reddit because of the slant of the existing user base. But somebody could buy a home improvement reddit franchise and start it up. This would be a way for the creators of a web application to get into markets they know little about.

I can think of two possible drawbacks for franchising a given web application. The first drawback is the financial aspect. If the application is having problems turning a profit with the existing international user base, fragmenting it would not be an option. There would have to be the potential for customizing the application in a way that adds value. The second potential drawback is the task of packaging the web application for replication. In most cases, this would be a non-trivial development cost. Designing 3D buttons and Javascript animations is fun and can be taken to show-and-tell, writing install scripts can be a tedious and under-appreciated chore.

Another angle to the web app franchise idea is some things may be salable to large corporations and government agencies for internal use without concerns about compromising confidential information over public networks.

As with most (all) of my ideas posted here, I expect this one is so good it was done long ago and I just now finally forgot enough of its origins that I think it's new. Please correct me. If I happen to be wrong, and you make some real money with this idea, I'd appreciate a link back to this blog, with due credit: "Thanks to JFKBits, whoever or whatever that is" would be fine.

4 comments:

Mark said...

Sourceforge doesn't just host large numbers of open source projects, it's also a giant advertisement for the enterprise edition of the underlying software. Not sure how that's working out, but they're still open so they must be making enough to pay the bills.

Ning is a "meta" version of franchising. It's a platform for writing social networking applications.

In the third paragraph, you seem to be thinking in terms of distributing software (probably to a server the client would manage). There are other ways to do distribution. First, the appliance approach - a whole box with software on it (Google does this for intranet search). Second, the whole web services approach - the provider provides the software and the servers, making it much easier for the client (among other advantages - no need to write installers that the client can find creative ways of breaking!)

murphee said...

Two words:
Software Appliance.

Just setup the app on a VM system (VMWare, Xen,...), dry freeze it (into an image), distribute that.

Eg. see this:
http://www.vmware.com/vmtn/appliances/
http://www.vmware.com/vmtn/appliances/directory/

And if you want to make this even easier for the customer:
Amazon EC2:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/browse.html?node=201590011

You take the image, turn it into an AMI (the Xen images EC2 uses), upload it and ... you're live.
This also takes care of hosting, and puts you right next to a nice storage solution (Amazon S3).

I go into more detail here:
http://jroller.com/page/murphee?entry=amazon_ec2_amazons_big_mainframe

Susan's Husband said...

Google. They sell mini-Googles for use inside a corporate firewall (to index stuff you don't want accessible outside the firewall) or, heck, desktop Google.

And here's the tale of a company torn apart trying to do exactly this.

jfklein said...

Murphee and Susan's husband have the right idea, software appliance, for distributing the "franchise". It's a brilliant way to solve the disabling, episodic pain of migraines, I mean installation. For some sites it might take more than one appliance. It definitely seems to solve the corporate use problem.