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FAQ-Tastic | WordPress FAQ Plugin «

FAQ-Tastic: Spammy Emails & Open Source

August 31st, 2009
{ 1 comment }

This morning, I was going through my inbox and came across an email by a guy called Ash, objecting to a broadcast email I had sent out a few days earlier to the FAQ-Tastic Lite list, calling my email "spammy".

Initially, I was angry, upset and annoyed by it and was just about to send a very scathing, flaming email to him but, thankfully, I had to return my kids to their Mum's house and that gave me a chance to cool down, txt to a friend to vent my frustrations and to re-evaluate the situation.

I started writing a reply earlier this morning about 10am. It's now nearly 3pm. While I'm slightly annoyed that I've not managed to get on with what I needed to do today, I'm satisfied that what I've written as a reply hasn't been a waste. In fact, what I've written has helped me to clearly express what I think a lot of plugin Developers feel but don't actually express. It's helped me to explain some commonly held assumptions about Open Source and what it means. It's helped me to clarify some points about my own plugin. And most importantly, it's made me realise that flaming people isn't the best option - maybe there's a real benefit in what they're saying, if you really listen to them...?

This post is dedicated to the thousands of Developer's out there who feel like sometimes they have no voice. For those of you who have always wanted to point out how much time and effort has gone into what you have built. To those of you who feel un-appreciated.

This post is for you. I salute you!

In this post, I've added my reply as well as Ash's provocative email that really pushed my buttons. At the end you'll see the email I originally sent out. I've removed Ash's email address and last name out because I know how some people can react - let me first say, he's done me a favour, so please respect his opinion.

Was my email spammy? I can understand how people could think that. Let me know - leave a comment. I'm open to suggestions.

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Hi Ash,

Thanks for the compliment and I'm glad you use FAQ-Tastic and think it's great. I also appreciate the time and effort you've taken to reply and send me a considered opinion. I appreciate your honesty and I'm sorry if you feel that my emails may be considered "spammy". I get the sense that you're an intelligent and reasonable guy and so, please allow me to put my own point across in the same way that you have voiced yours. I'm sure you'd be good enough to take a moment and consider an alternative perspective to help properly inform your decision before coming to a conclusion. Just to let you know, I'll be blogging about this as it is a very important subject that I think the WordPress community would benefit from.

Open Source Is Free
While I completely understand the common perception that "Open Source" means "something that anyone can simply go and download and use completely for free", let me take some time to explain the concept in a rational manner, so you can decide if this is really true. I'm going to put it to you that the idea or opinion that it is "free" is, counter-productive to the Open Source idea and something that should be re-considered and opened up to debate.

Let's me start with a basic assumption to help shape the discussion: "Open Source is based on a spirit of giving not of taking".

Think about it. If everyone simply "took", nothing would ever be created. It is only through the generous contributions - a spirit of giving - made by various Developers that anything ever gets created. These handfuls of hard working, diligent, creative and inspired people take a great deal of time and effort so that they can bring a community the software and applications. This ensures that, literally millions of people, save time and effort and that the community grows and becomes even more productive. Take a moment and consider the implications of simply "taking". I'm sure you'll see the validity of this pre-supposition.

Let us make another assumption: The production of any software (or any product) takes time and effort.

This "time and effort", in business terms, is a "cost". The amount of time which Developers put into building and maintaining their plugins is actually time that could be used, focusing on making money in their regular freelance work, or time they could be spending in other areas in their life (like with their kids and loved ones). It's a sacrifice Developers make, so other people don't have to spend time and effort building things (or doing things the hard way).

This means that the creation of any product isn't "free". There is always a cost somewhere down the line. It may not be visible to most people because it's very easy to just download and just "take" things - without considering how and where these things are being created. Therefore, Open Source, does not mean it's "free" simply because the person downloading does not pay for it. The truth is that *someone* ends up paying for it and it's usually the Developer. So people should feel a sense of gratitude and fortunate that it's not them who has to dip into their own pocket or sacrifice their time. The Developer helps *create* time for millions and ensures that productivity is increased because they "give" back to the community instead just taking.

Is FAQ-Tastic FREE?
I'm very glad you enjoy FAQ-Tastic Lite and think it's "great work". A great deal of time and effort has been put into developing it. I spend a lot of time listening to ideas and suggestions made by users of the plugin. A lot of ideas that you now enjoy has come through the tiny comments and suggestions made by them, which have helped me to tweak and re-develop the FAQ-Tastic plugin. It gets better with each release.

Let me clear something up: FAQ-Tastic is NOT FREE.

Now... you may or may not be aware that I actually use my own money to have FAQ-Tastic built. When it comes to maintaining FAQ-Tastic, I hire one of the best Developer's ever (John Godley) to help me build and maintain it. For over the last two years, I've probably spent well over a thousand pounds (£1000 - if not more... I dread to think!) to ensure that I can deliver a high quality product, and give back to the WordPress community so that they can save time and effort (and expense) when it comes to building excellent frequently asked question pages on their sites.

Each time a new feature or tweak is suggested and then made to FAQ-Tastic, I pay for it. And I mean proper physical cash. Excluded from this "cash value" is the time and effort I spend maintain and managing the website, answering emails, helping people to fix their issues and generally ensuring that things run smoothly for users of the plugin. The time and effort that I put into these additional actions, over and above the maintenance of the plugin, are usually unseen and invisible. However, they do incur a cost of time and effort. I'm not even going to think about how much it's cost me if I were to calculate the true cost of creating, building and maintaining this plugin and site...

But What About Donations?
I would love to say that donations cover my costs. The amount I get in terms of Donations, if looked at from a time/effort/cost analysis would have most business-minded people cringing, laughing or crying if they knew the true extent of people's "generosity" and how much was actually given. I were to solely rely or even try to survive on donations, then I'd be seriously in debt. I already am - but that's a different matter which doesn't add to this discussion. Only a handful of people ever contribute. And that's over the period of a year...

Over the last 2 years, the amount of donations made by people has been extremely few. Saying that, I've probably gained more in terms of donations than other Developers - this is mainly as I take time to point out the running costs that most other excellent plugin creators overlook and simply don't mention. Quite simply: I ask.

Here's an example: there's a Developer I know who's been building WordPress plugins for over 4 years. He's one of the best coder's I've ever seen - I know, as I've gone through his code libraries and seen how he builds his plugins, and they really are pieces of art. Over the years, he has put a great deal of time and effort into creating some of the most exceptional plugins I've ever seen; maintaining and updating them; personally responding to emails and comments; including new functionality; helping people fix issues and generally making them available to the public. Just *one* of his 15+ excellent plugins has been downloaded over 65,000 times (and that's from his site) and over 200,000 times from the WordPress plugin repository. But how much has he made in terms of donations? You could probably count the donations on one hand. So, really, is it worth his time doing this? If we were to look at the figures coming from just donations alone... Probably not.

So consider this: if 1 Developer, with 1 plugin has made such a huge contribution to the WordPress community, what would happen if he realises that the cost of production and maintenance is no longer worth his while? Sure, another Developer could take on the project... but would they? It's not guaranteed. I've seen some excellent Open Source plugin projects end, simply because there's no appreciation of the value and quality of the work that has been offered. When a Developer decides that there's no rewards from their work, they simply stop.

This happens when there's no equilibrium in the system - i.e. what is given out does not come back and the Karmic wheel is stuck. There is a point where a lot of Developers will draw the line and just call it a day.

The impact of this is... well, you can imagine how big it can be for the hundreds of thousands in the community that have depended on something that is perceived to be "free".

Donations are a valuable source of support. Helping by showing appreciation for the quality of work being delivered, makes a Developer feel valued. After all, that's one of the things that we all - as people - strive for.

But donations don't work and, from experience, do not provide the necessary returns to make a project worthwhile or a Developer feel valued...

If Donations Don't Work, What Other Alternatives Are There?
So, now you've seen that even a Developer who's helped literally hundreds of thousands of people doesn't make anything in terms of Donations, then what does this mean for the smaller creators of plugins - like me - who aren't in the WP plugin repository and yet still make a difference by helping thousands of people save time and effort in their workflow? If the rate of donations based on hundreds of thousands of users are any indication, then I may as well quit now - it's a pointless exercise.

As I've explained in my earlier emails, the FAQ-Tastic project *does* need suport from it's users. One of the ways of doing this is by email marketing and recommending products and services that may be of use to some people. As explained in my emails - when people buy using my affiliate link, then I get a commission. These commissions help me to continue building a better product and to maintain a level of service that ensures I can help people with their issues.

FAQ-Tastic is not a cash cow (...yet).

Was The Email Spammy?
I apologise and I am really sorry if it appears to you like my emails are "spammy" but in order for me to ensure that FAQ-Tastic Lite remains free, then it's essential that I can rely on contributions just so that the quality of excellent work can continue.

Let me explain how it works (and why it doesn't work):

FAQ-Tastic has a very large, untargetted audience. Everyone with a WordPress blog, looking to have an FAQ section on their site can install it. This means that the type of user I have on my email list isn't always going to be the same. Each of these different users will always have a different topic or subject matter that they're interested in.

Basically, there is *NO* way, I can possibly sending a specific, well-targetted, user-focused email suggesting a product for each and every one of my FAQ-Tastic users and their specific interests. If I were Amazon - and were tracking people's interests and tastes - then sure, I'd do that and I'd ensure that my emails were properly tailored to suit. It would be great if I could... but it simply isn't realistic.

If you let me know what you'd like to see in the emails that you *would* buy, feel free to tell me - that would make my job much easier!

I'd be able to send out messages and be guaranteed of a result. Seriously, if I knew exactly what the common thread between all the people who use FAQ-Tastic and what they would buy, then I'd probably be a lot more spammy in terms of my marketing as it would then be like shooting fish in a barrel! As it is, I only send out stuff as and when things happen and are products which you can guarantee have enormous potential and are high quality products. I do this consciously and realise that it's not going to be for everyone. I don't recommend any old junk as it would reflect badly on me. I have no intention of doing that as I respect your right to have a clean and uncluttered email inbox.

Let's face it - even the one common bond that all FAQ-Tastic users have is the FAQ-Tastic plugin. And even then, there's hardly any donations. Very few people upgrade to the Pro version. Although, I'm not surprised. You mentioned that that my "marketing don't work on [you]"... and I completely agree. I actually state, in my emails, that I'm not the best guy at doing this stuff.

Let me clear this up for everyone: "I SUCK at marketing!". Okay? I think this is a point that we can both agree on... Right?

And no, that's not some weird "ah, that's a clever bit of marketing. I see what you're doing - pretending to suck at marketing, so that you can market to me". Sheesh, give me a break. Seriously - check my conversion rates. I hold my hands up and will tell you I'm guilty of some of the smallest conversions you will *ever* as an affiliate. I'm lucky I can get a sale! You see - I *really* do suck at marketing! What I am, and what I do to compensate, is to be honest, genuine and will always look to give you as much value as I possibly can. That's the only way I know how - giving my considered opinion of something cool which I know can benefit users.

Trust me, if you think *my* email marketing is spammy, then you should see what I get in my inbox from *real* Internet Marketers. Those guys will send you an email (if not two) a day, letting you know about a product or service that they or their friends are currently promoting. Either that, or sending out emails as bait to get you hooked on some "quality information" so that you're ready to receive the next "buy now" email and do it without thinking. Do I agree with this strategy? No. Not necessarily... but I can see how it works for them and I salute them for their ability to do it amazingly well. It's not for eveyone... and I'm still learning. They don't get complaints of spam because they do it exceptionally well!

If I could do without using email marketing, then I honestly would. So, if you could help convince everyone to club together and sends me $10 (or more) for using FAQ-Tastic Lite, then I'll quit sending out the "spammy" emails. It would be so much easier for all of us! I could just concentrate on building a better plugin and you'd be able a spam free inbox. Deal?

So Why Do I Use Emails?
I use emails for 2 different reasons.

Firstly: Updates.
I use emails to keep people informed about any new updates and changes to the FAQ-Tastic plugin(s). Unlike other WordPress plugins, FAQ-Tastic isn't in the WP plugin repository, so you can forget about notifications updating on your plugin WP plugin dashboard when changes are made. Until I've got enough resources to add this functionality (like Oliver Seidel has in his excellent cforms plugin), then it's not something that's going to change soon (mainly as I can't afford to do that right now).

Secondly: To get support.
Like I explained earlier, for me, it's a useful tool to remind people that the FAQ-Tastic project does have invisible costs that you won't ever see if you simply download it and use it. If you like it, then help by giving back in some way...

Are My Emails Really Spammy?
The term "spam" I think is another area that a lot of people think they understand but don't - just like the idea of "Open Source". I'll explain it using my own email communications as an example:

Let me clear this up: Real "spam" is unsolicited.

The FAQ-Tastic site is completely CANSPAM compliant. In order to get email notifications - you need to make an active decision to receive my email broadcasts before I will ever send you any information. There is a "double opt-in". You need to enter your email address and then a confirmation is required to ensure that the user was really the one that requested the information.

I let people know this on my pages and in my confirmation emails. Whether or not a user decides to subscribe is really up to them - there's no necessity to sign-up to the FAQ-Tastic emails... you just won't be getting any useful updates about FAQ-Tastic and will have to guess when the next version of the plugin comes out.

If a user wants to keep a clear inbox, then it's really up to them to be responsible for the choice they make when they subscribe. In no way do I coerce or force a user into accepting my email communications. I do this because I fully respect all my users and subscribers of my FAQ-Tastic plugin. I am honoured that they have chosen to use the plugin and so consciously make my mind up to respect them for their excellent choice.

I feel it's up to a user to take responsibility over their actions when they unsubscribe. If you notice in my emails, I always have an unsubscribe link. The links are there (at the bottom) if you feel my communications are not of value in some way. I *never* send out an email without this. If you want to unsubscribe, then please feel free to do so - click on the link - I won't be in the slightest bit offended. I know my users have the option to choose their own path and give them every opportunity to do so.

If anyone subscribes to my email communications, then they do so by making a conscious decision to subscribe. It is never unsolicited, and therefore can in no way can my FAQ-Tastic emails be considered as "spam". If a user doesn't like what I say, then the issue here isn't about the content, it's about their opinion of the content. As as explained before, I'd love to cater to everyone... it's just that I can't!

What Can I Do? I Hate What You Write
If you don't like what I write, then unsubscribe. Or alternatively, delete that particular message if you still want to know about FAQ-Tastic updates. You do not have to read everything I send. No-one is forcing you to do so. Set up a filter if you like which gets them straight in the trash. Which is kind've pointless as the easiest way is not to subscribe!

If my email communications feel like they're so repugnant that you really can't stand them, then what I'd recommend is to uninstall the FAQ-Tastic plugin, unsubscribe and just steer clear of the site.

The same ideas, philosophies and conceptual framework that went into the creation of my emails also exist in the FAQ-Tastic plugin. What FAQ-Tastic stands for and how it is delivered are part and parcel of the same thing. If it feels like you really cannot accept one part and it's so completely abhorrent to you, then remove it completely. Again - I won't be offended - it just means it's not for you. There are other plugins you could pay for or you could simply do the work manually. It's a choice that only you can make.

Personally, I stand by the quality of what I deliver - be it in the plugin or my emails. I am responsible for my actions and I would urge people to be responsible for theirs. In the same way that if you don't like what's on TV, change the channel. If you don't like what FAQ-Tastic stands for - ignore it and don't use it. The choice is yours. Decide and then take action.

Was There Really No Value In My Email?
Value is subjective. Everyone likes different things. While you may feel that the last email I sent out didn't contain any real value, several hundred people were intrigued enough to click and check it out again for a second time. I'm just sorry you weren't one of them.

The other thing you may have overlooked was that I wasn't just looking to "just make money for myself" in that email. Check it again. If you read it, you'll see that you can sign-up for an opportunity to do the same thing as me - make a couple of hundred dollars from not doing much. And, like I said in the email, you may well be better than me at it.

What I was looking to do - if you missed my intention - was to give you a means of increasing your own wealth. I was doing that by sharing and, again, "giving back" because I respect that there would be people who are interested in such an opportunity. Yes, I'd make a little in terms of possible second tier commissions but at least a greater number of people would benefit from such an opportunity - not just me. I'm sorry that if you, personally, were not interested, although I'd be glad and very happy if someone else saw it and made it work for them. Again, for me, that would mean that I'd have added an additional layer of value to someone's life through my work.

Summary
So, now that you've had an opportunity to be fully provided with the facts and reasonings why I use emails and promote products, can you now understand why it's necessary for me to use emails as tool for supporting my product? As I've pointed out, "Open Source" does not mean absolutely "FREE". FAQ-Tastic costs me money to build. My email was not "spammy" and contained some real value. And ultimately, everyone has their own opinion which they can, if they so wish, act upon in order to get the result they want.

If you still feel lthat your postion on being an "open source kinda guy, and don't pay for anything at all" is still a good one to hold after reading this, then let's agree to disagree. Feel free to unsubscribe yourself - the link (as always) is at the bottom of this email - and just not use the plugin.

I would like to say that I am very grateful that you *did* email me. It's helped me to really express some issues that a lot of plugin and software Developers (not just me) suffer from. The debate on how "Open Source" should be viewed, I believe is extremely important. Let's open it up to discussion. Your email may well help people to discuss creative ways of addressing the issues of support and funding of plugins. It's never really been properly addressed and I'm glad you took the time to email me (instead of just unsubscribing).

Admittedly, I was initially quite upset and annoyed by the assumptions you conveyed in your email. However, like I say, it's a good thing that you did. I appreciate your honesty and telling me what you really thought.

As Albert Einstein once said: "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has it's own reason for existing". Your email made me curious about why someone might feel this way. There was a purpose and a reason "why" you thought the way you did about my email communications. I feel partly responsible, as it's made me realise that I probably have not fully, or effectively, communicated what FAQ-Tastic is about and how it survives on affiliate commissions and donations. If you had known the full story, would still have objected?

All of these questions are a good thing. FAQ-Tastic is all about asking questions. Asking questions helps us to broaden our understanding and also to push the boundaries of what we "assume". I have preconceptions and assumptions about the type of people who use my plugin. Your email has enabled me to challenge these views.

So, "Thank you" for helping me to challenge my boundaries. When I have some time, I'll be addressing some of the areas where I feel I've not fully communicated myself on the website.

Cheers,

Zain
PS: Apologies for the length of this email - when I get passionate about a subject, I feel the need to express it and communicate it properly. If you have any questions or are confused about any of it, feel free to email me and I can explain it further.

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Ash wrote:

Hi

Whilst I appreciate the great work you did on FaQ Tastic Lite..(and it really is great work - don't get me wrong) You are kinda pissing me off now with the further emails trying to get me to buy stuff I perhaps don't need, nor really want (I'm an open source kinda guy, and don't pay for anything at all, so your marketing don't work on me).

Remember mate, if you enter into open source endeavours then trying to sell stuff, no matter how worthy and great as I am sure it all is, kinda goes against the whole premise of open source.

I trust you will remove me from your mailing list. If I want to buy one of your products, believe me, I will... Until that time comes, please stop spamming me.

Thanks

Ash

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From: FAQ-Tastic Lite
Sent:
Sunday, August 30, 2009 2:09 AM
To:
Ash W
Subject:
FAQ-Tastic: For what it's worth - Thanks!

* * * * * UNSUBSCRIBE LINK AT BOTTOM * * * * *

Hi Ash,

You may remember, last week I sent out an email recommending a brilliant little product for Photoshop to help create beautiful CD/ebook/stationary product shots *extremely* quickly.Well, this email is an update to that last one - with a twist: I'll be giving you a link that you will definitely want to check out. Keep reading...

As you've come to realise, through my emails, I'm not the best at writing stuff which is persuasive enough to make people buy things (like the Pro version of FAQ-Tastic for example!). So it was a shock when I found that out of the thousands of people who my mails go out to, some people actually read it. Even more surprising was that a few of you actually clicked the link and checked out the product. The thing that really made my day was that 1 person actually bought it!

How cool is that? :)

Okay, so you're probably wondering why I'm emailing? Well, I'd just like to say to whoever bought the Photoshop actions - "Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU!" I really *really* appreciate it. And it's *really* helped contribute towards this project!

You may be thinking: "Hah! Zain, that's absolutely awful... you only got 1 sale!". And you're right, I completely agree, it could probably be much, much better!

But let me set this straight. Just to let you know that this 1 sale of the product I recommended has actually made me more in terms of donations and sales of FAQ-Tastic Pro this month!

Yes. That's right. 1. Count 'em - ONE - sale!

...And it's made me more than I normally make in terms of supporting the FAQ-Tastic plugin. This is why I'm taking the time to send this email and say "Thanks!" to whoever that one person was. All of that singular sale helps to keep the FAQ-Tastic project alive.

Ash, let me ask you something - how much can an email be worth? It's not a question that a lot of us think about. But really, how much value can be placed on a few minutes of typing something in and pressing "send"?

For me, it was worth a couple of hundred dollars (and probably more if I knew the secret of how to do it successfully!).

Now, I'm going to let you into a little secret: You could probably do this a lot better than me!

I'm a guy who doesn't have much time to promote stuff (even my own!) and spend most of my days either up to my eyeballs in clearing up after my kids on the few days I have them or working at full capacity in the few days I have working as a freelancer. And yet, I managed to surprise myself with just one email!

I'm sure anyone who's ever contacted me will tell you that I like to give as much value as possible whenever I can (assuming I'm not busy). So, with that in mind, I'm going to do the same today and give you some additional value, just by letting you know that you can do this too. If you've got a decent blog with good traffic, then imagine how much better than me you can do - it's a no-brainer!

So, if you want to make a few hundred by promoting a very cool and useful Photoshop actions product, then click this link and sign up right now:

http://bit.ly/1asFk3 [aff]

(note: if you want to see the actual site, click here: http://bit.ly/eMPnu [aff])

All you really need to do is to add a link - mainly because this thing is really cool anyway! If you missed it last week, then I'd suggest you go check it out as it's 1) one of the coolest things you'll see and 2) the site is absolutely beautiful! Seriously, when you see the site, you'll know what I mean.

Even better than that, the guy who builds it - Mark Monciardini - seems insane. Not only is he willing to give you 50% on whatever you can shift for him, he's also looking to make sure you get sorted out on a weekly basis!

Hmm... that seems too good to be true. So it probably is. You best skip it :P

Except for the fact that I've just received an email telling me that I've received something from PayPal! So that's extremely cool (and which is why I'm now emailing you!).

Anyway, I'm going to leave the choice with you. Personally, I've probably done more with one email in the right hands, written in a few minutes, than a lot of people could do working a 9 to 5 for a few days. I think that's pretty cool all by itself. I should do more of this! Just be glad that I'm a cynic and quality is one of my top criteria - I wouldn't recommend anything unless I'd use it myself. And if a few more people get those Photoshop actions, I'll be grabbing a copy myself...

Like I mentioned last week, I have a friend who keeps telling me to "feel the love" as well as to "share the love". And she's right. Last week, for me, proved her point and I'm grateful I did share something really cool and send out that link, instead of doing nothing about it (like I usually do). A few minutes typing saw greater rewards than I'd expected. So, I'm following her advice again and let's see what this next week brings!

Here's that link again if you want sign up, now:

http://bit.ly/1asFk3 [aff]

(and http://bit.ly/eMPnu [aff] if you just want to check out the site)

I hope this has been useful to you. Feel free to pass it on if you know anyone that can make use of it (even if you can't!).

Cheers,

Zain
Creator of FAQ-Tastic
Follow Me: http://twitter.com/zainbador

PS: Don't be surprised if you see this on the FAQ-Tastic blog at some point. When I get a bit of time, I'll be adding it. I'd be a fool not to...

46 Sandown Road, Brighton, East Sussex BN2 3EJ, UNITED KINGDOM

To unsubscribe or change subscriber options visit:

http://www.aweber.com/z/r/?

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The irony here is that if you actually follow my Twitter feed, you'll be subjected to not only affiliate marketing links but also a whole bunch of extraneous stuff that I think is cool but probably no-one else will... muahahaahaha <-- evil laugh.

Anyway, what's your take on this? I can see how it could be considered "spammy" but are there any other viable forms of support that could be created for plugin Developers? As I mentioned... if a huge Developer loses interest, the whole community can suffer.

If you've been moved to make a contribution - then don't start here. I'd recommend you make a list of plugin Developer's you really feel make a difference to Your blog and send them something. A donation is always appreciated although even just a heartfelt note of "Thanks" can provide a person with a buzz to set them right in the morning. Whatever it is, just let them know you care. That way, you ensure your plugins will live a long and fruitful life!

I'd strongly recommend making a donation to John Godley over at UrbanGiraffe.com if you've ever used, or will use any of his plugins or even FAQ-Tastic. You could help me out too just by adding "Zain say's Hi" to your message when you do make a donation. ;)

Any Comments or Suggestions? Please leave positive comments below. If you feel angry - stop, chill and come back before leaving a comment!

Hi Ash,

Thanks for the compliment and I'm glad you use FAQ-Tastic and think it's great. I also appreciate the time and effort you've taken to reply and send me a considered opinion. I appreciate your honesty and I'm sorry if you feel that my emails may be considered "spammy". I get the sense that you're an intelligent and reasonable guy and so, please allow me to put my own point across in the same way that you have voiced yours. I'm sure you'd be good enough to take a moment and consider an alternative perspective to help properly inform your decision before coming to a conclusion. Just to let you know, I'll be blogging about this as it is a very important subject that I think the WordPress community would benefit from.

Open Source Is Free
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While I completely understand the common perception that "Open Source" means "something that anyone can simply go and download and use completely for free", let me take some time to explain the concept in a rational manner, so you can decide if this is really true. I'm going to put it to you that the idea or opinion that it is "free" is, counter-productive to the Open Source idea and something that should be re-considered and opened up to debate.

Let's me start with a basic assumption to help shape the discussion: "Open Source is based on a spirit of giving not of taking".

Think about it. If everyone simply "took", nothing would ever be created. It is only through the generous contributions - a spirit of giving - made by various Developers that anything ever gets created. These handfuls of hard working, diligent, creative and inspired people take a great deal of time and effort so that they can bring a community the software and applications. This ensures that, literally millions of people, save time and effort and that the community grows and becomes even more productive. Take a moment and consider the implications of simply "taking". I'm sure you'll see the validity of this pre-supposition.

Let us make another assumption: The production of any software (or any product) takes time and effort.

This "time and effort", in business terms, is a "cost". The amount of time which Developers put into building and maintaining their plugins is actually time that could be used, focusing on making money in their regular freelance work, or time they could be spending in other areas in their life (like with their kids and loved ones). It's a sacrifice Developers make, so other people don't have to spend time and effort building things (or doing things the hard way).

This means that the creation of any product isn't "free". There is always a cost somewhere down the line. It may not be visible to most people because it's very easy to just download and just "take" things - without considering how and where these things are being created. Therefore, Open Source, does not mean it's "free" simply because the person downloading does not pay for it. The truth is that *someone* ends up paying for it and it's usually the Developer. So people should feel a sense of gratitude and fortunate that it's not them who has to dip into their own pocket or sacrifice their time. The Developer helps *create* time for millions and ensures that productivity is increased because they "give" back to the community instead just taking.

Is FAQ-Tastic FREE?
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I'm very glad you enjoy FAQ-Tastic Lite and think it's "great work". A great deal of time and effort has been put into developing it. I spend a lot of time listening to ideas and suggestions made by users of the plugin. A lot of ideas that you now enjoy has come through the tiny comments and suggestions made by them, which have helped me to tweak and re-develop the FAQ-Tastic plugin. It gets better with each release.

Let me clear something up: FAQ-Tastic is NOT FREE.

Now... you may or may not be aware that I actually use my own money to have FAQ-Tastic built. When it comes to maintaining FAQ-Tastic, I hire one of the best Developer's ever (John Godley) to help me build and maintain it. For over the last two years, I've probably spent well over a thousand pounds (£1000 - if not more... I dread to think!) to ensure that I can deliver a high quality product, and give back to the WordPress community so that they can save time and effort (and expense) when it comes to building excellent frequently asked question pages on their sites.

Each time a new feature or tweak is suggested and then made to FAQ-Tastic, I pay for it. And I mean proper physical cash. Excluded from this "cash value" is the time and effort I spend maintain and managing the website, answering emails, helping people to fix their issues and generally ensuring that things run smoothly for users of the plugin. The time and effort that I put into these additional actions, over and above the maintenance of the plugin, are usually unseen and invisible. However, they do incur a cost of time and effort. I'm not even going to think about how much it's cost me if I were to calculate the true cost of creating, building and maintaining this plugin and site...

But What About Donations?
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I would love to say that donations cover my costs. The amount I get in terms of Donations, if looked at from a time/effort/cost analysis would have most business-minded people cringing, laughing or crying if they knew the true extent of people's "generosity" and how much was actually given. I were to solely rely or even try to survive on donations, then I'd be seriously in debt. I already am - but that's a different matter which doesn't add to this discussion. Only a handful of people ever contribute. And that's over the period of a year...

Over the last 2 years, the amount of donations made by people has been extremely few. Saying that, I've probably gained more in terms of donations than other Developers - this is mainly as I take time to point out the running costs that most other excellent plugin creators overlook and simply don't mention. Quite simply: I ask.

Here's an example: there's a Developer I know who's been building WordPress plugins for over 4 years. He's one of the best coder's I've ever seen - I know, as I've gone through his code libraries and seen how he builds his plugins, and they really are pieces of art. Over the years, he has put a great deal of time and effort into creating some of the most exceptional plugins I've ever seen; maintaining and updating them; personally responding to emails and comments; including new functionality; helping people fix issues and generally making them available to the public. Just *one* of his 15+ excellent plugins has been downloaded over 65,000 times (and that's from his site) and over 200,000 times from the WordPress plugin repository. But how much has he made in terms of donations? You could probably count the donations on one hand. So, really, is it worth his time doing this? If we were to look at the figures coming from just donations alone... Probably not.

So consider this: if 1 Developer, with 1 plugin has made such a huge contribution to the WordPress community, what would happen if he realises that the cost of production and maintenance is no longer worth his while? Sure, another Developer could take on the project... but would they? It's not guaranteed. I've seen some excellent Open Source plugin projects end, simply because there's no appreciation of the value and quality of the work that has been offered. When a Developer decides that there's no rewards from their work, they simply stop.

This happens when there's no equilibrium in the system - i.e. what is given out does not come back and the Karmic wheel is stuck. There is a point where a lot of Developers will draw the line and just call it a day.

The impact of this is... well, you can imagine how big it can be for the hundreds of thousands in the community that have depended on something that is perceived to be "free".

Donations are a valuable source of support. Helping by showing appreciation for the quality of work being delivered, makes a Developer feel valued. After all, that's one of the things that we all - as people - strive for.

But donations don't work and, from experience, do not provide the necessary returns to make a project worthwhile or a Developer feel valued...

If Donations Don't Work, What Other Alternatives Are There?
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So, now you've seen that even a Developer who's helped literally hundreds of thousands of people doesn't make anything in terms of Donations, then what does this mean for the smaller creators of plugins - like me - who aren't in the WP plugin repository and yet still make a difference by helping thousands of people save time and effort in their workflow? If the rate of donations based on hundreds of thousands of users are any indication, then I may as well quit now - it's a pointless exercise.

As I've explained in my earlier emails, the FAQ-Tastic project *does* need suport from it's users. One of the ways of doing this is by email marketing and recommending products and services that may be of use to some people. As explained in my emails - when people buy using my affiliate link, then I get a commission. These commissions help me to continue building a better product and to maintain a level of service that ensures I can help people with their issues.

FAQ-Tastic is not a cash cow (...yet).

Was The Email Spammy?
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I apologise and I am really sorry if it appears to you like my emails are "spammy" but in order for me to ensure that FAQ-Tastic Lite remains free, then it's essential that I can rely on contributions just so that the quality of excellent work can continue.

Let me explain how it works (and why it doesn't work):

FAQ-Tastic has a very large, untargetted audience. Everyone with a WordPress blog, looking to have an FAQ section on their site can install it. This means that the type of user I have on my email list isn't always going to be the same. Each of these different users will always have a different topic or subject matter that they're interested in.

Basically, there is *NO* way, I can possibly sending a specific, well-targetted, user-focused email suggesting a product for each and every one of my FAQ-Tastic users and their specific interests. If I were Amazon - and were tracking people's interests and tastes - then sure, I'd do that and I'd ensure that my emails were properly tailored to suit. It would be great if I could... but it simply isn't realistic.

If you let me know what you'd like to see in the emails that you *would* buy, feel free to tell me - that would make my job much easier!

I'd be able to send out messages and be guaranteed of a result. Seriously, if I knew exactly what the common thread between all the people who use FAQ-Tastic and what they would buy, then I'd probably be a lot more spammy in terms of my marketing as it would then be like shooting fish in a barrel! As it is, I only send out stuff as and when things happen and are products which you can guarantee have enormous potential and are high quality products. I do this consciously and realise that it's not going to be for everyone. I don't recommend any old junk as it would reflect badly on me. I have no intention of doing that as I respect your right to have a clean and uncluttered email inbox.

Let's face it - even the one common bond that all FAQ-Tastic users have is the FAQ-Tastic plugin. And even then, there's hardly any donations. Very few people upgrade to the Pro version. Although, I'm not surprised. You mentioned that that my "marketing don't work on [you]"... and I completely agree. I actually state, in my emails, that I'm not the best guy at doing this stuff.

Let me clear this up for everyone: "I SUCK at marketing!". Okay? I think this is a point that we can both agree on... Right?

And no, that's not some weird "ah, that's a clever bit of marketing. I see what you're doing - pretending to suck at marketing, so that you can market to me". Sheesh, give me a break. Seriously - check my conversion rates. I hold my hands up and will tell you I'm guilty of some of the smallest conversions you will *ever* as an affiliate. I'm lucky I can get a sale! You see - I *really* do suck at marketing! What I am, and what I do to compensate, is to be honest, genuine and will always look to give you as much value as I possibly can. That's the only way I know how - giving my considered opinion of something cool which I know can benefit users.

Trust me, if you think *my* email marketing is spammy, then you should see what I get in my inbox from *real* Internet Marketers. Those guys will send you an email (if not two) a day, letting you know about a product or service that they or their friends are currently promoting. Either that, or sending out emails as bait to get you hooked on some "quality information" so that you're ready to receive the next "buy now" email and do it without thinking. Do I agree with this strategy? No. Not necessarily... but I can see how it works for them and I salute them for their ability to do it amazingly well. It's not for eveyone... and I'm still learning. They don't get complaints of spam because they do it exceptionally well!

If I could do without using email marketing, then I honestly would. So, if you could help convince everyone to club together and sends me $10 (or more) for using FAQ-Tastic Lite, then I'll quit sending out the "spammy" emails. It would be so much easier for all of us! I could just concentrate on building a better plugin and you'd be able a spam free inbox. Deal?

So Why Do I Use Emails?
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I use emails for 2 different reasons.

Firstly: Updates.
I use emails to keep people informed about any new updates and changes to the FAQ-Tastic plugin(s). Unlike other WordPress plugins, FAQ-Tastic isn't in the WP plugin repository, so you can forget about notifications updating on your plugin WP plugin dashboard when changes are made. Until I've got enough resources to add this functionality (like Oliver Seidel has in his excellent cforms plugin), then it's not something that's going to change soon (mainly as I can't afford to do that right now).

Secondly: To get support.
Like I explained earlier, for me, it's a useful tool to remind people that the FAQ-Tastic project does have invisible costs that you won't ever see if you simply download it and use it. If you like it, then help by giving back in some way...

Are My Emails Really Spammy?
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The term "spam" I think is another area that a lot of people think they understand but don't - just like the idea of "Open Source". I'll explain it using my own email communications as an example:

Let me clear this up: Real "spam" is unsolicited.

The FAQ-Tastic site is completely CANSPAM compliant. In order to get email notifications - you need to make an active decision to receive my email broadcasts before I will ever send you any information. There is a "double opt-in". You need to enter your email address and then a confirmation is required to ensure that the user was really the one that requested the information.

I let people know this on my pages and in my confirmation emails. Whether or not a user decides to subscribe is really up to them - there's no necessity to sign-up to the FAQ-Tastic emails... you just won't be getting any useful updates about FAQ-Tastic and will have to guess when the next version of the plugin comes out.

If a user wants to keep a clear inbox, then it's really up to them to be responsible for the choice they make when they subscribe. In no way do I coerce or force a user into accepting my email communications. I do this because I fully respect all my users and subscribers of my FAQ-Tastic plugin. I am honoured that they have chosen to use the plugin and so consciously make my mind up to respect them for their excellent choice.

I feel it's up to a user to take responsibility over their actions when they unsubscribe. If you notice in my emails, I always have an unsubscribe link. The links are there (at the bottom) if you feel my communications are not of value in some way. I *never* send out an email without this. If you want to unsubscribe, then please feel free to do so - click on the link - I won't be in the slightest bit offended. I know my users have the option to choose their own path and give them every opportunity to do so.

If anyone subscribes to my email communications, then they do so by making a conscious decision to subscribe. It is never unsolicited, and therefore can in no way can my FAQ-Tastic emails be considered as "spam". If a user doesn't like what I say, then the issue here isn't about the content, it's about their opinion of the content. As as explained before, I'd love to cater to everyone... it's just that I can't!

What Can I Do? I Hate What You Write
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If you don't like what I write, then unsubscribe. Or alternatively, delete that particular message if you still want to know about FAQ-Tastic updates. You do not have to read everything I send. No-one is forcing you to do so. Set up a filter if you like which gets them straight in the trash. Which is kind've pointless as the easiest way is not to subscribe!

If my email communications feel like they're so repugnant that you really can't stand them, then what I'd recommend is to uninstall the FAQ-Tastic plugin, unsubscribe and just steer clear of the site.

The same ideas, philosophies and conceptual framework that went into the creation of my emails also exist in the FAQ-Tastic plugin. What FAQ-Tastic stands for and how it is delivered are part and parcel of the same thing. If it feels like you really cannot accept one part and it's so completely abhorrent to you, then remove it completely. Again - I won't be offended - it just means it's not for you. There are other plugins you could pay for or you could simply do the work manually. It's a choice that only you can make.

Personally, I stand by the quality of what I deliver - be it in the plugin or my emails. I am responsible for my actions and I would urge people to be responsible for theirs. In the same way that if you don't like what's on TV, change the channel. If you don't like what FAQ-Tastic stands for - ignore it and don't use it. The choice is yours. Decide and then take action.

Was There Really No Value In My Email?
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Value is subjective. Everyone likes different things. While you may feel that the last email I sent out didn't contain any real value, several hundred people were intrigued enough to click and check it out again for a second time. I'm just sorry you weren't one of them.

The other thing you may have overlooked was that I wasn't just looking to "just make money for myself" in that email. Check it again. If you read it, you'll see that you can sign-up for an opportunity to do the same thing as me - make a couple of hundred dollars from not doing much. And, like I said in the email, you may well be better than me at it.

What I was looking to do - if you missed my intention - was to give you a means of increasing your own wealth. I was doing that by sharing and, again, "giving back" because I respect that there would be people who are interested in such an opportunity. Yes, I'd make a little in terms of possible second tier commissions but at least a greater number of people would benefit from such an opportunity - not just me. I'm sorry that if you, personally, were not interested, although I'd be glad and very happy if someone else saw it and made it work for them. Again, for me, that would mean that I'd have added an additional layer of value to someone's life through my work.

Summary
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So, now that you've had an opportunity to be fully provided with the facts and reasonings why I use emails and promote products, can you now understand why it's necessary for me to use emails as tool for supporting my product? As I've pointed out, "Open Source" does not mean absolutely "FREE". FAQ-Tastic costs me money to build. My email was not "spammy" and contained some real value. And ultimately, everyone has their own opinion which they can, if they so wish, act upon in order to get the result they want.

If you still feel lthat your postion on being an "open source kinda guy, and don't pay for anything at all" is still a good one to hold after reading this, then let's agree to disagree. Feel free to unsubscribe yourself - the link (as always) is at the bottom of this email - and just not use the plugin.

I would like to say that I am very grateful that you *did* email me. It's helped me to really express some issues that a lot of plugin and software Developers (not just me) suffer from. The debate on how "Open Source" should be viewed, I believe is extremely important. Let's open it up to discussion. Your email may well help people to discuss creative ways of addressing the issues of support and funding of plugins. It's never really been properly addressed and I'm glad you took the time to email me (instead of just unsubscribing).

Admittedly, I was initially quite upset and annoyed by the assumptions you conveyed in your email. However, like I say, it's a good thing that you did. I appreciate your honesty and telling me what you really thought.

As Albert Einstein once said: "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has it's own reason for existing". Your email made me curious about why someone might feel this way. There was a purpose and a reason "why" you thought the way you did about my email communications. I feel partly responsible, as it's made me realise that I probably have not fully, or effectively, communicated what FAQ-Tastic is about and how it survives on affiliate commissions and donations. If you had known the full story, would still have objected?

All of these questions are a good thing. FAQ-Tastic is all about asking questions. Asking questions helps us to broaden our understanding and also to push the boundaries of what we "assume". I have preconceptions and assumptions about the type of people who use my plugin. Your email has enabled me to challenge these views.

So, "Thank you" for helping me to challenge my boundaries. When I have some time, I'll be addressing some of the areas where I feel I've not fully communicated myself on the website.

Cheers,

Zain
PS: Apologies for the length of this email - when I get passionate about a subject, I feel the need to express it and communicate it properly. If you have any questions or are confused about any of it, feel free to email me and I can explain it further.

Ash wrote:
Hi

Whilst I appreciate the great work you did on FaQ Tastic Lite..(and it really is great work - don't get me wrong) You are kinda pissing me off now with the further emails trying to get me to buy stuff I perhaps don't need, nor really want (I'm an open source kinda guy, and don't pay for anything at all, so your marketing don't work on me).

Remember mate, if you enter into open source endeavours then trying to sell stuff, no matter how worthy and great as I am sure it all is, kinda goes against the whole premise of open source.

I trust you will remove me from your mailing list. If I want to buy one of your products, believe me, I will... Until that time comes, please stop spamming me.

Thanks

Ash

From: FAQ-Tastic Lite
Sent: Sunday, August 30, 2009 2:09 AM
To: Ash Whiting
Subject: FAQ-Tastic: For what it's worth - Thanks!

* * * * * UNSUBSCRIBE LINK AT BOTTOM * * * * *

Hi Ash,

You may remember, last week I sent out an email recommending a brilliant little product for Photoshop to help create beautiful CD/ebook/stationary product shots *extremely* quickly.Well, this email is an update to that last one - with a twist: I'll be giving you a link that you will definitely want to check out. Keep reading...

As you've come to realise, through my emails, I'm not the best at writing stuff which is persuasive enough to make people buy things (like the Pro version of FAQ-Tastic for example!). So it was a shock when I found that out of the thousands of people who my mails go out to, some people actually read it. Even more surprising was that a few of you actually clicked the link and checked out the product. The thing that really made my day was that 1 person actually bought it!

How cool is that? :)

Okay, so you're probably wondering why I'm emailing? Well, I'd just like to say to whoever bought the Photoshop actions - "Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU!" I really *really* appreciate it. And it's *really* helped contribute towards this project!

You may be thinking: "Hah! Zain, that's absolutely awful... you only got 1 sale!". And you're right, I completely agree, it could probably be much, much better!

But let me set this straight. Just to let you know that this 1 sale of the product I recommended has actually made me more in terms of donations and sales of FAQ-Tastic Pro this month!

Yes. That's right. 1. Count 'em - ONE - sale!

...And it's made me more than I normally make in terms of supporting the FAQ-Tastic plugin. This is why I'm taking the time to send this email and say "Thanks!" to whoever that one person was. All of that singular sale helps to keep the FAQ-Tastic project alive.

Ash, let me ask you something - how much can an email be worth? It's not a question that a lot of us think about. But really, how much value can be placed on a few minutes of typing something in and pressing "send"?

For me, it was worth a couple of hundred dollars (and probably more if I knew the secret of how to do it successfully!).

Now, I'm going to let you into a little secret: You could probably do this a lot better than me!

I'm a guy who doesn't have much time to promote stuff (even my own!) and spend most of my days either up to my eyeballs in clearing up after my kids on the few days I have them or working at full capacity in the few days I have working as a freelancer. And yet, I managed to surprise myself with just one email!

I'm sure anyone who's ever contacted me will tell you that I like to give as much value as possible whenever I can (assuming I'm not busy). So, with that in mind, I'm going to do the same today and give you some additional value, just by letting you know that you can do this too. If you've got a decent blog with good traffic, then imagine how much better than me you can do - it's a no-brainer!

So, if you want to make a few hundred by promoting a very cool and useful Photoshop actions product, then click this link and sign up right now:

http://bit.ly/1asFk3 [aff]
(note: if you want to see the actual site, click here: http://bit.ly/eMPnu [aff])

All you really need to do is to add a link - mainly because this thing is really cool anyway! If you missed it last week, then I'd suggest you go check it out as it's 1) one of the coolest things you'll see and 2) the site is absolutely beautiful! Seriously, when you see the site, you'll know what I mean.

Even better than that, the guy who builds it - Mark Monciardini - seems insane. Not only is he willing to give you 50% on whatever you can shift for him, he's also looking to make sure you get sorted out on a weekly basis!

Hmm... that seems too good to be true. So it probably is. You best skip it :P

Except for the fact that I've just received an email telling me that I've received something from PayPal! So that's extremely cool (and which is why I'm now emailing you!).

Anyway, I'm going to leave the choice with you. Personally, I've probably done more with one email in the right hands, written in a few minutes, than a lot of people could do working a 9 to 5 for a few days. I think that's pretty cool all by itself. I should do more of this! Just be glad that I'm a cynic and quality is one of my top criteria - I wouldn't recommend anything unless I'd use it myself. And if a few more people get those Photoshop actions, I'll be grabbing a copy myself...

Like I mentioned last week, I have a friend who keeps telling me to "feel the love" as well as to "share the love". And she's right. Last week, for me, proved her point and I'm grateful I did share something really cool and send out that link, instead of doing nothing about it (like I usually do). A few minutes typing saw greater rewards than I'd expected. So, I'm following her advice again and let's see what this next week brings!

Here's that link again if you want sign up, now:

http://bit.ly/1asFk3 [aff]
(and http://bit.ly/eMPnu [aff] if you just want to check out the site)

I hope this has been useful to you. Feel free to pass it on if you know anyone that can make use of it (even if you can't!).

Cheers,

Zain
Creator of FAQ-Tastic
Follow Me: http://twitter.com/zainbador

PS: Don't be surprised if you see this on the FAQ-Tastic blog at some point. When I get a bit of time, I'll be adding it. I'd be a fool not to...

46 Sandown Road, Brighton, East Sussex BN2 3EJ, UNITED KINGDOM

To unsubscribe or change subscriber options visit:

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Written by edith on August 31st, 2009
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